The Voices of Water: mobility and subversion through the stories and biographies of London canals


  • Elena Scovazzi Goldsmiths College


The following essay consists of an exploration of the lifestyle of  boaters living on the canal Regents and river Lee of the east London area,  through the lenses of “nomadism”. Even though narrowboating is part of England long standing history and folk tradition,  however in the past three years there has been a huge increase in the number of boats particularly in the central and east areas, which many argue has very much to do with London housing crisis as well as to issues of gentrification. In light of  recent changes in London’s waterscape, my argument seeks to discern why mobility, which has always been the cornerstone of boating,  has become highly problematic and quite contestable. By listening to boaters’ accounts of their own personal experience as well as by looking at the diverse nature of paths and trajectories that led some to choose the water either as an all-desired destination or as a provisional compromise, my research investigates whether such a nomadic lifestyle is in fact freely chosen and desirable, or rather dictated by other (external) circumstances such as economic pressures; from both a practical and theoretical point of view, this research will thus focus on the manifold ways in which tensions arising from the agency-structure contrast permeate boaters’ lives in the waterscape world. By employing classic concepts of “nomadism”  as well as more recent theories on the “nomadic state” as frameworks of analysis, on the one hand this research seeks to thoroughly describe boater’s contradictory mobile lifestyle as well as engagement with the surrounding environment, on the other, it ultimately raises questions over the possibility of conceptualising boaters as nomads.




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