The river Thames is deeply embedded in the history(1) of London's financial, ecological, infrastructural, and logistical development. It has and continues to be an organising principle in the design of the city's multiple architectures. Focusing on its speculative dimensions, we decided to examine the "Thames 2050 Vision" report through the Thames estuary.

Challenging the prevailing vision for the Thames and London in 2050, we sought to weave together expertise from various fields and actors in order to demonstrate an inclusive and complex analysis of the city's development. We took the London Docklands as an entry point into the movement and organisation of river(2), waste(3), and capital(4), as well as their rippling effects over the area. London Docklands, once an integral part of global maritime trade, went through a process of "renewal", with Canary Wharf as the most notable area of regeneration. It became a 21st-century hub of global financial flows embodying both value and waste production.

A consideration of the hydrosocial relations between the greater London and the river Thames lead to a conceptualisation(5) of the project around the tidal Thames as a confluence of multi-directional forces in and out of London as node (human migration, trade, capital, waters and currents...). Hydrosocial theories suggest that the management of water impacts the organisation of society. This, in turn, affects the disposition of water and gives rise to new forms of social organisation. Water and the social interact and transform each other through "a socio-natural process by which water and society make and remake each other over space and time" (Linton & Budds, 2014).

So, what does the Tidal Thames move?

Our various project clusters—namely A Monster Soup, Displaced Waters, Carceral Waters, and the Long Shadow over Poplar—identify specific forces and political conditions that produce the river and that are in turn produced by the river. When London's sewage system reaches capacity due to city growth, effluent pours flows directly into the Thames. As maritime trade brings in ships from all over the world, ballast waters carry and release new species into the river. When a cheap workforce is required to build the capitalist empire, the incarcerated are called upon and warehoused in floating prisons that can be towed from site to site. When stock markets outpace local production and consumption, financialised capitalism expands overseas, tying the city's economic growth and decline with those of regions near and far—a practice originating in Britain’s empire-building of slavery and colonialism.

Bringing together these investigations, we observe the increasingly technocratic management of urban flows and circulations. Throughout time, the river is employed both as an asset and a "forgetting mechanism" into which society's undesirables are dropped—cleared from the land and kept away from metropolitan eyes and senses. While the value of waterfront views and riverside connectivity increase, what is ignored as the spectre of development inevitably returns in the form of logistical breakdowns (a monster soup(6)), ecological disturbance (non-native species of displaced waters(7)), mass imprisonment (carceral waters(8)), and over-financialisation of neighbourhoods (Poplar in the long shadow(9) of gentrification).

As our investigation developed and research clusters emerged, the conditions of pandemic lockdown made field research and interviews impossible; the group’s inability to work physically together transformed the project’s process(*). Shifting from a community and site-driven critical exploration to a speculative archive, The Hydrosocial Thames incorporates collected materials with processes and dynamics surfacing from our own relationship to the river. To speculate about the future of the Thames in 2050, a deeper understanding of the multiple flows and forces manifested in the hydrosocial formation of London—historically and at present—should be thoroughly considered.

(J. Linton, J. Budds, "The Hydrosocial Cycle", Geoforum 57 (2014), 175)