followthethings.com ‘Gown meets Town’ 21 Feb, 7pm: press release

Dr Ian Cook and his Geography students share ideas about their work on the hidden social relations between the producers and consumers of iPhones, money and other things.

Criticisms of the working conditions endured by Chinese factory workers assembling iPhones and iPads have reached a ‘tipping point’ in 2012. Front page feature stories in the New York Times and extended news stories on mainstream TV channels have brought to widespread public attention what trade justice activists have been campaigning about for years. Apple have responded by committing to more transparency in their operations, publishing a list of the companies that supply them, and promising to be more open about the results of ethical audits of supplier factories.

This tipping point has been the result of persistent NGO and media exposés but also of persistent and inventive forms of cultural activism: tasteless iPhone apps, Broadway monologues, spoof Apple websites and more which have helped to make this story stick in the public imagination, to tarnish Apple’s brand and to finally force the company to act.

In this Gown Meets Town event, we want to discuss a website that we have created to showcase these and many other examples of ‘commodity activism’: documentary films, art work, cartoons, journalism, web resources, academic and student work that follows everyday things, making connections between the lives of those who make and use them, trying to show that all everyday things have these lives in them, and thinking about the consequences of these connections. We want to discuss the relative merits of more ‘traditional’ forms of activism that try to engage people in trade justice campaigns through blame, shame and guilt, and the more playful, creative, bitter-sweet forms of cultural activism that aim to engage people in more positive ways. This is where our work on money comes in, and where we will discuss our ’Money talks’ exhibition at the Hub on the Green last December, where we created new forms of money-art-activism to think about the human stories in our cash, credit cards, and bank accounts.

What we want to discuss with those who come along are the ways in which forms of cultural activism can help to engage people of all ages, across formal and informal education settings, in often difficult discussions about what we can do to address the problems of trade injustice.

This session is free and open to all.  The Global Centre can be found at Berkeley House on Dix’s Field, opposite the tourist Information Centre, next to the Southernhay United Reformed Church.

Ends
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Notes to Editors

The Global Centre is an award-winning community centre committed to promoting cultural understanding through projects in Devon and around the world.
Contact details: Ghee Bowman at the Global Centre (01392 438811) or at home (01392 422216), gbowman@gn.apc.org or gbowman@globalcentredevon.wanadoo.co.uk, Global Centre http://www.globalcentredevon.org.uk/

Facebook page for the event: http://www.facebook.com/events/294676847255444/

The Gown Meets Town series has been running since November 2006, and has covered a wide variety of topics, from terrorism to Fairtrade, via feminism and Human Rights in Russia. The sessions bring together Exeter University and the wider county, and are an opportunity for postgraduate students and lecturers to work with a non-academic audience.
University: http://www.ex.ac.uk

Speaker information
Ian is a cultural geographer and the designer and coordinator of followthethings.com, a spoof online shop, resource, database and fieldsite stocked with provocative ‘follow the thing‘ work by academics, students, filmmakers, artists, journalists and others. Ian left Teignmouth High School in 1983 to study at UCL, the University of Kentucky, and Bristol University, then worked at the University of Wales, Lampeter and Birmingham University, before returning to Devon to work in Geography at the University of Exeter in 2007.

Four Exeter University students will also be taking part in this event: undergraduate Geography students Eeva Kemppainen, Eleanor Bird and Tom Surr (all of whom have created new pages for the followthethings.com website and contributed work to the ‘Money talks’ exhibition), and Masters student Jack Parkin (who worked as a followthethings.com intern in the summer of 2011). Also attending will be Doreen Jakob, a Research Fellow on a ‘Craft geographies’ project who has started a yarn bombing group with followthethings.com materials.

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