Accepted Paper:

Dwelling, Pollution, and the Rhetorical Creation of "Nature" on the Waterways of Southern England  


Ben Bowles (SOAS)

Paper short abstract:

Boat-dwellers on the waterways of England, due to their experience of dwelling within the waterscape, come to understand their relationship to “nature” (as they rhetorically construct the concept) as one of proximity, lacking the alienation that they see as being central to the sedentary experience.

Paper long abstract:

Here, I describe how itinerant boat-dwellers or Boaters, those that live permanently aboard steel narrowboats, fibreglass river cruisers, and riveted steel 'barges' on the canals and rivers of South East England, come to experience and understand nature and pollution through processes of dwelling within, and dealing with, their watery or amphibious environment. Boaters often speak about their choice of housing as allowing them to enjoy a closer relationship with and proximity to "nature" - this despite the fact that they have chosen to live aboard man-made vessels floating upon waterways made or modified by man. This begs the question of what leads Boaters to make such claims of proximity to a "natural" order? I proposes that, through the constitutive acts which take place in the course of dwelling upon the waterways, Boaters learn to experience and interact with their surroundings, neighbours, animals, and other aspects of their environment in a manner which is more immediate and less alienated than would be familiar to sedentary house dwellers. Using Michel Serres' formulation (2008:278), boats' "fragile shell(s)" do little to distance the boat-dwellers from the dynamic watercourses which surround them, from the fickle British weather, from the passage of the seasons, from their own by-products and waste, or from the public space of the towpath.

Panel Env05
Amphibious dwelling: exploring life between wet and dry