For the past six weeks, Exeter Geography graduate Natalie Cleverly has been working as a nicely paid intern on the ‘follow the things’ project. She took the Geographies of Material Culture module that’s generated our site since 2008, but in its new 2020-21 online iteration. And, this summer, she read every ‘compilation’ page on our website, looking for timely events about each page to post on our Twitter and Instagram because they happened ‘on this day’. As Natalie was finishing up, we asked her what it had been like to read the whole site. We don’t know anyone else who has done this! What do you learn? What’s been happening to ‘follow the things’ activism since we first opened our store ten years ago? Here are her thoughts.
Last September, I began the Material Cultures module at Exeter University. Since I’d chosen the module five months prior, the world had turned so upside down and inside out that I’d forgotten what I’d even signed up for. But I was fascinated. Particularly by followthethings.com itself. It wasn’t like any research project I had seen before. I reached out to Ian – who ran the module and the website – ‘Is there any way I can help?’.
And here we are. I’m not a followthethings.com expert, but after reading through 70+ pages of the website (almost the whole thing!) I’ve gained a good insight. So, what did I take away from sifting through all these years of content around activism / filmmaking / grassroots organising / following-the-thing?
A lot.Continue reading
It’s Fashion Revolution Week this week. To mark this, we’re showcasing our favourite examples of cultural activism which have supported its #whomademyclothes call to action. On Monday, we showcased the Guerrilla Projections of documentary photographer Ismael Ferdous. On Tuesday, we showcased the gentle Shop-dropping activism of the Craftivist Collective. And yesterday we showcased the power of Disobedient Objects like Fashion Revolution Germany & BDDO’s €2 T-shirt vending machine.
Today’s post focuses on a strategic impact documentary called the True Cost. This aims to unravel fast fashion’s grim and gritty supply chains in the wake of the Rana Plaza collapse. It juxtaposes scenes of fashion models strutting catwalks, YouTube shopping hauls, footage of Black Friday shopping chaos, TV news footage of garment workers sewing clothes in cramped factory spaces, talking head interviews with factory workers and owners, farmers, former corporate executives, academic experts, famous activists and ethical fashion royalty, brands working ethically, key people from NGOs like War on Want, and champions of free market economics.
What’s distinctive about the True Cost and the impacts that it has had is that it was crowd-funded, released via iTunes and Netflix, and tries to channel its audiences’ concerns to ‘do something’ through public screenings with panel discussions, its website and associated social media. This film enrolled its audiences from its crowd-funding forwards. It was a conversation, a collaborative ‘do something’, from the beginning. Despite its lack of mainstream funding or cinema listing, the making, reception and impacts of this film in relation to the Fashion Revolution have been nothing short of stunning. We’re posting this today because CEO Ian is on a True Cost panel in Portsmouth tonight. It’s a textbook example of the emerging genre of strategic impact documentary.
Judith Hefland & Anna Lee (2012) Put movies in the hands of movements. in Andrew Boyd (comp.) Beautiful trouble: a toolbox for revolution. New York: O/R, 164-5
Kate Nash & John Corner (2016) Strategic impact documentary: contexts or production and social intervention. European Journal of Communication 31(3) 227-242
It’s Fashion Revolution week this week. Today is the fourth anniversary of the deadly Rana Plaza collapse in Savar, Bangladesh. We’ve been working closely with Fashion Revolution almost from the start, our CEO Ian being a member of its Global Coordination Team. followthethings.com brings to Fashion Revolution a keen interest in cultural activism, its creation, discussion and impacts, This week we will be sharing each day a form of cultural activism that has made significant contributions to the movement.
Today’s post shows how photographs from the Rana Plaza site in the hours and days after the collapse were used to engage consumers and shame brands and retailers who refused to acknowledge that their clothes were being made there at the time. In this 2014 TED talk, Bangladeshi documentary photographer Ismael Ferdous talks about those he took on the day and what he did with them when he took them to New York. Guerrilla Projection is the activist tactic. This is moving, inspiring, troubling work.
