What’s in the Name?

Vijaylakshmi Suman

How often do we as humans see the same thing in so many different ways. This difference in perceptions is generally labelled as subjectivity. My recent read of the book “Postmodern Wetlands: culture, history, ecology” by Rod Giblett (1996) provides a similar situation of how a wetland can be associated with diverse imagination and personification. The author has not focused much on the physicality of this ecosystem but focused more on the perceptions of a wetland. He has mentioned how wetlands which are also referred to as swamps, marsh and bogs are places which are associated with darkness, diseases, death, horror, and uncanny phenomenon. Although he does mention that the wetland could be viewed as picturesque, it may not always be considered aesthetically pleasing. They were viewed as swamps, marsh monsters and sources of different diseases. Also, ‘picturesque’ came to be considered as those wetlands that are artificialized, canalized, and tamed. Further, during these times they were even seen as gendered bodies and described variously, right from bowels of the earth, and kidneys of the environment to womb of the mother earth.

Amongst different chapters of the book, one of the themes has discussed the relationships between cities and wetlands at length. For instance, St. Petersburg or Perth (Western Australia) was built by reclaiming marshes or areas between a river and swamp. Colonization in the modern era has taken on a new form where the foundations of cities have been built and settlements have been established by draining or filling of wetlands. What this signifies is that wetlands were and are still seen as an obstruction to urban development. Although the book states that modern cities are built on filled or drained swamps, the vision of a postmodern city incorporates the idea of returning the repressed. Furthermore, the author has also mentioned that, in the process of creating space for agriculture and urban development, wetlands have been polluted by the production of black waters of a modern waste-wetland, and the effluents of modern industrial technology. However, while degradation of wetlands continues to happen, there has also been a rise of the conservation movement with efforts to rehabilitate wetlands as fully-functioning ecosystems.

Sunset over a wetland in Quebec, Canada. Photo by Alain Audet.

This book has traced the contention among different viewpoints on wetlands. On the one hand, wetlands have been associated with black waters that should be drained and filled as a mark of progress and modernity, but on the other hand, a postmodernist approach recognizes the importance of wetlands and efforts that are being put to conserve and rehabilitate them. It is interesting to see the journey of such an ecosystem whose imagination has changed from colonial times. It has grown from an undesirable ecosystem that must be kept at bay to becoming an important ecosystem that should be conserved and preserved for the various benefits it provides to human settlements.


Giblett, R. J. (1996). Postmodern wetlands: culture, history, ecology. Edinburgh University Press.

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