All projects have inspirations, things that people have said that influence us in significant ways, to imagine, think and act differently;. things that would have influenced us if we had known about them. This page contains a list of followthethings.com's imaginary friends, and their encouraging words for a project like this.
One … thing that we want the consumers to appreciate is that … they could assist the farmers by purchasing our fruits. … If they’re willing to purchase them, use them as if they’ll be helping human beings just like them. … Because it is very difficult for a man, or somebody, to produce something. But we who consume it, or make use of it, we have to appreciate the people who produce it.
Source: transcription of recording from Shelley Sacks’ social sculpture Exchange values: images of invisible lives (click box W180033 here to listen) quoted in Ian Cook et al (2002) Commodities: the DNA of capitalism. exchange-values.org (download here).
I often ask beginning geography students to consider where their last meal came from. Tracing back all the items used in the production of that meal reveals a relation of dependence upon a whole world of social labour conducted in many different places under very different social relations and conditions of production. … Yet we can in practice consume our meal without the slightest knowledge of the intricate geography of production and the myriad social relationships embedded in the system that puts it upon our table. … We cannot tell from looking at the commodity whether it has been produced by happy labourers working in a co-operative in Italy, grossly exploited labourers working under conditions of apartheid in South Africa, or wage labourers protected by adequate labour and wage agreements in Sweden. The grapes that sit upon the supermarket shelves are mute; we cannot see the fingerprints of exploitation upon them or tell immediately what part of the world they are from.
Source: David Harvey (1990) Between space and time: reflections on the geographical imagination. Annals, Association of American Geographers 80(3), 418-434 (quote from 422-3: download here).
And don’t forget in doing something for others that you have what you have because of others. (congregation: Yes, sir) Don’t forget that. We are tied together in life and in the world. (Preach, preach) And you may think you got all you got by yourself. (Not all of it) But you know, before you got out here to church this morning, you were dependent on more than half of the world. (That’s right) You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom, and you reach over for a bar of soap, and that’s handed to you by a Frenchman. You reach over for a sponge, and that’s given to you by a Turk. You reach over for a towel, and that comes to your hand from the hands of a Pacific Islander. And then you go on to the kitchen to get your breakfast. You reach on over to get a little coffee, and that’s poured in your cup by a South American. (That’s right) Or maybe you decide that you want a little tea this morning, only to discover that that’s poured in your cup by a Chinese. (Yes) Or maybe you want a little cocoa, that’s poured in your cup by a West African. (Yes) Then you want a little bread and you reach over to get it, and that’s given to you by the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. (That’s right) Before you get through eating breakfast in the morning, you’re dependent on more than half the world. (That’s right) That’s the way God structured it; that’s the way God structured this world. So let us be concerned about others because we are dependent on others. (Oh yeah).
Source: his 9 April 1967 sermon, ‘Three dimensions of a complete life [link - quote starts at 24.10].
Follow the things. This mode of constructing the multi-sited space of research involves tracing the circulation through different contexts of a manifestly material object of study (at least as initially conceived), such as commodities, gifts, money, works of art and intellectual property. This is perhaps the most common approach to the ethnographic study of the capitalist world system.
Source: George Marcus (1995) Ethnography in/of the world system: the emergence of multi-sited ethnography. Annual review of anthropology 24, p.106-7 [download].
Focusing on the things that are exchanged, rather than simply on the forms or functions of exchange, makes it possible to argue that what creates the link between exchange and value is politics, construed broadly. This argument … justifies the conceit that commodities, like persons, have social lives … we have to follow the things themselves, for their meanings are inscribed in their forms, their uses, their trajectories. It is only through the analysis of these trajectories that we can interpret the human transactions and calculations that enliven things.
Source: Arjun Appadurai (1986) Introduction. in his (ed) The social life of things. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press [quotation from p.3 and p.5).
