Friday, May 31, 2013

Guenther reviews Bower's "Wet Prairie"

A final post on book reviews from April's Environmental History:

Michael Guenther's review of Shannon Stunden Bower's Wet Prairie: People, Land, and Water in Agricultural Manitoba (UBC, 2011) describes it as a "well-researched book" that reveals "the untold story of how the flow of water in this 'wet prairie' decisively shaped the region's social and political order".
The tension between environmental realities and political culture drives Stunden Bower's narrative. On one side, Manitoba's physical geography and hydrology emerge as the central antagonist of the story, inundating areas with water irrespective of property boundaries or political jurisdictions. Employing the concept of an “ecological commons,” rooted in this regional flow of water, she argues that variable flooding bound communities together in ways that defied, and called into question, the human geography of the grid, the municipality, and the state. On the other side, serving as the chief protagonist in this account, is “liberalism” that Stunden Bower posits as the organizing principle of Canadian society—an ideology built around the sanctity of private property, the centrality of work and individual accumulation, and the legitimacy of a state whose chief function is to create the infrastructure necessary for private enterprise to flourish. Stunden Bower's study is not the first to notice these tensions between liberal capitalism and the land, but it offers one of the best accounts of how this prolonged struggle led ordinary people to rethink these deeply held values.

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