Travelling plants: the meanings and effects of plant movement from Bangladesh to the UK
Michael Heinrich (UCL School of Pharmacy)
Paper short abstract:
The paper explores the meanings and impact of the movement of plants and seeds from Sylhet to London on Bengali women in London. The research finds the exchange links people to ‘home past’ in Bangladesh and is important to ‘home here’ in the UK as it contributes to social interactions and meanings adapt.
Paper long abstract:
The connection between the UK and Sylhet (Northeastern Bangladesh) is a longstanding one and involves the on-going exchange of people, money and goods. The exchanges are both practical and highly symbolic processes, and while transnational in nature they have a significant impact at a local level in both places. This paper explores the impact of sending seeds and plants from Bangladesh to the UK on the landscape, meanings and interactions in London.
The paper is based on qualitative, ethnographic research undertaken in London among Bengali women, as part of a PhD project looking at therapeutic plant practice and the exchange of knowledge across countries and generations. The research found that seeds and plants are frequently sent from Sylhet to London through informal, familial networks. As a result 'Bengali' plants are grown in homes, gardens and allotments. The meanings of these exchanges are multi-faceted and changing. The exchanges serve to connect people to 'home' in Bangladesh as they are sent as gifts sent by relatives. The gardens replicate rural landscapes in Bangladesh and are powerful reminders of 'home past'. However, the plants are important to 'home now' in the UK, as gardens and allotments are sites of social interactions and tensions. Furthermore, their meanings change across generations and countries. In the UK they play into narratives of 'homegrown produce' and 'organic gardening' increasingly evident in the mainstream. This paper therefore highlights how the exchange of plants impacts on local landscapes while linking in global networks and memories.
Food parcels: intimate connexions in transnational migration