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 Featured Title
The Culture of Flushing
A Social and Legal History of Sewage
Jamie Benidickson  

$87.00 Hardcover
Release Date: 1/31/2007
ISBN: 9780774812917    

$32.95 Paperback
Release Date: 7/1/2007
ISBN: 9780774812924    

432 Pages

Nature | History | Society series


About the Book

To most, the flush of a toilet is routine -- the way we banish waste and ensure cleanliness. It is safe, efficient, necessary, nonpolitical, and utterly unremarkable. Yet Jamie Benidickson’s examination of the social and legal history of sewage in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom demonstrates that the uncontroversial reputation of flushing is deceptive. The Culture of Flushing is particularly relevant in a time when community water quality can no longer be taken for granted, as it investigates and clarifies the murky evolution of waste treatment.

The Culture of Flushing is essential reading for specialists in environmental history, environmental law, public health, engineering, and public policy. Those concerned with protecting water quality and the environment will also find it unique, comprehensive, and accessible.

About the Author(s)

Jamie Benidickson teaches at the Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa. He is the author of Idleness, Water, and a Canoe: Reflections on Paddling for Pleasure and other publications on the environment, water law, and social history.

Table of Contents

Foreword: Risk and Responsibility in a Waste-Full World / vii
Graeme Wynn

Acknowledgments / xxiii

Introduction: The Culture of Flushing / 3

1 The Advantage of a Flow of Water / 11

2 Navigating Aquatic Priorities / 31

3 A Source of Civic Pride / 57

4 The Water Closet Revolution / 78

5 Municipal Evacuation / 98

6 Learning to Live Downstream / 128

7 The Bacterial Assault on Local Government / 154

8 The Dilutionary Impulse at Chicago / 183

9 Separating Water from the Waterways / 213

10 Streams Are Nature’s Sewers / 244

11 Riparian Resurrection / 267

12 Governing Water / 291

Conclusion: Water Quality and the Future of Flushing / 322

Notes / 333

Suggested Reading / 391

Illustration Credits / 395

Index / 397


The Culture of Flushing does a fine job of comparing issues across national borders, and is one of only a very few studies that integrates English, American, and Canadian experiences.This is a very good synthesis of an important topic that should be of interest to scholars in many fields and to people in many walks of life.
– Martin V. Melosi, professor of history, University of Houston, and author of Effluent America and The Sanitary City.

“Jamie Benidickson has produced an uncommonly wide-ranging and boundary-crossing book … Many legal texts deal with water rights but few combine legal approaches and a rich understanding of context to address the questions posed by sewage and waste disposal. Concerned about environmental degradation, Benidickson … encourages us to think again about the choices we make, the risks we take, and the responsibilities we have as we navigate our ways through what has become a conspicuously waste-full and menacing world.” -- from the Foreword by Graeme Wynn

[Benidickson] writes in a straightforward, non-technical way; the book speaks without artifice to lay readers and regular citizens about an environmental issue that is only rarely in public view in the developed world.
—David Cameron, Literary Review of Canada, April 2007

The Culture of Flushing begins with some water-closet humour: why did Tigger put his head in the toilet? “He was looking for Pooh.” Thereafter, University of Ottawa law professor Jamie Benidickson is all business, exploring the social and legal evolution of waste treatment, its impact on human health and the environment, and the need to do more than flush and forget. It’s a fibre-packed 404 pages, for the serious bathroom reader.
Maclean’s, Sept. 10, 2007

A well-researched, scholarly work written in a style accessible to a wide variety of readers.
—T.E. Sullivan, CHOICE, Vol. 45, No. 2, October 2007

The Culture of Flushing: A Social and Legal History of Sewage, by Jamie Benidickson, is a welcome addition to the growing shelf of books on the historical development of urban water and sewerage systems.

The great virtue of Benidickson’s thematic appoach is the way in which it conveys a sense of how sanitarians, engineers, the public, and the courts in all three countries had to grapple with the same sorts of problems and dropped the same balls in their struggles with water pollution.

…a book that offers a sweeping overview of an important topic made very timely by news reports concerning the almost stupefying water pollution problems plaguing China today. This book puts those problems into a valuable historical prespective.
- Christine Meisner Rosen, Environmental History Journal, Volume 12, Number 4, October 2007

…a thoughtful book, that is witty, informative, thoroughly researched, enriched by historical data, original in approach and of superb quality….

