Guest blog: what is the thing with palm oil?

This year we have been working with Dr Carolin Schurr in Switzerland. Her new ‘Follow the Thing: Studying Transcultural Markets’ course at the University of St Gallen ran in parallel to our ‘Geographies of Material Culture’ course at the University of Exeter. To showcase the awesomely critical, creative scholar-activist work that our students produce, this year we’ve published student guest blogs about gun sights,  iPhones and paint. This post contains two pieces of work on palm oil by Carolin’s students Gianmarco Zorloni, Harpreet Perhar, Julian Krauth, Leonardo Ehnimb and Milan Kuzmanovic. We start with a short animated information film (expertly put together using Videoscribe software) and a script showing how ‘the thing with palm oil’ can enter conversation and affect behaviour. How can you respond to ‘follow the thing’ research that finds that thing in, more or less, everything?! 

The information film

The script

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Advice from Emma Watson: ‘always follow the thing’

We know from our research that the involvement of celebrities in activist campaigns raises their media profiles and impacts. We have been hoping that our ‘follow the things’ project would one day attract a celebrity to get behind what we’re doing, encourage others to do what we do. Yesterday we found what we were looking for. Emma Watson was exchanging advice for $2 in New York’s Grand Central Station. We’ve skipped to the part in the video when she’s responding to one young man’s question. If you take her advice entirely out of content, she’s giving us an endorsement. Her character Hermione Grainger has inspired activist members of the Harry Potter Alliance. Now she inspires us. The way she says our words is wonderful. Thank you Emma. 

Guest comic – Painting the way for change

Here’s yet another strange and wonderful piece of work from the Exeter Geography module behind our website. It’s Rebecca Jones’ cartoon strip in which she tries to humanise paint and its commodity relations, health, safety and ethics. It starts like a talk by a young woman, but other speakers soon appear….

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Click the image to download the rest.

#whomademyclothes? Fazlul Ashraf?

A week ago PhD student Thomas Dekeyser tweeted a photograph of a note found in someone’s Zara jeans. We circulated it at work, and loads of people discussed what language it might be written in and what it could say. We’d found a note on a CD player and found help to translate it before.

There’s a genre of shop-dropping in which factory workers leave notes for consumers in the things they make. Sometimes they’re genuine. Sometimes they’re hoaxes. Sometimes they’re part of activist campaigns. See our post The 13 best examples of shop-dropping … ever for more

This one was particularly relevant for the Fashion Revolution movement, whose core question is ‘Who made my clothes?’ This note could simply be a direct answer. According to Reddit. Or is there more to it?

Thanks to Thomas and to Brad Garrett for the tipoff.

Unstoppable, incredible … #IWD2017

How the ‘follow the thing’ approach has become part of International Women’s Day campaigning. In 1907, the University of Chicago says:

‘A common version of the beginning of International Women’s Day starts … with a march of textile women workers in New York. Amidst public discussion about the conditions of textile workers and women’s campaign for suffrage, about 15,000 women working in needle and textile industries marched through New York City. The demonstrators sought to commemorate police brutality encountered in a women workers demonstration in 1857, as well as demanded shorter work hours, better pay and voting rights’ (source).

In 2016 REMAKE published online their film Celebrating the Women Behind Our Fashion. This year, OXFAM GB published online its films about Florina the Unstoppable Tomato Tree Farmer and Theresie and the Incredible Pineapple Harvest.

Read and watch!

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Follow the… Fairtrade Fortnight 2017

‘Would people still love a bargain if we bought these issues closer to home?’

‘Money is the journey we send it on.’

It’s fairtrade fortnight, the time of year when companies and NGOs make the relations and responsibilities between the producers and consumers of everyday things mainstream news. In this post we highlight two contrasting videos in which these relations are a) brought close to home through the delivery of food and b) stretched out through investing money (perhaps the most fascinating commodity) in an ethical ISA. Watch and discuss…

Follow the produce: the home delivery service they weren’t expecting

Follow the money: the most rewarding cash ISA in the world