Frequently asked questions

What is this website?

An online shopping site, a database, a resource and a field-site for people who want to learn from, and to create new, ‘follow the things’ work.

What is ‘follow the things’ work?

‘Follow the things’ is a phrase coined by anthropologist Arjun Appadurai in 1988 and expanded upon by anthropologist George Marcus in 1995 (see what they said on our Friends page). Both encouraged academic researchers to undertake multi-site research with people whose lives were (often unknowingly) intertwined through, among other factors, the making, trading, purchase, use and disposal of things. All of the work showcased on this website does this, in one way or another.

What do we mean by ‘shopping’?

On this website ‘shopping’ has an important double meaning, both “to seek or examine goods, property, etc. offered for sale in or by” and “to behave treacherously toward; inform on; betray” or “to give away information about” those goods, property, etc. (Source: Anon nd, np  link). Anyone who has made work featured on the site, and anyone who has visited the site, is therefore referred to as a ‘shopper’.

Is anything for sale?

No. This is a non-commercial website. As much of the original work as possible is freely available in-store to watch or download. For original work that isn’t freely available, follow the links to online stores who sell them.

What kind of work is showcased here?

‘Follow the thing’ films, books, academic journal articles, art installations, newspaper articles and undergraduate research. Work that has followed nuts, t-shirts, tablet computers, perfume, books, cash, bullets and more. Work that aims to better understand global capitalism by paying attention to the ‘social lives’ of individual things as they come into being, move and change between farms, factories, shops, homes and beyond in different parts of the world. Work that tries to encourage empathetic understandings and to provoke discussion of social and economic (in)justice, sustainability, etc. for their audiences.

What kinds of audiences has this been made for?

Non-specialist public audiences. Anyone who is concerned about globalisation, trade, social and economic justice, sustainability. Academics, teachers, students, artists, filmmakers, consumers, activists, business people, and others wanting to think through the issues raised by this work and/or to create new work that builds upon it. Each example featured on the website has been chosen because the filmmaker, artist or writer has tried to involve their audiences in the stories they tell, and the connections they make. The website also tries to do this.

What kind of writing can we expect to read?

Writing that is largely free of overviews, summaries and jargon. Writing that does not tell you exactly who or what is right or wrong, good or bad along the commodity chains featured. Writing whose aim is to wrap its readers up in the story being told. There are three kinds of pages on this website which aim to do this in different ways:  ‘article pages’, ‘compilation pages’ and ‘new work pages’. These are explained on our Follow It Yourself (FIY) page.

How is the website organised?

Like an online store, with Grocery, Fashion, Electrical, Pharmacy and other ‘departments’. Each ‘department’ contains thumbnail photos and brief descriptions of each ‘follow the thing’ example showcased on the site. Clicking on the thumbnail or description will lead to the page devoted to that example. Each example page  provides basic database information:  the example’s full title, date of production, producer(s), availability and so on. All pages contain the original work, a trailer and/or an excerpt, where possible, and finish with a list of sources and further reading. Compilation pages have a standard structure involving sections on ‘Descriptions’, ‘Inspiration / process / technique / methodology’, ‘Discussion / Responses, and ‘Impacts / Outcomes.

How do we shop?

Click on the department tabs at the top of each page. Browse that department’s contents, click on a photo or a 'Click for more...', play the embedded videos, download the pdf files, follow the links, etc. to find the original film, book, artwork, paper, etc. Print out the original example and/or the page about it, read it, hand it out for discussion make a lesson plan based on it, set project work based on it, make something out of it! Learn how to follow things yourself on our Follow It Yourself (FIY) page.

Where can we discuss this work?