This book represents the perfect gift for people who like to read, be they politicians, policy advisors, engineers and public works managers, students and teachers, scientists, water quality fans, city planners, nature observers, naturalists, you name it. Many gems of thought and quotes can be found in these pages.
- Charles Caccia, Beyond the Hill, 3rd Quarter 2007

…the book carefully looks at more than 200 years of history to describe how water consumers conveniently came to view streams as sewers and how water - one of the planet’s most valuable resources - became an acceptable medium for the disposal of urban and industrial waste.

…the book is written with the general reader in mind and raises questions regarding health, aesthetics, politics, engineering, public policy, and environmental citizenship.
- Gary Miner, Journal AWWA, January 2008

This book offers a pertinent contribution to the often fraught debates on environmental quality versus economic stability that lie at the heart of human uses and abuses of water. Jamie Benidickson, a legal historian, provides an uncommonly wide-ranging treatment of the subjects of water quality and waste disposal in Britain, the United States, and Canada from the early nineteenth century to the present day. Switching deftly between urban centers in Britain and around the Great Lakes, Benidickson explores, through an analysis focused on the law, how a culture of flushing wastes into waterways emerged from the beginnings of industrialization. … The strength of his analysis lies not only in his focus on the law - still a relatively unexplored area of the history of water supply and waste disposal - but also in the sustained concentration on transatlantic exchanges. Focusing on case studies within a myriad of different cities…Benidickson greatly expands the range of comparative analysis largely absent in the existing literature on the subject. It is a credit to the author that, on the whole, he manages to maintain the fine balance between sweeping scope and fine detail.
- Paul Dobraszczyk, University of Reading, Technology and Culture, Vol. 49, January 2008

Benidickson’s arguments for the adoption of new, ecologically sound principles in decisions regarding wastewater are timely, forceful and present a compelling comparative analysis of water quality regulations in Canada, Great Britain and the United States. … What makes Benidickson’s account particularly interesting is his identification of two myths regarding water purification that have consistently marginalized concerns regarding water quality. … In an engaging style, the body of Benidickson’s work focuses on how water quality issues are perpetuated through social institutions based on flushing.
- Jeremy Schmidt, University of Western Ontario, Canadian Public Policy, March 2008

The Culture of Flushing can be read as a modern history of humanity’s disregard for the planet. Although this book is essentially a detailed scholarly work, The Culture of Flushing is highly accessible to general readers. And despite the ostensibly dreadful nature of the subject, it manages to be mostly fascinating, literary and, at times, even entertaining. […] It is impossible not to be dumbfounded by the almost endless examples of environmental folly and negligence to be found in this volume.
- Patrick Mackenzie, subTerrain, Vol.5, No.49, Summer 2008

Benidickson’s book is described as a social and legal history. But it is more than that. An excellent interim overview of the historiography of water and waste, The Culture of Flushing draws on a wide range of specialist publications. Information from this body of literature is intermixed with findings based on original research […]. Anyone who has dipped a toe into the murky complexities of the history of sewage can have nothing but admiration for the clarity with which Benidickson has tackled his multifaceted themes.
- Bill Luckin, University of Manchester, Left History, Vol.1, Issue 13, Spring/Summer 2008

The Culture of Flushing offers another study of the dark side of modernity […]. Most impressive is Benidickson’s comparative approach which offers a rich historical analysis of the legal politics of flushing in Britain, the United States, and Canada. […] Benidickson shows how the connections between industrial development, urbanization, and water quality are critical issues of both the present and the past. Benidickson tells the story of flushing in an attempt to bring attention to a history that has been flushed down the drain, a history of water and society that has escaped historical and legal critique. […] [She] has written an important book that fits well with the work of Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens on ‘risk society’, and will be of interest to specialists in public policy, environmental history, law, political ecology, environmental anthropology, and public health. Without a doubt, The Culture of Flushing makes for great bathroom reading.
- Peter C. Little, Oregon State University, Electronic Green Journal, Vol.1, Issue 27, Fall 2008

Sample Chapter

A sample chapter of this title is not available at this time. For further information, please email

Related Topics

BC Studies
BC Studies > History
Environmental Studies

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