Category: discussion

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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

Guest post: Gavin Bridge on ‘Who mines sulphur anymore?’

Passengerfilms – a London-based ‘car crash of cinema and geography’ – invited Ian to suggest a film and panel discussants for a screening in February this year. He chose Sasha Friedlander’s documentary Where Heaven meets Hell in which audiences get to know four men who mine sulphur from inside a live volcano in Indonesia. A new followthethings.com page was published on the film and he recommended it again as part of the film programme for the Museum of Contemporary Commodities in Exeter. The screening is tonight. Is all sulphur mined in volcanoes? NO! Says London panellist Prof Gavin Bridge in this guest post. It is ‘mined’ in more surprising places…

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Where Heaven Meets Hell conveys the aspirations, social relations and hard physical labour of a group of men who earn their living by prying chunks of sulphur free from the mouth of an Indonesian volcano. Viewers are drawn into a world of work one can scarcely imagine exists – a world of cloying smoke, hacking coughs, scarred muscles and bodyweight-loads hauled up over the volcano’s rim and down the mountain to be sold. The filmmaker, Sasha Friedlander, artfully works a trope familiar to other ‘revelatory’ commodity stories, exposing the social lives through which natural materials become objects of economic exchange.    Continue reading

Possibly the most coherent explanation for ‘follow the thing’ research Ian has ever offered!

Our CEO Ian Cook gave a talk about followthethings.com at an ‘Interdisciplinary Perspectives in Consumption Ethics’ seminar at the University of Leicester in June 2015.  Afterwards, the speakers were asked to sit down and explain to camera how they had become interested in ‘ethical consumption’ as researchers. This is what he said…

Ian thanks Dierdre Shaw, Helen Gorowek and Andreas Chatzidakis for inviting him to present, Juliet SchorMarylyn Carrigan and Caroline Moraes for their great talks, and Andreas for his at-ease interviewing skills.

Guest blog | Hannah asks her students ‘Who are you wearing?’

A couple of weeks ago, we attended the Geographical Association (GA) conference in Manchester. This is a conference for geography teachers, student geography teachers and the people who train them. We talked to many who taught their students the geographies of trade through researching their own clothes. We went to a talk where Hannah Campion, a newly qualified teacher, explained how she sparked her students’ curiosity about these geographies using some of our teaching resources. With the second anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse only a few days away, we are publishing what she said…

A £4 t-shirt

A cheap white tee (click for image source)

A cheap white tee (click for image source)

My name is Hannah Campion. I am an NQT at The National Church of England Academy, Nottinghamshire. My fascination around the Geography of my ‘stuff’ developed from undergraduate study of commodity chains, commodity fetishism and Cook’s (2004) ‘follow the thing’ approach at the University of Nottingham. An assignment during my teacher training course on ‘Fantastic Geographies’ gave me the opportunity to bring this controversial issue into the classroom, to enable pupils to investigate and to develop a curiosity around the lives of our everyday commodities. The initial scheme is a 5 lesson sequence unveiling and unpicking the life of a plain white £4 t-shirt from production through to consumption. In 2014, I was asked to display my work at the Geographical Association conference in Guildford as part of the Ideas Zone exhibition. Since then, I have written an article for Teaching Geography (Campion 2015) and presented a Teacher-to-Teacher session at this year’s GA conference entitled ‘Behind the seams: global connections in the classroom (KS3)’.

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Next week: we’re in a shopping centre talking clothes

We’ve been working on one of 12 ‘Grand Challenges’ that the University of Exeter runs each year for first year students. The idea is that academic staff introduce first year students from across the university to the Grand Challenges of the 21st Century, through some hands-on learning and with the help of visiting experts (who students refer to as ‘real people’, in my experience).

Challenges this year include Climate Change, Global Security and Mental Health, and the one that we’re running is on Fashion ethics after the Rana Plaza collapse. 

There are four ways to find out more, to get involved, and to follow us next week:

1) Our blog

All the background information we’ve put together to prepare for this challenge. The Rana Plaza collapse and its ripple effects, and how we’re trying to appreciate and work with these ripples in the space of Exeter’s Guildhall Shopping centre, where we’re be occupying 2 disused shops and its main square for 4 days next week.

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Click image for blog

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Watch this: BBC Breakfast on Rana Plaza