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Cleaning, Draining, and Sanitizing the City: Conceptions and Uses of Water in the Montreal Region

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Abstract

How are political dynamics embodied in the city's materiality, and how, in turn, is the environment used in the moulding of social bonds and power relations? Through an examination of the presence of water in Montreal, in particular of wastewater, this article explores the ways in which this problem, and the solutions advanced to solve it, were constructed and presented. At the turn of the twentieth century, water constituted a central factor in the process of reconfiguring the relations between human beings and natural elements, the effects of which had repercussions on both the relationship between individuals and groups and between city and surrounding areas. This article analyzes certain social and political consequences of this process that transformed the relationship with water, rendering it at once more widespread and more regulated. After presenting the terms on which questions relating to the disposal of wastewater were raised in a context where both the availability of water in the city and its consumption were increasing, the article considers the fallout of wastewater disposal on the shores of the Island of Montreal. On the outskirts of the city, as much as within its boundaries, ways of perceiving and of solving such problems were not only shaped by social and political relations, but also mirrored them. Comment les dynamiques politiques s'incarnent-elles dans la matérialité des villes et comment, en retour, l'environnement est-il mis à contribution dans le modelage des relations sociales et des rapports de pouvoir ? Examinant les débats provoqués par la présence de l'eau à Montréal, en particulier de l'eau souillée, cet article s'interroge sur la manière dont ce problème et les solutions avancées pour le résoudre ont été construits et présentés. Au tournant du XXe siècle, l'eau représente un élément central dans le processus de reconfiguration des relations entre les humains et les éléments naturels dont les incidences se répercutent à la fois sur les rapports entre individus et collectifs et entre ville et milieu environnant. L'article analyse certaines des conséquences sociales et politiques de ce processus qui transforme le rapport à l'eau en le rendant plus généralisé en même temps que plus réglementé. Après une présentation des termes suivants lesquels se posent les problèmes soulevés par l'évacuation de l'eau dans un contexte où sa disponibilité dans la ville et sa consommation s'accroissent, l'article s'attarde aux retombées provoquées par l'évacuation des eaux usées sur les rives de l'île de Montréal. Autant aux marges de la ville qu'à l'intérieur de ses limites, la manière de percevoir les problèmes liés à la gestion de l'eau tout comme de les solutionner se révèle être façonnée par les rapports sociaux et politiques, tout comme elle en constitue une traduction.

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