Dr. Dipak Gyawali, senior guest research scholar with the Equity and Justice (EQU) research group at IIASA, will deliver a keynote speech at the 12th Mary Douglas Memorial Lecture: From Serendipity to the ‘Wave of the Future ! A hydro-engineer’s journey into Cultural Theory.


It was pure serendipity meeting Mary Douglas for the first time in early 1991 at the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute/San Diego. I had then no idea something called Cultural Theory even existed. I last interacted with her at a 2007 seminar organised by Steve Rayner in Oxford where the Nepali edition of Uncertainty on a Himalayan Scale by Michael Thompson et al. was released which contained a 40-page new introduction by Mike and I. In the intervening decade-and-a-half, interacting with her off-and-on, I began to look – through the lens of Cultural Theory – at “distorted development”, its engineering and economics, practiced by official agencies with their foreign aid international partners. The theory has been of immense help in challenging development orthodoxy in forums I participated in, from national commissions to international bodies.

This keynote will describe that journey of academic research coupled with socio-environmental activism, the reception Cultural Theory gets in non-Euro-American contexts, and what Cultural Theory framework would mean for rethinking development as the Age of Aid comes to an end with the Old World Order in decline and a new one struggling to be born. After our San Diego meeting, Mary very generously sent me a package with many of her books, which helped me in interrogating projects and policies around natural resources (water, energy, forests, habitats etc.). Skeptical at first, I eventually began to find the Cultural Theory framework extraordinarily useful in challenging ossified thinking in national and international agencies. These interrogations also led Mary to having a more positive view of the role of egalitarianism in constructive engagements between social solidarities struggling to find some clumsy solutions.

Dipak Gyawali, a hydro-electric power engineer (Moscow Energy Institute/USSR) and political-economist (ERG/UC Berkeley), is an Academician of the Nepal Academy of Science and Technology, and a Guest Senior Research Scholar of the Equity and Justice (EQU) Research Group in IIASA’s Population and Justice Societies (POPJUS) Program. He also served as Nepal’s Minister for Water Resources. His research focuses on the society-technology-resource base interface, and his social and environmental activism on what he calls “structural corruption” at those interstices, an expression Mary Douglas liked because she thought it had “tremendous forensic possibilities”.

About the seminar:

The annual lecture, in memory of Dame Mary Douglas (1921-2007), is sponsored by the Royal Anthropological Institute, the School of Anthropology & Museum of Ethnography at the University of Oxford, and the Department of Anthropology at the University College London (UCL).

Today, there is more interest in Douglas’s theoretical legacy across the social sciences, the humanities and some areas in the technological sciences than there has ever been, either in her own lifetime or since. New work is being published every month which advances the research programme which she began, and no single scholar could keep up with all of it. The Mary Douglas Seminar provides those interested in the tradition with an opportunity to hear current work, debate new developments and deepen and wider scholarly contact among researchers working with arguments derived from Douglas’s oeuvre.

The Mary Douglas Seminar is very highly interdisciplinary, and colleagues join from every one of the social sciences and the humanities. The diversity of disciplines and types of research in this year’s programme is particularly strong.

For registration and further information please visit the UCL website.

Upcoming Events