Review: The Culture of Flushing: A Social and Legal History of Sewage

Article excerpt

Review: The Culture of Flushing: A Social and Legal History of Sewage By Jamie Benidickson Reviewed by Peter C. Little Oregon State University, USA Benidickson, Jamie. The Culture of Flushing: A Social and Legal History of Sewage. Vancouver and Toronto: UBC Press, 2007. 404pp. ISBN: 978-0-7748-1292-4. US$29.95, paper.

Reminiscent of "risk society" scholarship, as pointed out in the foreword by Graeme Wynn, The Culture of Flushing offers another study of the dark side (or the sludge) of modernity that explores murky dimensions of risk society that have seen little attention from social and legal historical scholars: municipal water management, waste water treatment, and the formation and transformation of a legal system designed to manage sewage.

Most impressive is Benidickson's comparative approach which offers a rich historical analysis of the legal politics of flushing in Britain, the United States, and Canada. The book highlights not only national differences in legal culture, and thus national differences in the management of aquatic pollution, but also the multiple ways in which "professionals whose trans-Atlantic careers and exchanges encouraged the continuing diffusion of learning the public health and sanitary engineering communities" (p. 9). The international and exchange of engineering expertise and management practices "nurtured flushing on a grand scale" (p. 4) and had critical impact on the culture of flushing. In this way, The Culture of Flushing attends to legal systems for managing sewage in urban environmental by comparing and contrasting the practices and consequences of flushing in core global cities, including Toronto, Chicago, New York, and London.

The Culture of Flushing is grounded by a detailed history of flushing. Beginning with the development of water laws in England in the 19th century to the formation of a coalition of Surfers against Sewage or Surfriders who are fighting to safeguard coastal waters, Benidickson shows how the connections between industrial development, urbanization, and water quality are critical issues of both the present and the past. Benidickson tells the story of flushing in an attempt to bring attention to a history that has been flushed down the drain, a history of water and society that has escaped historical and legal critique. …


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