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).
We love the work of Dutch artist Christien Meindertsma, and have drawn on her work to explain what the ‘follow the thing’ approach is all about, and how to do it well on our Classroom Resources page. We were reminded of her work today in a seminar in the Exeter Geography series by Ray Chan called “Capitalist pigs: politics of meat production and animal diseases in China.” We’re posting her 2010 TED talk today because it’s awesome. Enjoy!
I think that, in order to take better care of what’s behind our products — so, the livestock, the crops, the plants, the non-renewable materials, but also the people that produce these products — the first step would actually be to know that they are there.Christian Meindertsma 2010 | TED Talk
It’s Fashion RevolutionWeek 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. Yesterday we showcased the gentle Shop-dropping activism of the Craftivist Collective.
Today’s post shows how disobedient objects can contribute to the Fashion Revolution. In this case, Fashion Revolution Germany and BDDO took a shopping experience with which people are familiar- inserting money to buy something from a vending machine – and introduced information about who made these things at the point of sale.
What happens when people are asked to think about this then? That was the experiment. Buy, boycott, donate? What would you do? How is your choice structured? The debate was lively. This video was the viral hit of Fashion Revolution 2015.
Olivia Boertje, Jo Ryley, Alec James, Tori Carter, Becky Watts and Rachel Osborne (2016) The 2 Euro T-Shirt – A Social Experiment. followthethings.com
Catherine Flood & Gavin Grindon (2014) Disobedient objects. London: V&A Publishing
We know from our research that the involvement of celebrities in activist campaigns raises their media profiles and impacts. We have been hoping that our ‘follow the things’ project would one day attract a celebrity to get behind what we’re doing, encourage others to do what we do. Yesterday we found what we were looking for. Emma Watson was exchanging advice for $2 in New York’s Grand Central Station. We’ve skipped to the part in the video when she’s responding to one young man’s question. If you take her advice entirely out of content, she’s giving us an endorsement. Her character Hermione Grainger has inspired activist members of the Harry Potter Alliance. Now she inspires us. The way she says our words is wonderful. Thank you Emma.
This week’s find. An interactive art installation about ocean plastics and bodies. You wave at this waste, and it waves back. Can a reflection of our bodies in floating waste plastic make us feel like we’re turning into plastic? How does this work? Discuss.
‘When plastic material sits in our ocean for long enough it starts to degrade into nano plastics, a type of microplastic material that can traverse cell walls into fat and muscle tissue. This is a dynamic that Dutch designer Thijs Biersteker recently explored in his latest installation Plastic Reflectic, an interactive mirror that uses motion tracking technology to turn the spectator’s reflection into a silhouette made from hundreds pieces of real trash. “Turning us…slowly into plastic,” the artist explains’ (Ainley 2016 np).
How it works
‘Plastic Reflectic is an installation equipped with an interactive mirror that uses motion tracking technology to transform spectators’ reflections into silhouettes made of plastic trash. To make these silhouettes, Biersteker’s installation is comprised of a horizontal pixel grid housed with 601 real pieces of plastic trash, which move via 601 mini waterproof engines hidden beneath a pool of black biobased water’ (Waste360 Staff 2016 np).
Find out more on the Plastic Reflectic website.
Today is an exciting day in the university module that powers our website. It’s our annual Arts and Activism Symposium, funded and hosted by the Department of Geography at the University of Exeter. Here’s the line-up and some background info on the projects our speakers will be talking about. After this, our students develop their own commodity activist work.
1) Orsola de Castro: watch this
Greenpeace convincingly argue why it’s important to own a metal spoon and to wash it.
Our CEO Ian Cook gave a talk about followthethings.com at an ‘Interdisciplinary Perspectives in Consumption Ethics’ seminar at the University of Leicester in June 2015. Afterwards, the speakers were asked to sit down and explain to camera how they had become interested in ‘ethical consumption’ as researchers. This is what he said…
Ian thanks Dierdre Shaw, Helen Gorowek and Andreas Chatzidakis for inviting him to present, Juliet Schor, Marylyn Carrigan and Caroline Moraes for their great talks, and Andreas for his at-ease interviewing skills.
In the UK’s discussions this week about appropriate responses to Isis/Daesh questions have been asked not only about bombing and ground troops, but also about supply lines of weapons, money and people. A brief examination of news reporting on these issues suggest that a ‘follow the things’ approach to understanding and combatting Isis/Daesh has been emerging over the past year. We’re using this post to begin to piece its elements together. Follow the links to flesh out the stories.
“[UK Labour Party leader] Jeremy Corbyn posed a series of rhetorical questions when asked whether bombing Isis following the Paris terror attacks would make a significant difference to the situation. In an interview with Lorraine Kelly on ITV, [he] answered “probably not”, adding: “Who is funding Isis? Who is arming Turkey? Who is providing safe havens for ISIS? You have to ask questions about the arms everyone has sold in the region. … So where does Isis get its money, guns and bombs, both in Europe and in the Middle East?” (Brooks-Pollock 2015 np link). Continue reading
En el International School Peniscola (www.colegiosisp.com) hemos querido unirnos a la celebración del Fashion Revolution desde el ámbito educativo con nuestros alumnos. Ellos son el futuro y, hoy más que nunca, necesitamos personas que estén concienciadas y que entiendan el mundo desde una perspectiva global en la que cada acto cuenta y tiene una consecuencia directa en otro lugar del planeta.