Paper Short Abstract:
Steadily through the centuries, the river Emscher runs through the Ruhr District: once a landscape of swamps and streams, then a canal of toxic water and currently turned into technoscientific nature. I tell the story of the Emscher as a story of varying material-semiotic interrelations of care.
Paper long abstract:
Tell the story of the river Emscher, and you tell the history of the Ruhr District. While the river Ruhr delivered drinking water, the Emscher took care of the faeces, and seemed inappropriate as name-giver to the region. "Köttelbäcke" (Köttel = rodent droppings; Bäcke = diminutive of a brook) was its pet name throughout the golden age of the German mining industry - appropriately non-translatable, and so restricting the flow of talk about the Emscher while its toxic water flooded its surroundings. In the early 20th century the stinking water got a 100 km long concrete "corset", and warning signs of the mortal danger of falling into the river made people turn their backs to the Emscher. The late 20th century's decline of the mining industry spurred growth in the talk about the river. Additional to epidemiological terms, chemical, biological, hydraulic and ecological vocabularies started encircling the slowly running water, along with urban political and art talk, water management terminologies and concepts of citizen participation. A 30-year project was initiated to "renaturate" the Emscher, which came to be known as the "Emscher 3.0".
I am fascinated by the steadiness of the water and of the stream across their several translations and transformations. The paper discusses how the water of the Emscher has taken care of varying concerns throughout its Modern history, and how the Emscher water has been cared for in varying ways. It is a story of continuity across translations, and of material-semiotic interrelations of care.
In other words: caring for water