I would to God it were always and everywhere so; that when a man is put at a machine he should noy be regarded by his employer as a part of it; that the human nature, the aspirations of a man, should be recognized and the relations with the employer be that of mutual confidence and helpfulness and respect. ... I cannot always sympathise with that demand for cheap things. Things may be too cheap. They are too cheap when the man who produces them in the factory does not get out of them living wages with a margin for old age and for a dowry for the incidents that are to follow. I pity the man who wants a coat so cheap that the man or woman who produces the cloth or shapes it into a garment shall starve in the process.
Source: Benjamin Harrison (1891) in Anon (1891) Rain still follows him. New York Times 29 August, p.5 [link]
...our first task is somehow to make the commodity a narrative - a story. This most obviously could be the story about how it starts from, for example, a seed in the ground, to become an object on the supermarket shelf, or how crude oil is made into woven fabric, etc. My previous image of the telling of such stories comes from school geography when, as a child, I watched well-meaning videos of smiling plantation workers followed by the arrival of cocoa by ship to Britain, where it is turned into bars of chocolate. I vaguely remember that these made me even more interested in consuming large quantities of chocolate but I think they had very little impact on my consciousness of the implications for producers. But with the Internet this could all be changed beyond recognition.
Source: Daniel Miller (2003) Could the Internet defetishise the commodity? Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 21(3), p.359-372
What a wealth of interesting objects, towards which the curiosity of our pupil may be directed without ever quitting the real and material relations he can understand, and without permitting the formation of a single idea beyond his grasp! The teacher’s art consists in this: To turn the child’s attention from trivial details and to guide his thoughts continually towards relations of importance which he will one day need to know, that he may judge rightly of good and evil in human society. The teacher must be able to adapt the conversation with which he amuses his pupil to the turn already given to his mind. A problem which another child would never heed will torment Emile half a year.
We are going to dine with wealthy people; when we get there everything is ready for a feast, many guests, many servants, many dishes, dainty and elegant china. There is something intoxicating in all these preparations for pleasure and festivity when you are not used to them. I see how they will affect my young pupil. While dinner is going on, while course follows course, and conversation is loud around us, I whisper in his ear, “How many hands do you suppose the things on this table passed through before they got here?” What a crowd of ideas is called up by these few words. In a moment the mists of excitement have rolled away. He is thinking, considering, calculating, and anxious. The child is philosophising, while philosophers, excited by wine or perhaps by female society, are babbling like children. If he asks questions I decline to answer and put him off to another day. He becomes impatient, he forgets to eat and drink, he longs to get away from table and talk as he pleases. What an object of curiosity, what a text for instruction. Nothing has so far succeeded in corrupting his healthy reason; what will he think of luxury when he finds that every quarter of the globe has been ransacked, that some 2,000,000 men have laboured for years, that many lives have perhaps been sacrificed, and all to furnish him with fine clothes to be worn at midday and laid by in the wardrobe at night.
Be sure you observe what private conclusions he draws from all his observations. If you have watched him less carefully than I suppose, his thoughts may be tempted in another direction; he may consider himself a person of great importance in the world, when he sees so much labour concentrated on the preparation of his dinner. If you suspect his thoughts will take this direction you can easily prevent it, or at any rate promptly efface the false impression. As yet he can only appropriate things by personal enjoyment, he can only judge of their fitness or unfitness by their outward effects. Compare a plain rustic meal, preceded by exercise, seasoned by hunger, freedom, and delight, with this magnificent but tedious repast. This will suffice to make him realise that he has got no real advantage from the splendour of the feast, that his stomach was as well satisfied when he left the table of the peasant, as when he left the table of the banker; from neither had he gained anything he could really call his own.
Just fancy what a tutor might say to him on such an occasion. Consider the two dinners and decide for yourself which gave you most pleasure, which seemed the merriest, at which did you eat and drink most heartily, which was the least tedious and required least change of courses? Yet note the difference–this black bread you so enjoy is made from the peasant’s own harvest; his wine is dark in colour and of a common kind, but wholesome and refreshing; it was made in his own vineyard; the cloth is made of his own hemp, spun and woven in the winter by his wife and daughters and the maid; no hands but theirs have touched the food. His world is bounded by the nearest mill and the next market. How far did you enjoy all that the produce of distant lands and the service of many people had prepared for you at the other dinner? If you did not get a better meal, what good did this wealth do you? how much of it was made for you? Had you been the master of the house, the tutor might say, it would have been of still less use to you; for the anxiety of displaying your enjoyment before the eyes of others would have robbed you of it; the pains would be yours, the pleasure theirs.
