Door key

Door key

Year: 2006

Author: Alice Williams

Type: Undergraduate coursework, University of Birmingham, UK.

Availability: in full, below.

Full reference: Williams, A. (2006) Door key. ( last accessed <insert date here>)

Lego re-creation




‘‘Ding-Dong’… ‘Ding-Ding’. I was ringing the door bell out of desperation really. I knew no one was in and I knew I was LOCKED OUT!  ‘Locked out’ of my own home, my safe home. Why was ‘it’ letting me down? That little key. ‘It’ had always been so efficient before; letting ‘me’ in, keeping ‘others’ out; keeping ‘us’ safe.1

‘Safe’? Well as safe as I could be with a key containing such high amounts of lead, 2.5% lead (State of California, Dept. of Justice 1999) to be exact, that I was slowly and unknowingly poisoning myself each time I open my door!

My ‘lost’ key was made from brass; a combination of Copper and Zinc. Lead was also added to my key, making ‘it’ easier to cut (Wikipedia 2010; State of California, Dept of Justice 2001). This lead ‘rubs off’ the key onto my skin and passes through into my blood each time I touch it (ibid).2 If significant amounts get into the body it can cause cancer, birth defects and neurological problems (State of Californian, Dept of Justice 1999).

These illnesses have been found in many lead mining communities across the world.  The population of Aggeneys, South Africa (Blignaut et al 2003), the rural community of North East Oklahoma (Kegler et al 2000), the 125 children of a mining community in Southwest Missouri (Evans et al 1998a)…the list goes on (Evans et al 1998b.)

I cannot track the lead miners of my lost key.  ‘It’ and ‘Its lead’ was however touched by many others; ‘The Smelters’ at the ‘Kaba-Ilco’ Foundry in Montreal, Canada (Kaba Ilco 2006). ‘The Casters’ at ‘Capitol Ltd’ in Montreal (Capitol 2005). ‘The Cutters’ at ‘Ilco Orion’ in Italy (Ilco-Orion 2006). ‘The Distributors’ at the UK distribution centre in Surrey (Silca 2006). ‘The Loaders’, ‘The Drivers’, ‘The Shop Assistants’, ‘The Builders’ and ‘Me’.3

All just so I could open my front door, all so that I could ‘believe’ I was safe. Why did I ‘as a cyborg’ need to malfunction to recognise this?

‘There it is, thank god! Hiding at the bottom of my bag! Finally I’m ‘in’, home, safe! But now a week later, sitting in my room I’m still thinking about ‘It’: that little key. Should I get a new one cut? Or cover the end with plastic? And am I more poisoned? More aware? Maybe the most important question is: are ‘they’?’…4


1 We are all cyborgs, all ‘forms of life that are part human and part machine’ (Downey et al 1995, 264). We, as Cyborgs, use, rely upon and in many cases ‘become’ a part of technology as we go about our daily mundane lives, opening our front doors. Cyborgs are thus a product of science, technology and society and in their creation the separation of these factors becomes difficult and unnecessary (Downey et al 1995; Law & Hetherington 2000).

2 I am a ‘complex hybrid of meat and metal’ (Kunzru 1997, 3). My reliance upon my key and more importantly ‘its’ becoming a part of me, make my body and technology inseparable. Haraway recognises such a link, stated by Kunzru (1997, 2) “the realities of modern life happen to include a relationship between people and technology so intimate that it’s no longer possible to tell where we end and machines begin”.

3 My cyborg body, in turn, becomes part of the commodity chains of materials linked to that key (Cook et al 2002). I become no longer constructed by ‘self’ but rather the complex network I am a part of (Kunzru 1997). In turn, whether knowingly or unknowingly, I become a ‘collection of networks’, all ‘materially produced’ in varying geographical space (Kunzru 1997, 4; Law & Hetherington 2000, 47). In this case the network of miners, their families, brass smelters, casters, cutters etc.

4 My connection to these globe chains, make me a part of ‘a messy web of personal pain, politics and science’ (Kunzru 1997). I am the key, and I need the key, I am lost without the key, yet through this I am exposing other cyborgs to danger and illness (Cook et al 2002). My agency however allows me to use technology to find out about these chains and the ‘pain, politics and science’ behind them. If I am a part of the chain, I can and should use this to recognise and appreciate what can be seen as ‘unimportant’ and ‘abstract relationships’ (Marx in Cook et al 2002, 1). I as a Cyborg must ask myself… Just because they are ‘unseen’ should they be forgotten (Cook et al 2002)? Shouldn’t we all be safe?


Blignaut, R., Kibel, M., Mahee, A., Robertson, P., Strauss, N. & Von Schirnding, Y. (2003) A study of pediatric blood lead levels in a lead mining area in South Africa.  Environmental Research 93(3), p.259-263

Capitol (2005) Die Casting Specialists. ( last accessed 15 January 2006)

Cook et al, I. (2002) Commodities: the DNA of capitalism. [ last accessed 13 January 2006)

Downey, G. L., Dumit, J. & Williams, S. (1995) Cyborg Anthropology. Cultural Anthropology 10(2), p.264-269

Evans, R. G., Murgueytio, A. M. & Roberts, D. (1998a) Relationship between soil and dust lead in a leading area and blood lead levels. Journal of Exposure Analysis and Environmental Epidemiology 8(2), p.173-186

Evans, R. G., Murgueytio A. M., Roberts, D., Serrano, F. & Sterling, D. (1998b) Behaviours and blood lead levels of children in a lead mining area and a comparison community. Journal of Environmental Health 60(6), p.14-20.

Ilco-Orion. (2006) Index/Address page. ( last accessed 13 January 2006, link no longer works).

Kaba/Ilco. (2006) Kaba Ilco, Global provider of access control solutions. kaba-ilco-com ( last accessed 14 January 2006).

Kegler, M.C., Lynch, R. A., Malcoe, L. H. & Skaggs, V. J. (2000) The relationship between residential lead exposures and elevated blood lead levels in a rural mining community. Journal of Environmental Health 63(3), p.9-15.

Kunzru, H. (1997) You are cyborg: for Donna Haraway, we are already assimilated. Wired February ( last accessed 14 January 2006)

Law, J. & Hetherington, K. (2000) Materialities, Spatialities, Globalities. in Bryson, J., Daniels, P., Henry, N. & Pollard, J. (eds) Knowledge, Space, Economy. London: Routledge, p.34-49

Silca. (2006) Silica. ( last accessed 15 January 2006).

State of California, Dept of Justice. (1999) Attorney General Lockyer Sues Key Manufacturers Over Failure to Warn Consumers About Exposure to Lead from Keys in Violation of Proposition 65: Cautions Against Using Keys As Toys With Small Children. News release, Office of the Attorney General, 12 October ( last accessed 15 January 2006)

State of California, Dept. of Justice. (2001) Major Manufacturers Agree to Reduce Amount of Lead in Door Keys. News release, Office of the Attorney General, 27 April  ( last accessed 15 January 2006)

Wikipedia (2010) Brass. ( last modified 3 July 2010)

Cook, I., Williams, A. & Motamedi, M. (2006). Stuff Geography. Primary Geographer (Autumn), p.38-39 ( last accessed 24 June 2011)

Posted by Ian Cook (last updated February 2011). Page created as coursework for the ‘Geographies of material culture’ module at Birmingham University. Reproduced with kind permission of the author. Lego re-creation made in the Idea Zone Lego Lab at the Geographical Association Annual Conference, Guildford, 2014. Maker unknown.