If you have been looking for a go-to explanation of the ‘follow the thing’ approach to material culture studies, this is your lucky post. Here artist and designer Christien Meindertsma – author of PIG05049 – explains it beautifully.
Our latest guest blog is by Joe Thorogood, a former student in the ‘Geographies of material culture’ module at Exeter University who is in the early stages of a ‘follow the things’ PhD in the Department of Geography at University College London. His research is on poppies. In the post below, he outlines what he’s found out so far about the Remembrance Day variety. As usual with following research, you may be surprised by what he finds.
The Remembrance poppy is a symbol of memorial. In the couple of weeks before November 11th – Remembrance Day – these poppies are available in exchange for a charitable donation to the Royal British Legion, a UK charity that provides services for ex-military personnel and their dependents. It is worn in the UK in memory of service personnel who died in the First World War and in wars since then. It’s a symbol for personal grief and reflection, but also of national loss. Many countries have poppies shipped out to expatriates and families who have relatives who fought on behalf of the British Empire and British army in campaigns abroad.
I’m researching Remembrance poppies for my PhD, using a methodology that studies the lives and issues that are connected through their travels and transformations as things.
It wasn’t hard to find out about how and where Remembrance poppies are made. You could do it yourself by simply visiting the Poppy Factory in Richmond, Surrey, where they make about 500,000 of the poppies the public wear. Ex-service personnel and their dependents are crucial to this effort, as they often work in the factory or are supported by factory to find employment after leaving the armed forces. Continue reading
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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org . 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).
Earlier this year, journalist George Monbiot wrote about the next mobile phone he was going to buy. It was a difficult decision:
If you are too well connected, you stop thinking. The clamour, the immediacy, the tendency to absorb other people’s thoughts, interrupt the deep abstraction required to find your own way. This is one of the reasons why I have not yet bought a smartphone. But the technology is becoming ever harder to resist. Perhaps this year I will have to succumb. So I have asked a simple question: can I buy an ethical smartphone? … I haven’t yet made a decision. There are all the other issues to investigate, including the remarkably short life of these phones … Perhaps I will wait until FairPhone manufactures a handset. Or perhaps I won’t bother. I might resign myself to less immediacy, less accessibility and a little more space in which to think. George Monbiot 2013 [link]
This is the ad for the Fairphone he was talking about. It’s just been posted online. Please press play.
We love this project. It starts with the argument that we start with. But they’re not exposing exploitation (see here). They’re not making a banned smartphone game that shows how it’s made (see here). They’re not spoofing the existence of a conflict free phone (see here).
Like these other examples, however, they are putting pressure on manufacturers. By showing that conflict free phones can be made. By making and marketing one. That’s cool and affordable as other smartphones. €325. That you can buy and use (in Europe first). They need 5,000 orders. Here.