Commodity activism in a transmedia world: our latest publication
There’s an academic publications page on our blog that gives a taste of, and provides access to, our research papers about the followthethings.com project. A book chapter has just been published in an open access e-book that brings together a series of lectures in Switzerland asking if and how social scientific research can transform society. Our answer is a qualified yes.
Cook et al, I. (2017) followthethings.com: analysing relations between the making, reception and impact of commodity activism in a transmedia world. in Ola Söderström, Laure Kloetzer & Hugues Jeannerat (eds) Innovations Sociales: Comment les Sciences Sociales contribuent à transformer la Société, MAPS: Université de Neuchâtel, 50-61 Full Text
What we are keen to find out are what filmmaking, artistic and activist tactics lead to what kinds of public and corporate responses, and with what kinds of impacts on whom. There is an established argument that, when this work is didactic and tries to enroll its audiences through blame, shame and guilt, it tends to fail. Audiences feel powerless, overwhelmed, apathetic, and angry at those making them feel this way rather that at the injustices exposed (Barnett 2010, Sandlin & Milam 2008, Cook & Woodyer 2012). Even the most cursory examination of our website suggests that the elements of, and relationships set out in, this argument are quite narrowly defined. To illustrate this, we offer below a taste of what’s to come from the analysis of the followthethings.com archive. We provisionally outline one engagement tactic, one kind of consumer response, one kind of corporate response, and one kind of impact.
Guest blog: Dear iPhone Girl
Here’s another excellent example of journal writing from the Exeter Geography module behind our website. At the start of the module, we ask the students to add to their phone homescreens this photo of an Apple factory worker which, it seems, was accidentally left on an iPhone bought in 2009. The person who found this and four other photos posted them online and the quest to find out who she was, why photos of her were on that phone, and what would happen to her after they went pubic went viral (as documented on our followthethings.com page). We ask our students to keep her photo on their homescreens until the end of the module, for almost 4 months. What can happen to you when she looks at you every time you look at your phone, wherever you go? Sophie Woolf explains… to the person who became known as ‘iPhone Girl’.
Our 4th #followtheteachers post: on subvertisement workshops
A couple of weeks ago, we published a guest post from Eeva Kemppainen describing the ways in which her work for followthething.com and her masters thesis on trade justice pedagogy in the UK and Finland, had led to her work on a ‘Closing the Gap’ project with Finnish pro-ethical trade NGO Eetti . This is Eeva’s second post, in which she describes how she works with diverse groups of students (using followthethings.com as a resource) and shows the kinds of subverts that her students create.
Our 3rd #followtheteachers blog post: from Finland
The Geographies of Material Culture module that I took at Exeter University in my Erasmus year triggered a fascination about trade justice education and culture jamming. Quite an effect? Yes… and let me tell where this has led.
I’m one of the interns who helped to develop the followthethings.com website. I also worked with the site’s #followtheteachers group. My Masters thesis at the University of Helsinki focused on creative teaching of commodity geographies, young people’s geographies and culture jamming – a research field in which academics are narrowing school-university-NGO-gaps. My aim was to introduce these mindboggling ideas in Finland.
Foxconn factory work: 2 perspectives
In response to a student query today about the pride that factory workers can have in making consumer goods for others, I recommended that the two short films below were watched one after the other.
Both are about the notorious manufacturer of Apple and other electronic goods: Foxconn.
This is an extract from a documentary film in which young factory workers are interviewed in a photo studio across the road from the factory.
This is an episode of from the Al Jazeera TV series Activate, about the investigation into worker rights, health and safety in Foxconn factories by Hong Kong based NGO Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour.
Our 2nd #followtheteachers blog post
Over the course of the 2013-4 academic year, we’re following seven school teachers and they use and adapt followthething.com in their classrooms in England. Our second post is by Natalie Batten. She reflects on how she encouraged her students to use our site last year to help compare and contrast multinational corporations. This year, she will be using one of our new game-based teaching resources to encourage her students to better appreciate corporations’ diverse policies regarding workers’ rights and monitoring.
I covered a similar topic to the one discussed in Oprah’s #followtheteachers blog post – that of globalisation and multinational companies. This scheme, however, was implemented for AS Level Geography students (studying the OCR exam syllabus). This highlights the versatility of followthethings.com site as a resource for a variety of student ages, even when covering the same topic area. For example, while Oprah used the site to introduce globalisation at Year 7, I used it at A level to consolidate pupils’ prior learning and provide them with examples and case studies for their exams.