Source: Jean Jacques Rousseau (1762) Emile, or On Education, (link) quoted in Marc Tuters & Kazys Varnelis (2006) Beyond locative media: giving shape to the internet of things. Leonardo 39, 4, 357–363
Watching coal-miners at work, you realize momentarily what different universes people inhabit. Down there where coal is dug is a sort of world apart which one can quite easily go through life without ever hearing about. probablya majority of people would even prefer not to hear about it. Yet it is the absolute necessary counterpart of our world above. Practically everything we do, from eating an ice to crossing the Atlantic, and from baking a loaf to writing a novel, involves the use of coal, directly or indirectly. ... But on the whole we are not aware of it; we all know that we 'must have coal', but we seldom or never remember what coal-getting involves. Here am I sitting writing in front of my comfortable coal fire. It is April but I still need a fire. Once a fortnight the coal cart drives up to the door and men in leather jerkins carry the coal indoors in stout sacks smelling of tar and shoot it clanking into the coal-hole under the stairs. It is only very rarely, when I make a definite mental effort, that I connect this coal with that far-off labour in the mines. It is just 'coal' - something that I have got to have; black stuff that arrives mysteriously from nowhere in particular, like manna except that you have to pay for it. ... More than anyone else, perhaps, the miner can stand as the type of the manual worker, not only because his work is so exaggeratedly awful, but also because it is so vitally necessary and yet so remote from our experience, so invisible, as it were, that we are capable of forgetting it as we forget the blood in our veins.
Source: George Orwell (1937) Down the mine. in his The Road to Wigan Pier. London: Victor Gollancz(freely available online here)
At some time during the few minutes ... following immediately after the launching of their torpedoes by the destroyers, a shell was fired from H.M.S. Artemis which changed the face of the war, altered the whole history of the world. Men and women in Nigeria or Czechslovakia would feel the impact of that shell upon their lives. Head-hunting cannibals in Papua, Siberian nomads seeking a scant living among the frozen tundra of Asia, toddling babies in the cornfields of Iowa, and their children's children, would all, in the years to come, owe something to that shell. For the correct apportionment of the credit the hstory of that shell and the charge which sent it on its way should be traced back to their origins. There were, somewhere in England, women whose skin was stained yellow by the picric acid which entered into the composition of the bursting charge, who sacrificed strength and beauty in the munitions factory that filled that shell; their hair was bound under caps and their feet encased in felt slippers lest the treacherous material thay handled should explode prematurely. There were the women on the precision lathes who turned that shell until it fitted exactly, to the thousandth of an inch, into the rifling of the gun that fired it. There were the men that mined the iron and the coal, and the slaving foundry workers who helped to cast the shell. There were the devoted sailors of the Mercantile Marine, who manned the ship that bore the nickel that hardened the steel from Canada to England, in the teeth of the fiercest blockade Germany could maintain. There were the metallurgists who devised the formula for that steel, and there were the chemists who worked upon the explosive. There were the railwaymen and the dockyard workers who handled the deadly thing under the attack of the whole strength of Nazi air power. The origins of that shell spread too far back, and too widely, to be traced - forty millions of people made their contribution and ther sacrifice that that shell might be fired, forty millions of people whose dead lay in their streets and whose houses blazed round them, working together in the greatest resurgence of patriotism and national spirit that the world has known, a united effort and a united sacrifice which some day may find a historian. ... The miners and the sailers, the munition workers and the railwaymen, and now the shell stood in its place in 'A' turret shell-room, and the charge that was to dispatch it lay on its rack in the forward turret magazine. There were only humble workers down there...
Source: C.S. Forester (1943) The ship. Boston: Little Brown & Co., p.230-2
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