This website is designed to provoke discussion in schools, universities, media organisations, churches, other places. It has also been designed to allow that conversation to continue online, primarily via the comment boxes at the end of most pages. You can also get involved in discussions via Facebook, Twitter or our Wordpress blog. Tell us how you are using our website as a whole and/or its individual pages (in class, at work, in your own research, etc.). Send us lesson plans that you’ve made to help your students use the site, so we can add then to our 'classroom' page. Let us know what reading we have missed that could flesh out the content of a page.  Submit your own comments and reactions to an example, and what’s included on its page. Send us suggestions about other followthethings work that we could research, feature on the site and/or publicise via our Twitter feed. followthethings.com will be updated through cutting, pasting, attributing and linking selected comments posted on its facebook page and blog. Contributors will be assumed to have given permission for this to be done. followthethings.com will change and grow in response to this feedback, so please join in the discussion.

Who runs the website?

Ian Cook, an Associate Professor of Geography at the University of Exeter in the UK, with considerable help from Keith Brown, Professor of International Studies at the Watson Institute for International Studies, at Brown University in the USA. Ian designed a prototype wordpress.com site in the summer of 2008. Its design was adapted and its content was expanded in response to feedback from an invited 'user crew' of makers and users of followthethings work, from audiences at talks about the site, from students taking his 'Geographies of Material Culture' module at Exeter, and from students taking Keith's 'Anthropologies of Global Connection' module at Brown University in the USA. The site was redesigned by Ian in early 2011 with iWeb software, converted using Dreamweaver by Ed Creed, licensed to the University of Exeter on 8 September 2011, published on 1 October 2011 and 'launched' at the Eden Project on 2 October 2011 (see Ian's blog post here & Flickr photos here).

Who has produced its pages?

Most of the pages have been produced by students taking Ian’s ‘Geographies of Material Culture’ module at the Universities of Birmingham and Exeter in the UK and Keith's ‘Anthropologies of Global Connection’ module at Brown University in the USA. Some pages have been produced by other students at Birmingham University, and some have been produced by Ian and Exeter-based followthethings.com interns and summer school students and Brown-based 'UTRA' students (see below). Pages will continue to be produced by our students and interns, but we hope others elsewhere will also produce pages for publication on the site.

How could we produce pages for the site?

Please email followthethings@yahoo.com with ideas, clips and links for any other work that fits the criteria set out above. If you wish to contribute a ‘new work page’, please email us to discuss what you have in mind. All contributions will be reviewed (and may be edited) by Ian Cook and Keith Brown before publication. Contributors will be given a credit line at the foot of their page, and a ‘page reference’ identifying them as the author(s). Please see our Follow it Yourself (FIY) page for more.

How has this site been funded?

This project was jointly funded by Exeter University in the UK and Brown University in the USA in is early years. It was Ian's small unfunded experiment until extra editorial work was undertaken through an Undergraduate Teaching and Research Assistantship (UTRA) awarded to Jeff Bauer in the summer of 2010. This was funded by the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University, USA and supervised by Keith Brown. Subsequently, the site has been worked on through followthethings.com internships awarded to Daisy Livingstone, Aidan Waller, Jack Parkin, Alice Goodbrook and Emma Christie Miller in the summer of 2011, to Eeva Kempainnen, Eleanor Bird and Jack Parkin in the summer of 2012, to Tommy Sadler, Rachael Midlen & Nancy Scotford in the summer of 2013, and to Charlotte Brunton, Will Kelleher and Jenny Hart in the summer of 2014. Additional work on the site was undertaken as coursework by followthethings summer school students Diana Shifrina and Sabrina Skau in the summer of 2012. Funding for these internships and summer school places was provided by the University of Exeter's International Office. In 2017-18, funding has been provided by the Kone Foundation to support interns to work with Ian and Eeva Kamppainen on 'follow the thing' actvism in the form of subvertisements. Our 2017 interns are Annily Skye-Jeffries, Caroline Weston Goodman, Kate Fox and Lily Petherick. All of our interns and summer school students were also involved the production of new work for the site. New work was also produced through Watson Institute UTRAs awarded in the summer of 2010 to Sabrina Skau, Maura Pavalow, Diana Shifrina, Emma Buck and Jeff Bauer, and in the summer of 2011 to Jasmine Lee. See Jeff’s blog here and Jasmine’s blog here for more. An additional Twitter account - @TeamFTT - has been operated by summer interns since 2012.

