Encyclopedia of terms

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 80 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. We’re starting that below. It’s a right mess at the moment, but will come into sharper focus as our research proceeds.

1) intentions

i) Empathy

To induce empathy is … a complicated aspiration. As Benjamin (2003) famously put it, ‘If there were such a thing as a commodity-soul …, it would be the most empathetic ever encountered in the realm of souls, of bit would be bound to see every individual as a buyer in whose hand and house it wants to nestle’ (31). With capitalist bioeconomies boring deeply into our bodies and subjectivities, empathy is a highly marketable resources, commodified in an expansive and expanding range of intimate labours … . So too, the capacity to empathise operates with complicated gender and other power relations. … the capacity to empathise with the suffering subject is a hallmark feature of the liberal bourgeois subject, which is marked and in some sense defined by its capacity to empathise, reinforcing the sensibility of liberal goodness. … Feminists have for many years raised hard questions about the politics and geopolitics of narratives of pain and suffering, patterns hat can rein scribe hierarchies of race and geopolitical privilege … Source: Pratt & Johnston 2017, 280-281.



ii) 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. Source The Center for Artistic Activism (C4AA).


a) discussion of the 2 Euro Tshirt: a social experiment

“me: dont cry. me: dont cry. me: dont cry. me: cries. me: f*ck” (Randall 2015, np link).

iii) The double-take


iv) Inviting / provoking conversation


2) tactics

i) Exposure


ii) Identity Correction

By catching powerful entities off-guard — say, by speaking on their behalf about wonderful things they should do (but in reality won’t) — you can momentarily expose them to public scrutiny. In this way, everyone gets to see how they work and can figure out how better to oppose them. … Often the most revealing moment in a successful identity correction is the reaction of the target. When you identity-correct a major corporation, you force them to react. They can’t let the lie that tells the truth stand in the media. Source Beautiful Trouble


a) B’eau Pal bottled water

“There’s a new brand of bottled water, and unlike the others, it’s 100% politically correct. But you wouldn’t want to drink it. ‘B’eau-Pal Bottled Water’ was launched yesterday in London. In beautifully designed bottles, it is authentic water from Bhopal, India” (Sturr 2009, np link).

b) the iPhone 4cf

“The Yes Men, the group of clever activist/designer pranksters … launched a website that was a spitting image for Apple’s, and professed to be announcing a new product: the iPhone4CF. ‘CF’ stood for conflict-free, and the site promised that the new phone was exactly like the normal iPhone 4, only it didn’t source its minerals from conflict-ridden regions like the Democratic Republic of Congo, thereby fueling atrocities there” (Zax 2010, np link).

iii) Shopdropping

Also known as reverse shoplifting, shopdropping describes the act of sneaking specifically marked items into a shop and placing them on display. This technique can be used for public art, to promote political views or advertise your services. In grocery stores, the labels on canned goods are replaced with art motives. T-Shirts with political messages are smuggled into normal retail outlets and cleaver fitness trainers place their business cards in weight-loss books. Similar to the way street art stakes a claim to public space for self expression, shopdropping subverts commercial space for artistic use. Source The Urban Dictionary


a) the letter found in the box of Halloween decorations

“The cry for help, a neatly folded letter stuffed inside a package of Halloween decorations sold at Kmart, traveled across an ocean from China into the hands of a mother of two in Oregon. Scrawling in wobbly English on a sheet of onionskin paper, the writer said he was imprisoned at a labor camp in this northeastern Chinese town, where he said inmates toiled seven days a week, their 15-hour days haunted by sadistic guards” (Jacobs 2013, np link).

b) the iPhone Girl photographs

“Dressed in a pink and white striped uniform, smiling, making a peace sign, her image became the indelible trace on the next-generation 3G iPhone that was to eventually make its way into the hands of ‘markm49uk,’ a British consumer. In the circuits of cybercirculation, she came to be known simply as ‘iPhone girl'” (Roy 2011, p.316 link).

c) the letter found in the Saks Fifth Avenue shopping bag

“… the letter read in part: ‘I’ve been molested and tortured physically, morally, psychologically and spiritually for all the while without any given chance to contact my family and friends. We are ill-treated and work like slaves for 13 hours every day producing these bags in bulk in the prison factory.’ It ended with the sign-off, ‘Thanks and sorry to bother you’” (Chaplin 2014, np link).

d)  the cries for help found in Primark clothes

“Miss Gallagher said: ‘I was amazed when I checked for the washing instructions and spotted this label. ‘It was stitched by hand to say ‘Forced to work exhausting hours’ and sewn in with the other normal labels” (Anon 2014b, np link).

