5 years ago – we opened shop

Yes, we’re five years old. Our official opening was on 2 October 2011. We visited the humid tropics biome at the Eden Project during Harvest Festival week. We asked passers-by to write postcards to the people who made their things. Below is the original article by CEO Ian about happened next. 

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‘What would you say to the person who picked the banana in your lunchbox?’

Thanks for your hard work. A lot of things would not be possible without you!

This is just one of the touching personal messages written by Eden Project visitors during 2011’s Harvest Festival week. Three Exeter University students and I set up a stall by the smoothie stand in the Humid Tropics Biome. We talked to passers-by about the plants that they had seen that day. ‘Which ones had produced ingredients for your clothes, shoes, lunch, anything you have with you?’ ‘Imagine a person who had, for example, picked the cotton in your top, tapped the rubber in your shoes or packed the banana in your lunchbox.’ ‘What would you say to her or him, if you had the chance?’

Almost everyone stopped to talk to us. Many said that they hadn’t thought much about this before. We provided postcards and pencils, and people spent time talking with their friends and family about exactly what they should write. We collected the cards. At the end of the day, we had 160 heartfelt, friendly and sometimes humorous messages.

Among them were: Continue reading

Key concepts: Æfficacy / Æffect

The followthethings.com project is slowly moving from a curatorial to an analytical phase. We’re getting our heads around ways in which we can analyse the online commentaries we’ve researched and remixed for over 60 films, art works, activist stunts and pieces of journalism.

All of the work showcased on our website sets out to make tangible to its audiences the relationships between the people who make and consume things.

But who made them, why, with what resources and how were they hoping they would make a difference to their audiences and participants?

How did members of their audiences (consumers, citizens, corporations, governments, etc.) make sense of and react to them?

And what impacts do they seem to have had?

We want to assemble a vocabulary (see Massey 2013) which will enable these intentions, relations, reactions and connections to be named, discussed, critiqued and developed.

We’re actively looking to name what we find in our data. 

Æfficacy / Æffect

Effect (v.) “To bring about (an event, a result); to accomplish (an intention, a desire).”
Affect (v.) “To have an effect on the mind or feelings of (a person); to impress or influence emotionally; to move, touch.” (Oxford English Dictionary)

When it comes to bringing about social change, effect and affect are intertwined. Artistic activism aims to bring about demonstrable change through moving people viscerally and emotionally. We might think of this as: Affective Effect. Or, if you prefer: Effective Affect. Or, as we’ve come to call it: Æffect.

At the C4AA we are very, very interested in æffect. Artistic activism might be fun, creative and cutting edge but if it doesn’t deliver the goods in helping to transform the world, then what good is it?

Since we began the C4AA we’ve been asking the questions: Does it work? How do we know? And what does “working” even mean when we combine the arts and activism?

The Streisand Effect

… the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet. It is an example of psychological reactance, wherein once people are aware something is being kept from them, their motivation to access and spread the information is increased.[1]

It is named after American entertainer Barbra Streisand, whose 2003 attempt to suppress photographs of her residence in Malibu, California, inadvertently drew further public attention to it. Similar attempts have been made, for example, in cease-and-desist letters to suppress numbers, files, and websites. Instead of being suppressed, the information receives extensive publicity and media extensions such as videos and spoof songs, often being widely mirrored across the Internet or distributed on file-sharing networks

We’ll post more when we find them. Watch this space.

New publication: Teaching media literacy and the geographies of consumption

How can encouraging students to cut up, rearrange and otherwise mess with adverts’ imagery and messages help them to better appreciate the complex geographies of consumption and international trade? How can the teaching of controversial issues build on students’ senses of injustice, mischief and creativity?  We have a suggestion…

Earlier this year, a booklet called Medialukutaitoa vastamainoksista became a booklet called Teaching media literacy and the geographies of consumption These booklets come from a series of workshops developed by former followthethings.com intern Eeva Kempainnen in a variety of educational settings in Finland. The hands-on and entertaining methods she sets out are suitable for a variety of ages, and the booklets are crammed with ‘how to’ advice and excellent examples of student work. Watch our cheaply produced promo, download the booklets by clicking the links, and find out more about Eeva’s work here.

Thanks to Mary Biddulph and Alan Parkinson for their help in this process.

Fashion Revolution sessions at the RGS(IBG) conference next week


We’ve organised three sessions on ‘Scholar Activism and the Fashion Revolution: who made my clothes?’ at the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) conference in London next week. We are excited to bring together scholars from many countries and disciplines and key members of Fashion Revolution’s Global Coordination Team. Everything takes place on Thursday 1st September. Here’s the line-up (click the session titles for the full details):

Session 1: ‘connecting producers and consumers’

Chair: Ian Cook, Geography, University of Exeter

Rebecca Collins, Geography and International Development, University of Chester: New-Old Jeans or Old-New Jeans? Unpicking perverse, provocative and paradoxical temporalities in young people’s clothing consumption.

Continue reading

Do ‘follow the thing’ documentaries affect their audiences?

This is one of the questions that drives our work at followthethings.com. We tend to find our answers – yes, no, maybe, depends, etc… – in the user-generated comments on video-sharing websites like YouTube and in the comments on newspaper reviews. We’re currently wading through thousands of comments on a 2015  ‘follow the fashion’ film called The True Cost, and came across this powerful video response. We’re giving a paper about the True Cost and fashion activism at a conference next month. There’s an argument in the literature that work like this makes prescriptive arguments about responsibility that are so infinitely demanding they can generate a sense of powerlessness in consumer audiences. This doesn’t seem to be the case, at least for this viewer. Watching this film was a powerful experience. For us, this kind of response changes the question that’s asked. Now it’s ‘how do ‘follow the things’ documentaries affect their audiences? What vocabulary can we develop to describe this? That’s what we’re working on.

followthethings.com as digital geography

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Ian was asked recently to write a short article about the subversive possibilities of digital geographic practice for the journal  Justice Spatiale | Spatial Justice and to place followthethings.com in this emerging, absent, who knows what, tradition. It’s just been published.

We noticed that followthethings.com, or anything that seems (to us) to be anything like it, was not being discussed in reviews of digital geographies. So, we imagined the kind of review in which it would be a central example. A review that’s based on already-published literature that’s informed and helped us to make sense of what we’ve made and what we can do with it. A review whose plea for ‘more digital geographies’ is a plea both for more experiments in digital geography, and for experiments that are themselves more digital.

This kind of work more fully lives in and works through the new media ecology of web2.0. followthethings is an example of what this can look like, how it can operate, the kinds of arguments it can make, how it can make those arguments, how it could be assessed, what we could and should write about ‘it’ in academic journals.

Other examples are, of course, available. For us, the Museum of Contemporary Commodities (MoCC) project also fits this bill, in its own unique ways.

See what you think. Click the image to read the full argument.

Thanks to our friends at Paris 7 University for this opportunity to express ourselves.

On the making of followthethings.com

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Here’s Ian et al’s first paper about the making of followthethings.com. It was published in French in 2014 and has recently been made available on open access. You can now download the paper as it was originally written in English. If you want the French version, click here.

followthethings.com was not designed and then made, but emerged from an iterative, creative, collaborative, conversation-infused, open-ended, making project. The paper is written to reflect this. Here’s the abstract: Continue reading