Tending to the garden.

Recent news about research and projects.

Collaboration-small 001.jpgWelcome to ‘Tending to Garden’.

This website is by and about Bhavana and Will Tuladhar Douglas. We live in Aberdeen, Scotland but our research is often in Asia. Herein you will find ethnobiology, Newar studies, Buddhist studies, medical anthropology, indigenous knowledge, Himalayan studies, linguistics and all manner of other topics.

You might also find the blog interesting.

This site was ransom-hacked in 2015, during the initial reconstruction efforts after the Nepal earthquake. If you found anything there useful and are wondering where it went, please let us know and we'll try to put it back. 



Ongoing projects.

Biodiversity in sacred landscapes.

This is a long-running project which has surfaced at the Perth Mountains conferences in 2010 and 2015. Papers from the 2015 panel will be published in a special issue of Scottish Geographical Journal.

The problem is deceptively simple: studies have shown that there is unusually high biodiversity in sacred landscapes. Why? In previous work WTD has argued that these are—at least in Asia—usually also sites of high cultural diversity, and that points us towards what Maffi and others term ‘biocultural diversity’, a term for which we have no good alternative. The usual account refers to religion and invokes ‘religious norms’ or other un-analysable social effects of private belief. Of course, the whole notion of the individual with beliefs is itself a religious norm imported into scientific discourse and sharply challenged by both post-humanists and cultural relativists, and we find ourselves with a tautological explanation for a desperately important feature—that somehow sites of intense interaction between multiple human and non-human social orders show atypical biological diversity. The problem is thus one that requires focussed STS critiques of scientism as well as acute and compassionate ethnobiological research.

WBTD summarised this in a blurb for his ResearchGate site — not that we trust ResearchGate! — but the blurb is reproduced here:

Goal: A. Discern, through comparative study of social and ecological processes around sites with striking ritual or cultural significance, (1) *what are the generalisable factors* in the production and maintenance of higher-than-background diversity as measured both through biodiversity indicators (plant diversity) and cultural diversity indicators (e.g., linguistic diversity), and (2) *what factors are locally variable*.
B. Develop improved methods for (1) measuring cultural and biocultural diversity (weighting for polyglossia, weighting for indigenous/minority languages, use of inseparably biocultural indicators such as forest medicines), and improved methods for (2) foregrounding local community ontologies in the assessment and documentation of biodiversity.
C. Critique and overcome the barriers to the effective study of such sites imposed by neocolonial theories of ‘religion’ and the ‘sacred’, by deploying multiple non-privileged theoretical frames as a locally variable factor.

Specific projects within this project include:

Scottish Sacred Wells.

WBTD was, until his bicycle was stolen (grrr...), cycling with our daughter to visit sacred wells in Scotland. There is a list of these available through Canmore and visiting each of these wells offers a chance to develop a replicable and comparable methodology for measuring proxies for biocultural diversity. For example: does it make more sense to measure old trees in an 0.5km radius around the site, or medicinal herbs very close to the site? Or both? What's an appropriate diameter for measuring linguistic diversity? If anyone wants to help fundraise for a Thorn Nomad so that he can carry on the work do please let him know...

Comparable ‘sacred’ and non-sacred sites

In order to challenge the privileged category of the ‘sacred‘, real counterexamples are required. We're looking for sets of places where value-led behaviour is a driver for enhanced biodiversity, or ideally, biocultural diversity, but the actual value systems are not all of the kind that would usually be labelled ‘sacred’ or ‘religious’. If, for example, football pitches or skateboard parks were accompanied by high biodiversity, these could be compared to chapels or stone circles. They're not, but that's the sort of apparently incongruous comparison we're seeking.

The garland of anthropologies

In conversation with Joy Hendry over the past few years at ASA conferences WTD began to put forward the idea that different cultural-intellectual histories might yield distinct kinds of anthropology. This resulted in a long and rather exuberant paper called ‘Towards a Buddhist Social Anthropology’ which Richard Payne gave a very kind welcome. It is a first step, where WTD tries to think through post-humanist social theory in a Buddhist way. He argued in a paper given at MIASU in Cambridge that (at least for Mahāyānists) literary meaning would also need to be understood differently, given the Perfection of Wisdom theories; and it is clear, too, that the supposition underlying critical theory, that we theorise from our unique historical moment and accept its limits, changes radically if group karma means that all of us who are here (that includes you, Gentle Reader) were here before, and before, and before. Economics and exchange theory would also need reworking. So: agency, exchange, time, critical perspective, and literary meaning all work differently in a Buddhist anthropology rather than the Christian one we take to be ‘normal‘—what else? 

Projects being written up.

We were in Nepal and nearby for much of 2011-3 on a Wellcome Trust (thanks Henry!) grant. We studied the flow of materials and information around traditional medicine. The results are being written up (slowly) as a two-volume monograph called Small Shops, Vast Landscapes. Material from this research has been presented at a number of conferences. The first volume will be a traditional monograph, while the second volume contains primary sources in Newari, Sanskrit, and other languages as well as translations.

Situgyan Consulting Limited

BTD and WTD have had a small consulting business for some years and in 2017 we decided to make it proper. Situgyan Consulting Ltd. will allow us to tackle bigger projects and engage a much wider audience. The tagline is ‘biocultural diversity in extraordinary places’ — have a look!