Hydrology of the Powerless

Duncan, Ifor. 2021. Hydrology of the Powerless. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This PhD project identifies the complex imbrications of political and environmental violence resulting in patterns of human bodies and remains washing up on the shores of three rivers. It seeks to demonstrate that, contrary to common abstractions and universalisations of water as empty and neutral, the materiality and fluvial processes of rivers are highly engineered and even weaponised. Part I, co-researched with colleague Stefanos Levidis (CRA), considers the Evros / Meriç / Maritsa river between Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria as a Fluvial Frontier weighted with riverine crossings and systematic illegal pushbacks at the border of the EU. Part II explores the condition of Fluvial Terror on the Cauca river in Colombia, where the dispossessions of local communities, through extractive processes, are further compounded by the obfuscation of paramilitary violence within the reservoir of the Hidroituango megadam. Part III reads the mobilisation of the confluence of the Wisła, Soła and Przemsza rivers, Poland, as a technology in the obfuscation of traces from the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp and IG Farben chemical factory, as well as contemporary anthropogenic pollutants. In each case power organises, and is organised around, specific fluvial processes and hydrologic properties to disperse the causal agencies ofviolence enacted against subjugated and disempowered communities. Incorporatingvisual culture, testimony, field notes and hydrophonic soundings I employ amethodology that reads rivers across a multi-scalar spectrum from flood to drought,and from entire river catchments to the particulate scale of processes of saltation,accretion and erosion. This thesis, consequently, offers an alternative conceptualisation of rivers as complex and dynamic archives that resist attempts to erase acts of state and non-state violence, and instead continue to narrate andmediate the stories and traces of those who have been lost.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):



ecology, borders, genocide, water, rivers, extraction, infrastructure, holocaust, hydrology, necro-politics

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures > Centre for Research Architecture


31 March 2021

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

19 Apr 2021 14:48

Last Modified:

07 Sep 2022 17:18



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