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), followed by a script showing how ‘the thing with palm oil’ can enter conversation and affect behaviour, and finishing with the research report upon which this work is based. How can you respond to ‘follow the thing’ research that finds that thing in, more or less, everything?!
The information film
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.
Buying gifts to give to loved ones presents unique dilemmas to those who are concerned about who made them, under what conditions.
Yes, it’s Valentine’s Day soon. It’s also been claimed as International Flower Workers’ Day. We’ve added a Seasonal Header to our website to make the point that they are the same thing.
We have also created a set of Lego re-creations to encourage discussion about things and love this week.
- one is based on a followthethings.com page about a controversial advertising campaign by the Finnish chocolate brand Fazer, which refers to a documentary called ‘The Dark Side of Chocolate;
- another (above) re-creates a scene from Kanye West’s music video ‘Diamonds are from Sierra Leone’, where a New York jeweler takes a diamond directly from a child miner and gives it to a wealthy client;
- a third takes Livia Firth’s short film about the care that unseen garment, shoe- and jewelry-makers invest in consumers’ appearance, and applies it to Valentine’s day flower growers;
- and the last one re-creates part of an activist documentary arguing that these kinds of hidden relations encourage us to think differently about ‘love’ in all of our relations, near and far, known and unknown.
Click the links or the slideshow photo to find out more, and to get some advice on more ethical Valentine’s Day gifts. Click here to go directly to the YouTube Valentine’s Day playlist that goes with the set.
February 14th could be an unforgettable day.
It’s a game
Students at the University of Exeter designed an Ethical Trade Trumps card game in November last year using data from free2work.org. This summer, we worked this up into a ftt-‘branded’ game, complete with rules, and templates so that groups of people could make and play cards with their stuff. You can download its templates here. This was designed with advice from the secondary school teachers involved in our ＃followtheteachers project. Natalie is using them with her A-level class to help with Globalisation revision: look!
When you make cards for your stuff and play them with others, you learn about the companies who make your stuff, their labour policies, transparency, monitoring and worker rights. In one sense, it’s a simple game of trumping – ‘Ha! My shoes’ worker rights score beats your Kitkat’s!’ – but making and playing the cards also raises questions about what you can find out about your stuff, what ‘monitoring’, ‘worker rights’ and a ‘living wage’ mean, how they are measured, and what to think about this.
Yesterday, we ran our first Top Trump workshop, at Bath Spa University, with Ranji Devadason and her students (a big thanks to them for giving this such a good go). Here we share the cards that were played at this first ever Ethical Trade Trump tournament!
The atmosphere was tense but fun. Poker faces were everywhere. Imagine being dealt some of these cards! How would you play them? What was it like for them to play with their stuff like this? We’re inviting them to say so, in comments on this post…
PS if you are unfamiliar Trump card games, check this Wikipedia page.
This game was devised in 2012 as coursework ‘Geographies of Material Culture’ at the University of Exeter by Joe Thorogood, Michael Franklin, Sophie Angell, Florence Flint, Bryony Board, Toby Swadling, Jack Saxton, Jake Pincock, Emma Hargreaves & Joe Harrison. This pack was re–designed by Ian Cook, in consultation with the #followtheteachers ‘user crew’ Alan Parkinson, Oprah Whipp, Victoria Salt, Charlotte Wild, Jenny Thomas, Natalie Batten, Heather Taylor & Mary Biddulph for use in schools and universities.
This pack was revised in 2014 as followthethings.com’s contribution to Fashion Revolution Day, an Ethical Fashion Trump Card Game is part of its Education Pack (download link to be added when this this is live).
Animation and humour can play powerful roles in trade justice campaigning. Perhaps the most well known example is the peanut who criticises the regulation of world trade in The Luckiest Nut in the World. See our page on that film here.
One recent example of this genre was launched In March 2013 in Switzerland. To make public the findings of their report on the sourcing of raw materials by Swiss chocolate manufacturers, Swiss NGO the Berne Declaration (aka Erklärung von Bern) commissioned animators / filmmakers Kompost to imagine what Chocolate Bunnies would do if they knew more about themselves. As Kompost state:
Easter in Switzerland is a busy time for the chocolate industry. Billions of delicious chocolate bunnies are produced by the grand masters of chocolate. Unfortunately, still many Swiss chocolate companies and retailers are producing their chocolate under exploitative conditions; a third even refuse to make a statement to this issue. EvB, a Swiss NGO responsible for fairer globalization, tries to put an end to this with the help of these ads.
The two commercials Kompost designed, directed and animated, show the EvB-chocolate bunny trying to take his life, as he simply cannot live knowing these shocking facts. With the help of a hair dryer and a hotplate, the chocolate bunny tries to melt his sorrows away. His attempts however fail, and he is left with the bitter reality.
We are going to love this week at followthethings.com HQ.
We’ve redesigned our website’s header for the season. Here it is:
[click the Cherubs’ banner, and you will get to this page]
We’re adding Finland’s favourite chocolate to our site, a new page created by University of Helsinki MPhil student Eeva Kemppainen. She’s working with us in Exeter this Spring. She is creating our first pages to be simultaneously published in English and Finnish.
We’ve started to tweet Valentine’s Day issues, stories and activism. Like this:
On Thursday, all of our efforts will come together in a public Lecture at the University of Exeter. It’s ‘The St Valentine’s Day public lecture: love, following, things.” Here’s the opening slide:
Here’s the description on its facebook event page:
Come take part in a public lecture and discussion that puts chocolate, renowned for its romancing qualities, under the spotlight this Valentine’s Day. Ian Cook (Associate Professor of Geography at the University of Exeter) will be using Finnish chocolate (following them through the world economy as physical goods) as a case study in a broader discussion of trade justice and emphatic socio-economic relations. The discussion will also cover the ways in which this approach to understanding the exchange of material goods can be taught and learned in universities, engaging students in the issue of trade justice activism in critical, creative and enthusiastic ways. The event will take place in the Peter Chalk Centre, lecture theatre Newman C. It will take place at 2pm on Thursday 14th February.
Everyone is welcome.