+ see our blog post on the ‘13 best examples of shopdropping ever‘.

iii) brand contamination


iv) Trans-corporeality

Trans-corporeality emphasizes the imbrication of human bodies not only with each other, but with non-human creatures and physical landscapes. Source: Alaimo 2010 15

3) Responses

a) corporate

i) 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. Source Wikipedia


a) the Bananas!* documentary film

“Dole Foods sued Swedish filmmaker Fredrik Gertten and his film company for defamation on Wednesday, alleging he insisted on showing his documentary, ‘Bananas!’ at the Los Angeles Film Festival after learning it was based on a fraud. ‘To screen, promote, and profit from this film, despite the fact that its entire premise has been adjudicated a fraud … is the epitome of reckless and irresponsible conduct,’ Dole attorney Theodore Boutrous Jr. wrote in the suit” (Gensler 2009).

b) the Crude documentary film

“Now, CRUDE director Joe Berlinger finds himself under attack from Chevron, which has dragged him into court to demand that he turn over all 600+ hours of footage shot during the making of the film. Chevron wants to scour the footage for any material that might help its relentless public relations schemes to try to discredit the plaintiffs and their attorneys who are suing Chevron for environmental clean-up. It’s just another chapter in Chevron’s belligerent and well-financed effort to evade responsibility for its toxic legacy in the Amazon” (Anon nda np link).

We’ll post more when we find them. Watch this space.

a) popular

i) the ad hominem attack

If you are middle class, they call you a champagne socialist If you are working class, they say it’s the politics of envy If you wear leather shoes, they call you a hypocrite If you don’t, they call you a hippy. Everyone, apparently, is disqualified from challenging the system. Source: Monbiot 2019 

ii) The Mensch Fallacy

The Mensch fallacy relies upon the straw man argument that anyone that opposes neoliberal economics, must be a raving anti-capitalist tree-hugger who opposes all forms of trade. Thus if these protesters have ever bought any commodity under the capitalist system (coffee and tents are her cited examples) they must be complete hypocrites. … [One] huge flaw is … is that it would work just as well as a criticism of anti-communist protesters, in that they will almost certainly have benefited from provisions of the state at some point (used the state owned public transport system, drunk from the state owned water supply or relied on their state sponsored education for their ability to write their protest banners). Source Another Angry Voice


a) discussion of the vending machine used in the 2 Euro Tshirt: a social experiment

“Who produced the T-shirts for this machine? Did the same person who informs about suffering people in the textile industry support their miserable situation by buying these t-shirts? Did you care about the people who made the whole electronic equipment for the vending machine? I doubt the people who produced it don’t work in better condition than those in the textile industry” (Kozderka 2015, np).

b) discussion of the McLibel documentary film

“This is a great video, but the guy is a hypocrite: He’s mocking multinationals and – check this out! – at 2:22 in the video, he’s preparing breakfast with KELLOGG’S CORN FLAKES!!!” (666ftDEEP 2008 np link).

iii) Whataboutism


iv) The Modernisation Surface Fallacy

[A]perspective [that] applies whenever one places the highest stages of growth in one core area (Europe and the United States) and sees the rest of the world as a group of peripheral zones, each zone representing a stage of the past, persisting into the present, and awaiting change through the diffusion  or spread, of innovative changes from the center. Source Peet & Hartwick 2015, 146


a) discussion of the vending machine used in the 2 Euro Tshirt: a social experiment

“Yeah they should live better lives and be paid more, but that is a problem that can only be fixed with time. These countries need time to grow and develop just as every other country did” (Isythos 2015 np).

v) Choice for ‘free labour’

If … migrant workers were experiencing such bad conditions, they would not have come in the first place. The very fact that migrant workers do not return home and that new waves of such workers keep on coming into the cities is proof that working in the factories is better than their situations back home. Further, even if it is granted that their experiences in the factories really are that bad, it is a free labour market. It is their free choice. Source: Chan 2002, 180


coming soon

vi) One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch


vii) It’s impossible to be a saint, we are all sinners


viii) The Lesser of Two Evils




One comment

  1. Pingback: Key concepts: Æfficacy / Æffect | the back office

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