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.
Buying gifts to give to loved ones presents unique dilemmas to those who are concerned about who made them, under what conditions. Can you express your love for another person by buying them conflict jewelry, or child labour chocolate? And what are the alternatives?
Teaching and learning resources
If you’re looking for resources to help creatively discuss the controversial issues in Valentine’s Day supply chains, here’s a selection.Continue reading
Because of our involvement in the commemoration of the Rana Plaza factory collapse through ‘Fashion Revolution Day’ (and its ‘Who made your clothes?’ theme), and the University of Exeter’s ‘What (not) to wear?’ ethical fashion Grand Challenge, we’ve been collecting films and other resources designed to engage consumers with the hidden social relations in their clothes, the lives in their things.
This short film, just published on YouTube, and it’s ‘behind the scenes’ sequel are fascinating, we think.
‘Handprint’: the film.
Behind the scenes: the making of ‘Handprint’.
Date: 11 November 2013, 4-6pm
Venue: University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, Streatham Court, Lecture Room C.
Setting the scene: journalism, activism & ‘Primark on the rack’
Our audience: curious & expert students
& Carry Somers
How can we use images to tell the stories we want to tell – an avoid repeating the ones we don’t? (Platform 2012).
We were very happy to see that Set 11 of Lego’s Minifigures included a new Grandma figure with a cat and shopping bag. We purchased our Grandma at the Thomas Moore store in Exeter, where staff can tell you what’s in each packet just by feeling it.
We know that photos of Cats and Lego are among the most shared on social media. We want more people to know about our site and what it’s all about. ‘Flo the Cat’ is helping us to do this.
These are the first ‘What the cat brought home’ photos that we added to Flo’s flickr set today. They point towards our page on Anna Chen’s 2010 Radio 4 investigation China, Britain and the Nunzilla Conundrum. Let us know what you think and, maybe, buy yourself a cat and bag and take some other ‘Flo the cat’ photos for us to publish.
If you haven’t seen Nunzilla wound up and in action, watch this short video:
And here’s what this radio show did with her:
“[The Nunzilla Conundrum] takes the example of British designed, Chinese-made ironic novelty gifts … and expands it into an illuminating discussion of the cultural differences between the two nations, with Chinese production line workers hard-pressed to describe what it is they’re making while British designers are oh-so keen to deconstruct the joke” (Naughton 2010, np).
See our page for more.
This post began as a contribution to a special issue of the journal ACME on the new ‘impact’ agenda in British Higher Education. Our shopping bags and ‘ladybugging’ activities seemed to fit this bill, although their ‘impact’ wasn’t measurable (and that was the point). In the end, another short piece on impact was written for the journal. We have revised that original paper to post here, and hope it may be interesting for readers who are keen to use our site and/or bags in their teaching and wider ‘shopping’ activities.
Update September 2016: sorry, we have no bags left to give away. They’ve all gone. If you have one, it’s a priceless collector’s item. If you see someone carrying one, please say hi.
“We need to develop forms of critique that inspire hauntings, feed feelings, come alive, leap out and grab us, … that are not just about vital materiality but are themselves vitally material” (Cook & Woodyer 2012 p.238).
We’ve been working with a group of trainee high school teachers at the University of Nottingham this year. We’ve talked in detail with them about how followthethings.com could help them engage their students in a variety of complex and sometimes controversial geographical issues.
We enjoyed working together so much that, after hosting together a ‘Teaching with followthethings.com’ workshop at the 2013 Geographical Association conference, we decided to continue our work as they begin their careers as Geography teachers.
We decided to call what we were doing the ‘follow the teachers’ project. This would a) follow the use, adaptation and creation of followthethings.com resources to teach geography and related subjects, and b) share these experiences and resources online for others to use. Over the next few months, we’ll be hearing from seven teachers involved in this project.
We begin with Oprah Whipp’s use of our page on a Simpson’s couch gag to teach her students about globalisation and geographical thought.
I had a class of 30 year 7 pupils, mixed ability who had never studied the concept of globalisation, however this is a topic covered in detail in year 9, and again at GCSE and A Level. What could I do to put a spin on this topic, that wouldn’t become repetitive?
I began looking through the followthethings.com web page, which I was introduced to during my PGCE course at the University of Nottingham and came across the video clip directed by Banksy, and the opening sequence he created for an episode of the cartoon series ‘The Simpsons’. This was something I felt that my class would relate to, and capture their imagination.