The pupils were not familiar with the site, so time was incorporated into the scheme of work for them to explore it. They really liked the layout and navigation of the site and its recognisable format – like other online stores such as Amazon – which made the site personal to them and their interests.
The different forms of data presentation on the site (eg. film reviews, travel journals, newspaper articles and Lego re-creations) provided opportunities for differentiation with more able pupils challenging themselves through interpretation of more abstract research sources. In particular, some used the Ford Car Seat page – based on a 2006 film called ‘Made in Dagenham’ – to explore social and historical geographical topics such as feminism and women’s rights. This was important as it allowed pupils to ‘find the geography’ and make synoptic links to other geographical topics during their MNC research task.
An extension to a task like this could be to incorporate followthethings.com’s new teaching resource – Ethical Trade Trump Cards as a way to compare and contrast global MNCs on categories such as worker’s rights, policies and monitoring in an exciting and familiar game for pupils.
Both they and myself as a trainee teacher took a lot of positives away from this activity and I will certainly be using followthethings.com in my future teaching for this and other topics.
IWD: dedicate your smartphone homescreen to ‘iPhone Girl’.
It’s International Women’s Day today. We’re asking smartphone owners to dedicate their homescreen to ‘iPhone Girl’. She was a quality control worker checking iPhones in Foxconn’s Shenzhen factory. Her workmate is said to have taken her photo to check the camera, and then failed to delete it.
It was found by a UK iPhone buyer. It appeared on his new phone’s homescreen the first time he switched it on. He posted his experience and the photos on his camera on the macrumors forum. The rest, as they say, is history…[read our ftt page that tracks this story here).
Young women (and men) like her assembled your smartphone, so let’s acknowledge this today (and every day).
For Mike Daisey: we publish our followthethings.com ‘iPhone Girl’ page.
I hope she doesn’t get fired, she looks so bloody happy! I will dedicate my iPhone homescreen to her for the rest of this week (Source: vegasdodger 2008)
To mark Mike Daisey’s publication of the transcript for ‘The Agony & Ecstasy of Steve Jobs’, we are publishing a draft followthethings.com page on the ‘iPhone Girl’ phenomenon which inspired his work.
In it, we research the origins of the story in a macrumors.com posting, its travels worldwide, and the conversations that it provoked. … This is now published on site here.
See Mike Daisey talking about how the ‘iPhone Girl’ photos inspired his work in this TV interview:
Check out our other pages on how the ‘Foxconn suicides’ newspaper stories coincided with the 2010 launch of the iPad in the UK (here and here) and the spoof ‘iPhone CF’ web page and action by the YesMen et al (here). In the summer of 2012, more pages researching Apple/Foxconn cultural activism will be added to followthethings.com, including Molleindustria’s PhoneStory app (see here) and Mike Daisey’s ‘The Agony and ecstasy of Steve Jobs’ (listen here).
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.
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), firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, 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.
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.
New examples for followthethings.com now being researched
Students taking Ian Cook’s ‘Geographies of material culture’ module are now researching the following examples to produce new ‘compilation pages’ for publication on followthethings.com.
Help with our research?
If you know of any good discussions, interviews, videos and any related information on any of the sources below, please comment on this post. Thanks…
Starbucks Coffee, iPhones and tents: Louise Mensch on Occupy London (BBCTV Have I Got News For You, 26 October 2011: watch here).
Various food: Food Inc documentary (2009: watch trailer).
Hamburber: McLibel film (2005: watch trailer).
Nike training shoes: Jonah Perretti’s Nike ID emails (2001: read emails).
Various clothing: ‘Primark: on the rack’ BBCTV Panorama documentary (2008: doc webpage).
Jeans: China blue documentary (2005: watch trailer).
Various clothing: Kelsey Timmerman’s Where am I wearing? book (2008: watch trailer).
iPhone: The agony and the ecstasy of Steve Jobs, Mike Daisey monologue (2011: watch interview)
Various electricals: Maquilapolis documentary (2006: watch trailer).
iPhone: PhoneStory app (2011: watch review/demo).
Various toys: Santa’s workshop: inside China’s slave labor toy factories documentary (2006? watch whole film).