Guest post: ‘Hard to follow things: natural gas’ by Peter Forman
Our CEO Ian went on a countryside walk earlier this year with colleagues in Exeter’s Geography Department. Their aim was to follow the flow of electricity by walking the route of a power line. Their social media posts about this journey prompted discussions about electricity and difficult-to-follow commodities. One was Peter Forman – from the Institute of Political Science, Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen – who had just finished his PhD on natural gas. We asked him to share his experience of following a commodity whose materiality is especially challenging.
Natural gas can be thought of as natural in two senses of the word. First, it forms deep beneath the ground, independently of human action (as opposed to the manufactured gas that was used in the UK before 1970 – this gas was the product of hard labour, workers feeding iron retorts with coal), and second, it is naturalised. Whilst gas plays a crucial role in many people’s daily lives – we heat our homes with it, cook with it, and use it to warm water for bathing comfortably – most of us never give it much consideration. We come home from work, twist the tap on the hob, give it a press, then click! A spark. An eruption of yellow-blue flame. It is there, ready and waiting. It provides heat in an instant and is worthy of no further thought.
Yet in other ways, ‘natural gas’ is far from natural. Its presence beneath the earth is made knowable through a multitude of technologically complex devices, and it is only through the deployment of established knowledges, bodies and technological instruments that it is securely extracted, processed, pressurised, transported, and consumed. This is what Bridge (2004; 396) refers to when he describes how “a whole industry has emerged … dedicated to corralling the waywardness and variability of gas and rendering it a commodity compliant with the workings of the market”. Indeed, it is as a consequence of this dense assemblage that we can understand gas to not simply be there, ready and waiting. Far from it! For without the practices of these diverse actors, it would remain deep beneath our feet, trapped between layers of rock. As it travels (the direction and nature of which is likewise defined by said actors), it could also come to realise a series of what Dillon and Reid (2001) call ‘dimensions of dangerousness’. From it realising its flammability and explosiveness, to it causing significant societal disruption through the interruption of its supply, or it having severe ecological impacts of different kinds (for example, affecting global climate or contributing to marine crises such as in Puchuncavi, Chile – see Tironi et al. forthcoming), across its travels, natural gas can come to present a series of dangers that generate myriad attempts to perform security around it. Continue reading
New note from factory worker found on CD player
New in Lego: A Global Positioning System
Here’s the latest of our Lego re-creations, made today to add to one of our first published pages: on Melanie Jackson’s (2006) digitally generated animation (and catalogue) A Global Positioning System. Continue reading
For International Women’s Day: Maquilapolis – city of factories
It’s International Women’s Day tomorrow, so we’ve picked out a documentary that’s soon to be featured on our site: Maquilapolis – city of factories. This is a preview of its page in our Electrical Department. It’s unique in the ‘follow the things’ genre because its both about, and made with and by, factory working women.
Maquilapolis – city of factories
Type: Documentary film (68 mins, in Spanish with Spanish or English subtitles)
Directors: Vicky Funari and Sergio de la Torre, in collaboration with the factory workers.
Production Company: Independent Television Service (ITVS).
Availability: DVD (California newsreel $24.99 for home use), transcript (English & Spanish, free), online (sections & whole film, search).
Our ‘Trade Justice Thinkering Day’, on 13 January.
Our latest project has been brewing throughout 2012. It starts on Friday. It’s a closed workshop with an open hour at the end. It’s being documented to disseminate the ideas that are generated. We will tweet throughout the day via @MoCCofficial. Follow us and watch out for more…
A day of collective imaginings towards new digital happenings in trade justice activism
11th January 10am-6pm, Margaret Rooms, University of Exeter
What if every shop were a museum and the objects for sale part of an ever changing exhibition on contemporary consumer culture? How would their hidden histories be revealed? How could you re-write their future lives?
The Museum of Contemporary Commodities (MoCC) is an idea developed by Dr Ian Cook (University of Exeter and followthethings.com) and Paula Crutchlow (Blind Ditch) to explore trade justice activism in relationship to ubiquitous and pervasive technologies. MoCC’s aim is to move thinking around trade justice out of the classroom, cinema and art gallery, beyond the textbook, computer and TV screen, and in to our personal experiences of everyday commodity worlds.
This ‘Thinkering’ day is the beginning of a journey to discover what kind of critical object-space-people interactions are both possible and necessary in today’s consumer environments. We’d like to open up the MoCC idea into a growing collection of co-authored events by multiple activists. We hope that MoCC will become something self sustaining, infiltrating and subversive… actively moving towards new ways of trading together.
This MoCC trade justice ‘thinkering’ is being supported by REACT, a collaboration led by the University of the West of England, Watershed, and the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).
The day will be documented in various ways by ‘us’ the participants, student geographers and REACT, in order to disseminate the project and its ideas more widely in future.
10.00am Introduction Ian Cook and Paula Crutchlow
10.30am – 11.30 am 10 minute provocations by invited guests
11.30am – 12.15pm – participant intros and set up of prototyping format
12.15pm – 5pm creating prototypes, using as prompts ‘MoCC cards’ 1: smartphones / tablet computers, 2: plastic packaging, 3: bananas, 4: medicine pills & 5: cotton clothing.
5pm – 5.30pm – Open summary of the day by Jon Dovey, REACT and sharing of prototypes for an invited audience of Exeter University – staff and students – and broader local audience.
5.30pm – Drinks
Jenny Chan – Students & Scholars against Corporate Misbehavior | Ruth Catlow – Furtherfield | Dan Harris – Blind Ditch + Fjord | Dorothea Kleine – The Fair Tracing Project + RHUL, University of London | Ann Light – The Fair Tracing Project + Northumbria University | John Levack Drever – Blind Ditch + Goldsmiths, University of London | Kate Rich – Feral Trade | Alice Angus – Proboscis | James Richards – Chromatrope | Matt Davenport – Pervasive Media Studio + REACT | Sam Kinsley – Digital Cultures Research Centre | Cat Radford – Blind Ditch | Tobit Emmens – Devon Partnership NHS Trust | Jon Dovey – REACT + Digital Cultures Research Centre | Chris Hunt – i-DAT | Meredydd Jones – ROKK Media | Harry Robbins – Outlandish Ideas | Martin Thomas – RAMM | Will Barrett – Exeter University | Anka Djordjevic – Exeter University | Simon Moreton – Pervasive Media Studio + REACT
Documenters: Katie Tyler, Nancy Scotford, Maddy Morgan, Joe Thorogood, Rachel Grant, Elizabeth Baillie & Eeva Kemppainen
Filmmaker: Benjamin Borley | tumblr site
Our participants and documenters tweeted throughout the day, and we have assembled from these tweets a Storify that gives a sense of the thinkering that unfolded…