In the lessons prior to this, I had introduced key terms, and completed followthethings.com shopping bag missions 1-3 on the Mission:Explore website. I adapted mission 3 – ‘Who made it?’ – by splitting the class into two groups, and asking one what they would say to a person who had made their bags, and the other what they thought those workers would say to them. This allowed pupils to gain a brief understanding of the concept of globalisation, focusing on worker’s rights.
This lesson began with me recapping the term globalisation, and then introducing Banksy by showing the pupils a picture of one of his guerrilla artworks (download my powerpoint slides). I asked them to think geographically, and about the topic we had been looking at over the past two weeks to help them do so. The class coped really well with this, and a couple of the higher levelled pupils even knew the artist and were able to inform their peers on his background.
The detailed walk through of the clip provided on its followthethings.com page enabled the gifted and talented pupils to read out loud to the rest of the group, which ensured the initial material (the video clip) was accessible to each member of the class and they understood Banksy’s reasoning behind it.
My main task was for the pupils to create their own piece of guerrilla art. Here is where differentiation became apparent. The lower levelled pupils interpreted Banksy’s work, and wrote a vague description and reasoning behind their work, whereas the higher achieving pupils really came to life, incorporating ideas from the previous lessons (the postcards and the meaning of the word globalisation).
I really enjoyed this lesson, teaching it was a highlight of my teaching practice, especially because of the positive feedback I received from my pupils.
Update: twitter feedback
— Oprah Jade (@OprahJade) July 22, 2013
@OprahJade Write for us next!!:)
— Protocol Education (@ProtocolEd) July 22, 2013
We have recently started working with the Scottish Development Educational Council (SCOTDEC) who have invited us to run a followthethings.com workshop at a ‘development education’ conference in Krakow this week. This is the first teacher conference in the ‘Changing habits for good’ project which brings together school teachers from Scotland, Poland, Slovenia and Bulgaria (for more, see the project outline below). We’re taking part via a videolink, and this is the blog post that will hopefull organise what happens. We’ve been asked to introduce our website and the wider project, including our ongoing ‘classroom’ project, and then to talk through some of the shopping bag activities we’ve posted on the Guerrilla Geography education website Mission:Explore.
This is followthethings.com
What is followthethings.com?
- It’s an online shopping website, if you understand ‘shopping’ to involve betraying the origins of things, like you might ‘shop’ a person to the police.
- It’s designed to have the look, feel and architecture of familiar online stores.
- It’s stocked with examples of art work, documentary film, journalism, activism, academic, student and other work revealing the lives of everyday things, i.e. the relations between their producers and consumers hidden by commodity fetishism.
- It shows how their makers tried to make these relations apparent, visible, tangible in ways that might move their audiences to act by trying to make them feel guilty, shocked, appreciative, awkward and/or involved in other people’s lives and work.
- It researches what its makers and viewers have said online about each example: what it aimed to do, how it was made, what discussions it provoked, and what impacts it had.
- It’s full of quotations that are arranged so that they read like a conversation, a conversation that can move from the computer screen into the classroom as teachers create lesson plans and schemes of work with its contents.
- It aims to inform and inspire new ‘follow the things’ work (by teachers, their students, as well as artists, filmmakers, journalists and others), which we hope to publish on the site too. Some examples of new work have already been published.
- It has become a popular website for teachers looking to engage their students in North-South relations via the geographies of commodities. So, we’re working on a new ‘classroom page’ to bright together materials and ideas already developed for this purpose.
First: let’s browse!
Click the homepage image above and you’ll get to the store. Get a sense of what’s available by browsing its departments. Where do you want to look? I’ll talk about any page you choose!
Second: a preview of our classroom page
Our site isn’t intended for any particular group of people.But we know that school teachers and their students are keen to use it. This is a page whose contents we’ve been working on for the past couple of months, with a teacher trainer, student teachers, an educational consultant, and undergraduate students. It’s not published yet, but will be by the end of this month.
Third: workshop activities
To get a sense of the educational materials and activities on this page that could imaginatively engage students in ‘development’ issues, we were hoping to give out some of our shopping bags (they didn’t arrive on time, unfortunately). We had these made in a factory in China that makes them for UK supermarkets. They are made by the same people, in the same way, to the same specifications. And we have produced a series of missions based on their lives and travels on the Guerrilla Geography education site Mission:Explore.
To get a vivid sense of Guerrilla Geography and Mission:Explore are all about, this video is excellent ( you don’t have to be a geographer to find this interesting!)
There are six shopping bag missions, starting with ‘get the bag’, and ending with ‘go ladybugging’! You can complete the series to win the ‘followthethings.com champion shopper’ badge, and you can borrow and adapt these missions for classroom, fieldwork or homework activities for your students.
We’ll go through the missions this afternoon, and then try one or two now (perhaps even setting one as homework). These aren’t impossible if you don’t have the bags. We will have to improvise! And feed back tomorrow morning…?
If you want to find out more, please comment on this post or email us at email@example.com . Thanks!
PS: ‘Changing habits for good’
This is a 3 year project funded through the European Commission’s programme for ‘Raising public awareness of development issues and promoting development education in the European Union’ (details here). It brings together a organizations in Scotland (SCOTDEC), Poland (Polish Green Network), Bulgaria (Creative Effective Grassroots Alternatives) and Slovenia (Institute for African Studies).
We researched a 2009 BBC Panorama documentary ‘Primark on the rack’ for followthethings.com. This was a documentary exposing Primark for producing its notoriously cheap clothes in Indian sweatshops. It contained a 45 second scene in which child labourers were filmed checking that sequins were firmly attached to its sequined tops. Primark claimed that this scene had been ‘faked’ and made a concerted effort to discredit the whole film, with mixed success (detailed on our site here).
As with many of our pages, we made a few scenes in Lego, uploaded them to a flickr set, and embedded them. Today, we added a couple of new scenes to our ‘Primark on the rack’ set, to bring the story up to date.
These scenes are intended to highlight a theme that cuts across a number of examples of followthethings filmmaking on our site: corporations responding to sweatshop, worker health and environmental destruction exposures by employing public relations and/or legal teams to ‘prove’ that key scenes – and, by implication, whole films – are ‘faked’. This is, for example, how Primark responded to the BBC documentary in 2009, how Dole responded to Fredrik Gertten’s documentary ‘Bananas!*’ in 2009 (link), and how Chevron responded to Joe Berlinger’s documentary ‘Crude: the real price of oil’ in 2009 (link).
This past week has seen relentless TV news footage and newspaper column inches devoted to the Savar Rana garment factory collapse. Journalists have told unfolding stories of dramatic rescue efforts and the shocking numbers of people who made Primark, Joe Fresh, Matalan, Mango, Benneton, Bon Marche and other branded clothes being found dead in the wreckage of their workplace or missing, presumed dead.
NGOs and others are putting pressure on these clothing brands to respond appropriately to this disaster by properly compensating its victims and their families, by signing agreements that they’d been reluctant to sign before, and by putting into place more comprehensive auditing practices so that what they agree to is more likely to be done in the future.
This pressure continues to be applied, and companies are responding. On Monday, for example, the BBC reported that Primark had released a statement saying that it ‘accepts all its responsibilities in this disaster’ (Source: BBC 2013 link). ALL of them. We shall see.
This is not a single documentary with a named director, whose work can be ‘discredited’ with the right PR and legal teams in place. This is ‘Primark on the rack 2013’. Click the photos to get to the whole 6 scene set.
Postscript: why Lego?
We’ve been inspired by Lego re-creations that we found online of hidden scenes from the ‘War on Terror’. They had been made and posted online in 2009 by an artist/blogger called Legofesto (see her flickr sets here). She argued that:
‘By using toys, I hope the viewer will linger longer over the image and think again about what is actually being depicted or described, in a visual language that is recognised by us all: LEGO. … The incongruity between the immoral and horrific acts and events depicted and the smiley-faced children’s toy create a tension’ (legofesto in Time Magazine 2009 link).
By photographing re-creations and publishing them online, she argues:
‘I want to keep the debate going. To keep it in people’s minds, to remind us of our atrocities because the media has moved on and they don’t want to dwell on the tactics [of the ‘War on Terror’]. … People are using Legofesto to talk about torture and state violence’ (legofesto in Carling 2009 link).
We want our Lego re-creations to help keep trade (in)justice debates going, to keep them in people’s minds, etc. in a similar way.