Good news. On Monday, CEO Ian was awarded the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) ‘Taylor and Francis Award for Excellence in the Promotion and Practice of Teaching and Learning of Geography in Higher Education’. He was nominated for the whole ‘follow the thing’ appreciation of the the social relations of trade and its application across school, university and wider public pedagogies. The ‘et al’ in his name signifies his permanent, heartfelt appreciation of everyone involved in the project over the years, and those who may join it in the future. As he explains:
“I am very happy and humbled to be given this award. My research began in the classroom where I miserably failed to encourage students to be interested in what was happening in other parts of the world. I was desperate to find a way to show how their lives were connected to those of the people and places we were studying. Finding out how some of our things are made, in some of those places, was the answer and that’s how the ‘follow the thing’ idea originated in Kentucky in the late 1980s. Since then, I’ve really enjoyed developing ways to help students follow their own things, to think empathetically about their relations and responsibilities to others in the process, and to play, have fun, make mischief, be activist with their findings. I’ve learned as much as I have taught as we have done this together. I’ve been constantly surprised by what I have learned from the students who have taken my modules and worked as interns on the followthethings.com project. Being ourselves is a massively collaborative effort. I truly appreciate everyone’s contributions.”
This work continues -> next we’re working on our ‘follow the things’ Subvertisement project in Finland with Eeva Kempainnen – researching and adding 10 new pages to our website – running our free Fashion Revolution ‘Who Made My Clothes?’ course that starts on 26th July, and opening the Museum of Contemporary Commodities at the RGS(IBG)’s Pavilion Gallery on London’s Exhibition Road from 24th – 27th August. Please join us.
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
There’s an academic publications page on our blog that gives a taste of, and provides access to, our research papers about the followthethings.com project. A book chapter has just been published in an open access e-book that brings together a series of lectures in Switzerland asking if and how social scientific research can transform society. Our answer is a qualified yes.
Cook et al, I. (2017) followthethings.com: analysing relations between the making, reception and impact of commodity activism in a transmedia world. in Ola Söderström, Laure Kloetzer & Hugues Jeannerat (eds) Innovations Sociales: Comment les Sciences Sociales contribuent à transformer la Société, MAPS: Université de Neuchâtel, 50-61 Full Text
What we are keen to find out are what filmmaking, artistic and activist tactics lead to what kinds of public and corporate responses, and with what kinds of impacts on whom. There is an established argument that, when this work is didactic and tries to enroll its audiences through blame, shame and guilt, it tends to fail. Audiences feel powerless, overwhelmed, apathetic, and angry at those making them feel this way rather that at the injustices exposed (Barnett 2010, Sandlin & Milam 2008, Cook & Woodyer 2012). Even the most cursory examination of our website suggests that the elements of, and relationships set out in, this argument are quite narrowly defined. To illustrate this, we offer below a taste of what’s to come from the analysis of the followthethings.com archive. We provisionally outline one engagement tactic, one kind of consumer response, one kind of corporate response, and one kind of impact.
Here’s another excellent example of journal writing from the Exeter Geography module behind our website. At the start of the module, we ask the students to add to their phone homescreens this photo of an Apple factory worker which, it seems, was accidentally left on an iPhone bought in 2009. The person who found this and four other photos posted them online and the quest to find out who she was, why photos of her were on that phone, and what would happen to her after they went pubic went viral (as documented on our followthethings.com page). We ask our students to keep her photo on their homescreens until the end of the module, for almost 4 months. What can happen to you when she looks at you every time you look at your phone, wherever you go? Sophie Woolf explains… to the person who became known as ‘iPhone Girl’.
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.
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.
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
Creative academic expression
There’s an undergraduate module at the University of Exeter called ‘Geographies of Material Culture’. It’s one of two University modules whose student coursework form the basis of almost every followthethings.com page. The module is assessed through students’ critical self-reflections on whatever comes to mind through reading the academic literature and working together to research and publish draft ‘compilation’ pages and new work for the site. They are encouraged to be creative, to express themselves in ways that rework the traditional essay formal that everyone is used to. The work is diverse and fascinating. You never read the same thing twice.
‘How am I gonna be an activist about this?’
One type of work that’s started to emerge in 2013 are original songs, written, recorded and published online by students and written about on paper. There have been two so far. The first is by Jenny Hart, who submitted her song at the start of the module this year (in October). She’s trying to get her head around the key theoretical baselines of the module. The second is by Tommy Sadler, who submitted his song at the end of the module last year (in January). He’s expressing what the module was about, for him. Both shared their songs via Soundcloud, and you can listen to them here: