Assembling the Kankakee River: Infrastructure, Energy, and Flow

Authors: Julie Cidell*, University of Illinois
Topics: Transportation Geography, Energy, United States
Keywords: infrastructure, energy, rivers, North America, assemblage
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 32
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Flowing for approximately 130 miles between Indiana and Illinois in the Midwestern U.S., the Kankakee River has served as a means of travel, a channel to carry away rainwater from poorly-drained fields, a critical element of nuclear energy production, and a nationally-designated recreation site. Other imagined uses never came to fruition, such as a lock-and-dam system that would have brought together nearby coal fields with riverborne iron to produce a steel manufacturing center. Each of these uses depends in part on the unique materiality of the river, both the water it carries and the nature of its flow. In this paper, I draw on assemblage theory to consider how the material characteristics of the river and what it can carry—water, ice, heat, microorganisms, ships, and fish—have enabled and thwarted human activity in adjacent areas. I also consider the temporal aspects of the assemblage, including how energy production in three different eras—coal, nuclear, and hydro—has been intertwined with industrial and recreational uses along and near the river.

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