The ideal river

How control of nature shaped the international order

By Joanne Yao

The ideal river
Hardcover +
  • Price: £20.00
  • ISBN: 9781526154385
  • Publish Date: Mar 2022
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
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    Paperback +
  • Price: £20.00
  • ISBN: 9781526178701
  • Publish Date: Apr 2024
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
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    eBook -
  • Price: £20.00
  • ISBN: 9781526154378
  • Publish Date: Mar 2022
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
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    Book Information

    • Format: eBook
    • ISBN: 978-1-5261-5437-8
    • Published Date: March 2022


    Environmental politics has traditionally been a peripheral concern for international relations theory, but increasing alarm over global environmental challenges has elevated international society's relationship with the natural world into the theoretical limelight. IR theory's engagement with environmental politics, however, has largely focused on interstate cooperation in the late twentieth century, with less attention paid to how the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century quest to tame nature came to shape the modern international order.

    The ideal river examines nineteenth-century efforts to establish international commissions on three transboundary rivers - the Rhine, the Danube, and the Congo. It charts how the Enlightenment ambition to tame the natural world, and human nature itself, became an international standard for rational and civilized authority and informed our geographical imagination of the international. This relationship of domination over nature shaped three core IR concepts central to the emergence of early international order: the territorial sovereign state; imperial hierarchies; and international organizations. The book contributes to environmental politics and international relations by highlighting how the relationship between society and nature is not a peripheral concern, but one at the heart of international politics.


    Winner of the ISA 2024 Harold and Margaret Sprout Award

    Winner of the BISA 2023 L.H.M. Ling Outstanding First Book Prize

    2023 Sussex International Theory Book Prize (Honourable Mention)

    'This is a brilliant book: erudite, thoughtful, beautifully written, richly analysed and theoretically sophisticated. It makes us look again at the way control of rivers - as nature, as resource, as colonial or territorial space - has shaped so many international doctrines, institutions and contestations.'
    Laleh Khalili, author of Sinews of War and Trade

    'In sum, Yao's book makes a strong case for paying attention to and leveraging historical material in IR. This is a crucial contribution to the literature, which should inspire others to extend this framework to the study of other environmental agreements or organizations. The book will be of great interest to several research and policy audiences. Particularly, scholars within hydro-politics will find this book useful as it showcases important milestones towards the establishment of river basin governance. Here, the book persuasively demonstrates how environmental politics can enrich our understanding of international organizations more generally.'
    Stefan Döring, International Affairs


    Introduction: The ideal river
    1 The taming of nature, legitimate authority, and international order
    2 Taming the internal highway: Constructing the Rhine
    3 The 1815 Congress of Vienna and the oldest continuous interstate institution
    4 Disciplining the connecting river: Constructing the Danube
    5 The 1856 Treaty of Paris and the first international organization
    6 Civilizing the imperial river: Constructing the Congo
    7 The 1885 Berlin Conference and the international organization that never was
    8 History is a river: The taming of nature into the twenty-first century
    Conclusion: The strong brown god of the Anthropocene



    Joanne Yao is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Queen Mary, University of London

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