Samantha Corbin & Mark Read (2012) Tactic: Guerilla Projection. in Andrew Boyd (comp.) Beutiful trouble: a toolbox for revolution. New York: O/R, 52-53
Hannah Harris Green (2014) Photographer Ismail Ferdous On Documenting the Rana Plaza Factory Collapse. The Aerogram 15 May
This post is by Ginny Childs, a student who took the Exeter University Geography module that is behind our website last term. It’s a piece of (slightly edited) coursework that she wrote in response to reading behind Sofia Ashraf’s ‘Dow vs. Bhopal: a toxic rap battle’. Ginny wasn’t even born when the Bhopal factory exploded in 1984, but it affected her here and now. Here’s how…
I joined Exeter University Officer Training Corps this year. Last weekend was my first weapons training session; on the SA80 assault rifle. The first lesson I received was a ‘Normal Safety Procedure’ on what to do if I drop it and the sighting system cracks. The system uses tritium (a radioactive hydrogen isotope) in gas form, to create visible light. If it escapes, and I were to inhale it, radioactive damage could occur in my body.
Sat in my weapons training lesson, whilst thinking about tritium, my mind drifted to methyl isocyanate (MIC). The Bhopal disaster was the topic my group were researching for this module. I’d been researching the thousands of deaths and deformities this gas leak caused. Now, here I was being cautioned on tritium. It seemed silly. The rifle contains only a minute amount, and it’s deemed to be one of the least hazardous radionuclides. Yet, I was laboriously taken through a step-by-step routine to memorise the safety procedure: STEP AWAY FROM THE WEAPON… HOLD YOUR BREATH…GET ANY SMOKERS TO PUT OUT CIGARETTES…INFORM ARMOURY OF INCIDENT etc.
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.
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
It’s Fashion Revolution Week this week. Last year’s headline, viral #whomademyclothes smash came from Germany. A vending machine apparently dispensing t-shirts for only 2 Euros in a Berlin square. If you put your money in, you had to watch a video showing the sweatshop conditions in which they were made. Twenty seconds in, you were presented with an option to buy the t-shirt or donate your 2 Euros. You were also filmed. With your permission, your reactions were included in a short film that was posted on YouTube on 23 April 2015. To date, over 7 million people will have seen your reactions, the expressions on your face, and joined the often heated, occasionally funny and carefully reasoned conversation in the comments below, and elsewhere online.
At followthethings.com, we turn the thousands of comments all over the internet into a digested read, a single conversation. Reading this you might get a sense of how successful this experiment was, and what made the video go viral. You might also think what you might have added to the conversation. What is the experiment showing? What’s it not showing? See what you think. Here.
Highlights from the conversation: Continue reading
Overnight, [Scarlett Johansson] has become the Marie Antoinette of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, smiling regally and offering: “Let them sip soda.” (source)
We’ve been following carefully how actor Scarlett Johansson (a.k.a Scarjo) was forced last week to choose between her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador and as the face of soft-drink machine maker Sodastream.
There’s a new special issue of the online, open access Geography journal ACME on the impact of academic research. This has become one of the ways in which the value of academic research is assessed in UK Higher Education, through the Research Excellence Framework.
One of the papers is by Ian Cook et al (that’s me/us), about the longstanding ‘follow the things’ research and public pedagogy that led to the creation and opening of followthethings.com in October 2008. To give a flavour of its approach to impact, here’s an extract from the paper:
When you publish academic work and make it freely available online, people read it and get in touch with you asking if you’d like to take part in work they’re (thinking of) doing. So you end up doing all kinds of unexpected things. This way of working is a core principle of ‘organic public geographies’ (Fuller and Askins, 2010; Hawkins et al., 2012). And it involves writing critical, radical, scholarly papers that are both publishable in academic journals and books, and accessible to more than academic audiences – like school teachers, journalists, filmmakers and artists: the people who make and use the work you’re researching. This is not the kind of “unidirectional knowledge” transfer that aims to make clear interventions in public debates (Pain et al., 2010, 185). It’s the kind that has critical pedagogy at its heart, that treats knowledge as “emerg[ing] only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other” (Freire, 1996, 52-3). Here, as Rich Heyman (2010) argues, academic writing should not be treated as the end point of research. Instead, it should aim to encourage research and conversation to continue beyond publication by offering its readers, for example, catchy and surprising narratives to engage with, unheard voices to listen to, unfamiliar concepts to use, tricky problems to think through, new skills to learn, and intriguing detective work to do (Cook and Woodyer, 2012).
Cook et al (2014, 48).
If you want to read the rest of the argument, download it here.
If you have any comments or questions, please submit them below.