Why does the site have a 'classroom'?

Many of the ideas in the background of this site come from many years of work with school Geography teachers, teacher trainers, the Geographical Association (a professional association for teachers of Geography in the UK), and the Royal Geographic Society (with the Institute of British Geography: the professional association of Geography academics in the UK). The GA and RGS(IBG) were awarded funding for a joint initiative called the 'Action Plan for Geography' (2006-2011) whose 'Young People's Geographies' project involved Ian as a participating academic. This involvement drew, among other things, on his joint publications in teacher-facing journals with undergraduate students who researched and wrote about the human stories in their socks, iPods, chewing gum, and other things (see the 'Follow it yourself' page to download one 'Made in...?' example). Ian has subsequently continued to work with YPG participants and organisers including Dan Raven-Ellison (through the Mission Explore website), Mary Biddulph (through the PGCE in Geography at the University of Nottingham, some of whose students and graduates are taking part in a #followtheteachers project) and Alan Parkinson (Geography education consultant, blogger and school teacher with whom Ian has written and published specialist 'followthethings' teaching and learning resources on our classroom page). These projects, pages and resources have emerged from conversations, interest and ideas with the school geography education community within and beyond the UK. A number of comments from school teachers are featured on our 'peer review' pages, including one American teacher who describes our site as 'Like IMDB for everything'. The classroom aspect of our project has been funded by the Department of Geography and the College of Life & Environmental Sciences at the University of Exeter. We hope to continue developing resources for, and stories from, school classrooms in the future. Please get in touch via fttclassroom@yahoo.com if you have ideas or experience you would like to share

How does followthethings.com deal with copyright and intellectual property issues?

This website was designed, and is continually checked, with legal advice from the University of Exeter’s Research and Knowledge Transfer office. The site’s Terms of Use, Disclaimer and Takedown Policy are set out on its Legals page.

Why do some pages have 'Lego re-creations'?

In the summer of 2012, our interns and summer school students set up and worked in a 'followthethings.com LegoLab'. We began by making a Lego Maersk container ship, and re-creating scenes from the 2007 MSC Napoli ship wreck. After this, we started to re-create in Lego scenes from the compilation pages that we had worked on, and began posting them in a 'Made in Lego...' flickr set. We found that imagining and then creating scenes from the examples had a powerful effect on us and allowed us to produce beautifully awful photos that we hoped could encourage new shoppers to visit our site. Geographer of play Tara Woodyer spent a day with us, quizzed us, and wrote about our Lego work on her blog. When the pages we finished that summer were added to the site, some of these re-creations were included. There are others, though. In the summer of 2012, we added a 'Made in Lego...' mission to Mission:Explore, asking the site's explorers to re-create in Lego a scene from their favourite followthethings.com pages. We have added Lego re-creations to our flickr set and to our site's pages, particularly ones which don't have a photo or embedded video at their beginning. After some fascinating discussions on twitter, Ian put together a talk about our ftt work that examined the development of this genre including, for example, legofesto's 2009 re-creation of scenes from the 'war on terror' and the animation company Spite your Face's 2001 Lego re-creation of a scene from the film 'Monty Python & the Holy Grail' (discussed on our blog here). Our 'peer review' page contains some surprising responses to our Lego re-creations from filmmakers and journalists whose work is featured on our site.

How can I keep up with developments?

This is an ongoing project. New pages are continually being worked up for publication. Please follow us on facebook or sign up for our Twitter feed for news and updates, or just check back regularly.

Unanswered questions?

If there is a question that you wish to ask (frequently?), please post it in a comment box below (or email us at followthethings@yahoo.com). We will answer as soon as we can.

Sources:

Anon (nd) Shop. dictionary.com (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/shop last accessed 17 July 2011)

Posted by Ian Cook (last updated September 2011).