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Cultures, Communities and Design

The Life of the River: Currents and Torrents at the Edge of British Empire
C. Kray


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While modernism associated progress with cities and tradition with the countryside, Rem Koolhaas’s “Countryside, the Future” considers the “radical” experimentations in living and creating in rural spaces in the 21st century. This paper engages with Koolhaas’s recognition of the countryside as a place of experimentation, but only so as to chip away at the modernist dichotomy of city and countryside which was rooted in a colonialist imaginary. After all, the countryside was the future in earlier imperialist schemes, even while metropolitan elites painted their urban spaces as the center of civilization. Ingold and Kohn urge us to consider the interplay and synergistic evolutions of humans and the natural environment, even going so far as to recognize the vitality of nonliving beings. Across the half-century of the Caste War of Yucatán (1847–1901), rivers had lives of their own—they were characters in the drama of violent relations among people of Spanish, African, Indigenous, and British descent at the edge of the British empire (what is now Belize). Town and hinterland were not separate, isolable regions, but locations directly married by connecting waterways and their powerful currents which transported boats, humans, and goods. Colonial British Honduran officials envisioned the countryside as Britain’s future, ands rafts of freight-train-sized mahogany logs were floated downstream toward foreign markets, where they were used in shipbuilding and railway building for industrial revolutions. Rivers also served as international boundaries, creating zones of risks and rewards for refugees, tax dodgers, absconding peons, and merchant capitalists, alike. Upriver went British guns and barrels of incendiary gunpowder that sustained five decades of war, while downriver, those same barrels carried incendiary rum that sustained debt peonage. This paper considers what we can gain by temporarily ignoring the density and distance of settlements and instead listening to the stories of the water.


Christine A. Kray (PhD, University of Pennsylvania) is Professor of Anthropology at Rochester Institute of Technology. Her books include Nasty Women and Bad Hombres: Gender and Race in the 2016 US Presidential Election (co-edited with Tamar W. Carroll and Hinda Mandell, U- Rochester Press, 2018) and Gender, Race, and Political Culture in the Trump Era: The Fascist Allure (co-edited with Uli Linke, Routledge, 2021). Her book manuscript on colonial British Honduras during the Caste War era is under review.