In the summer of 2020, Geographies of Material Culture, the undergraduate module behind our website, was totally reorganised for online teaching and learning. As detailed in our recent post announcing the launch of its public archive, it brought together 10 ‘follow the thing’ films and 10 followthethings.com pages about their making, discussion and impacts.
This module was also redesigned – from the selection and sequence of these films to the content and appearance of its website – to try to decolonise its pedagogy. Over the past couple of years a brilliant decolonising network has taken shape at our university with all kinds of exciting initiatives involving staff and students all over the place. The changes made to our module were informed and inspired by this wider movement. Some were generic strategies for decolonising a module and others were more tailored to the module, its materials and its aims. Module leader and followthethings.com ‘CEO’ Ian has been trying to channel his white privilege through anti-racist education for over 20 years now (see this from 2000). But this felt like a step change for his research and teaching about the ‘follow the things’ genre of commodity activism which simply asks ‘Who made my stuff?’
If you check the module’s public archive, you will see how the following decolonising strategies helped to shape it. There were five aims:
- to disrupt the ‘white saviour complex’ of ‘guilty’ Northern (white) consumers wanting only to shop more ‘ethically to help exploited (POC) workers by trying to shift responses to ‘who made my stuff’ filmmaking ‘from guilt to solidarity’ (Young 2003).
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
We have some exciting news. We’ve just posted this thread on @followthethings twitter. Here it is again with added whole films and/or trailers.
1/ Hello public archive!
If you’re teaching ‘who made my stuff?’ or if you want to find out more yourself, here’s our Geographies of Material Culture module archive. This is the module behind our website, fresh for 2020-21. 10 epic films. 10 epic http://followthethings.com pages.Continue reading
It’s happening right now.
At least one class of Year 8 students at an Exeter high school are doing some Nike homework this weekend.
Natalie Batten, one of the newly qualified Geography teachers who has been using followthethings.com with her students as part of our #followtheteachers project, has already blogged about an assignment like this. Click this button to read about her experience and advice.
If you’re interested in what it life and work can be like for the people who make sports clothing, we have some other recommendations that aren’t on our sire. The first film is on Nike and could be a vivid and useful source. But other students in other schools may have been given Adidas to research. We have a couple of films for you too, if that’s what you’ve been asked to research. And, at the end, we bring things right up to date: with a way to compare these two companies / brands.
Nike: behind the Swoosh
A student at the US’s largest Catholic University feels disgusted with what he reads about Nike and ‘sweatshops’ and, when he refuses to wear his University’s Nike soccer kit, he’s fired. So he sets off to Indonesia with a friend to find out if the factory and living conditions he’s read about are as he imagines. People at University keep telling him that things are fine. What he sees, what he does, and the people he meets in Indonesia have a powerful effect on them and what they decide to do next.
If you’re studying Geography and your homework is about Adidas, you should find this next film interesting. It’s a 2001 episode of the Mark Thomas Comedy Product TV series that involves a class of Geography students in London finding out – with the comedian/activist’s help – about the company’s labour practices in a unique, face-to-face way, in their classroom. Fast forward to 6 minutes 13 seconds. That’s where it starts.
Not OK here, not OK anywhere
This short video was produced by the charity War on Want as part of its campaign to highlight the abuse of workers making Adidas sportswear for fans and athletes attending the 2012 Olympic Games in London. It was part of a wider campaign whose webpages are listed here.
Commitments to workers: 2013 update
If you have been studying the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh in April this year, you may find it interesting to see which company has and which has not signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. There’s a story about one signing and the other not signing in this newspaper story. But check the latest list that’s published here. The situation may possibly change…
‘If only they could see the truth.’ ‘We can help them.’
Yesterday, Greenpeace announced that:
After ten months of #PeoplePowered activities and behind-the-scenes haggling G-Star finally committed to eliminate all uses of hazardous chemicals from its supply chain and products by 2020.
G-Star joins corporations like Levi’s, Zara, Victoria’s Secret, H&M and Nike who have already agreed to do this.
The imagery conjured up in the Greenpeace campaign is vivid:
They say you can tell next season’s hottest trend by looking at the colour of the rivers in Mexico and China. That’s because global fashion brands like Calvin Klein, GAP and G-Star Raw are using hazardous chemicals and dyes to make our clothes. These chemicals poison our rivers, and traces of these hazardous chemicals also end up remaining in many of the garments people buy.
But it’s even more vivid if your campaign video is an animation. That’s where those words come from, and this is its ‘Detox Fashion’ video. Bubbles are popping. Worlds of production and consumption are coming into view.
At followthethings.com, we’re fascinated by the ways in which animation can be used in trade justice activism. Our favorite examples so far have been Emily James’ “The Luckiest Nut in the World” (our page with the film embedded is here), Melanie Jackson’s “A Global Positioning System” (watch this here, and read our page on it here), and ‘Make Fruit Fair: the Movie” (in a previous blog post here).
What is that animation can offer a campaign, that a film including ‘real people’ cannot? Check out our Nut and GPS pages above, and read this, for some answers…
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).