Stephanie C. KaneJan 25, 2023
Just One Rain Away
The Ethnography of River-City Flood Control
McGill-Queen's University Press 2022
Not long ago it seemed flood control experts were close to mastering the unruly flows funnelling toward Hudson Bay and the Prairie city of Winnipeg. But as more intense and out-of-synch flood events occur, wary cities like Winnipeg continue to depend on systems and specifications that will soon be out of date. Rivers have impulses that defy many of the basic human assumptions underpinning otherwise sophisticated technologies. This is the river-city expression of climate change.
In Just One Rain Away: The Ethnography of River-City Flood Control (McGill-Queen's UP, 2022), Stephanie Kane shows how geoscience, engineering, and law converge to affect flood control in Winnipeg. She questions technicalities produced and maintained in tandem with settler folkways at the expense of the plural legal cultures of Indigenous nations. The dynamics of this experimental ethnography feel familiar yet strange: here, many of the starring actors are not human. Ice and water - materializing as bodies, elements, and digital signals - act with diatoms, diversions, sensors, sandbags, and satellites, looping theories about glacial erratics and feminist science studies into scenes from neighbourhood parks, conferences, survey maps, plays, archival photos, a novel, an emergency press conference, LiDAR images, and a lab experiment in a bathtub.
Through storytelling and environmental analytics, Just One Rain Away provides a starting point for cross-cultural discussions about how expert knowledge and practice should inform egalitarian decision-making about flood control and, more broadly, decolonize current ways of thinking, being, and becoming with rivers.