This website is the centrepiece of an international collaborative academic research project (see our FAQs for more). Although it may seem playful, we're not messing around!
The main way in which the quality of academic research is judged is through 'peer review': what other academics say about a work's originality, significance and rigour. Our site hasn't gone through a traditional academic peer review process because there isn't one (yet) for online databases designed and organised as spoof shopping websites. On top of this, it hasn't been around long enough to be discussed in much academic literature.
So, we're publishing on this page solicted and unsolicited feedback on our site (and occasionally on our Lego re-creations and shopping bags) from our peers.
Followthethings is amongst the most inventive, path-breaking and innovative projects to come out of Human Geography in many years. It has pushed the discipline into new directions, has firmly established the central significance of consumption, globalisation and commodity knowledges within Geographical enquiry and continues to inspire and impact on generations of researchers, students, practitioners and policy makers. It is, in short, sheer genius (Louise Crewe, University of Nottingham, UK: via email).
... un outil particulièrement original de recherche ... qui occupe aujourd’hui une place centrale dans tout le débat sur la géographie du matériel et de la consommation (Serge Weber, Université Paris-Est Marne-la-Valée, source).
... an excellent website of educational resources on food and other commodities, which takes its inspiration from Arjun Appadurai's injunction to 'follow the things' ... (Peter Jackson, University of Sheffield, UK, in his (ed.) (2013) Food Words: Essays in Culinary Culture. London: Bloomsbury, p.196).
Who and what gets screwed when things get made? Where are the impacts of our consumption of ‘things’ felt? We have been inspired by the work of Ian Cook and others seeking to follow things as they get made, distributed and consumed, to uncover otherwise hidden stories. Especially creative is their followthethings.com initiative. It brings together in a shopping parody website the disparate knowledge on what happens around the world when the things you consume get made (Chris Gibson, University of Wollongong, Australia: source).
followthethings.com illustrates a global civil society in action not only in terms of the worldwide reach of this [web2.0] communication, but through detailing the global links of everyday products (Andrew Peterson, University of South Australia, Australia & Paul Warwick, University of Plymouth, UK in their (2014) Global learning and education. London: Routldge, p.69).
[followthethings.com] serves at one level as a portal for geographies that both track and unpack chains of connection, for example, between producers and consumers. With only modest resources it makes smart use of social , digital and longer-established communications media (e.g. printed bags) in order to play sophisticated games with the tools of corporate marketing. The results give a rich account of, but simultaneously critique, the market and other realties that shape the experience of producing, consuming and disposing of products. 'Follow the things' is also interesting for the way it serves to support a range of forms of scholarship, from promoting new research findings and sharing news of relevant books and films, to informing university and school student' projects (Joe Smith, Open University, UK in his (2015) Geographies of Interdependence. Geography 100(1), 12-19, p.16).
[followthethings.com] ... ahh where material culture Anthropology, geography politics all meet (and it helps you do your shopping) (David Jeevendrampillai, University College London, UK: source).
It. is. absolutely. ace. ... It's absolutely brilliant and most inspiring ... [a] connected up teaching-research vision at work and in full bloom (Hayden Lorimer, Glasgow University, UK: via email).
I am normally dubious of web-site citations in student research papers. But when they come from [the] ... 'follow the things' site I have complete confidence, with no qualms. I know the source material will be accurate, dependable, and trustworthy (Trevor Barnes, University of British Columbia, Canada: via email).
[followthethings.com's] premise is clear. There are many reasons we might want to ethically audit the goods that we use everyday. We may be concerned about their environmental impact, we may have issues about the conditions of labour that were involved in their production, or we may just feel that a fundamental source of education is simply to know how things that we use everyday come into being. All of this depends on research that is dedicated to exposing commodity chains, that is the often incredibly complex and convoluted ways in which the goods we buy actually emerge (Daniel Miller, University College London, UK: source).
If you have ever wondered where the bananas you eat, the jeans you wear, or the smartphone in your hand comes from, then you will welcome followthethings.com as an indispensable resource. The website brings together book reviews, online videos and original research that make visible the people who produce and transport everyday consumer goods and the social injustice and environmental harm built into these things. followthethings.com is the place where both academics and activists can go to learn about the global commodity networks in which we all participate as shoppers and to debate what 'ethical consumption' means and 'corporate social responsibility' should look like (Robert Foster, University of Rochester, USA: via email).
As we become more aware of the past and future of 'things' that we consume, FollowTheThings offers an important social insight into a where and who things come from. In the past Value Chains were the concern of producers, but as Data Value Chains become networked, FollowTheThings plays a vital role in connecting the personal experiences, journalism and academic research to material artefacts (Chris Speed, University of Edinburgh, UK & PI of the 'Tales of Things' project: via email).
As public and scholarly discourse increasingly grapples with the disconcerting realities of consumerism and the disquiet wrought by its productive methods, [followthethings.com] is one of a few recent efforts that helps to reassemble the critical role things play in consumption, commerce, and the simple act of communication between humans and nonhumans. What is notable about the work is not its depth of detail, which is significant—articles on the site’s “products” often clear five thousand words of description, meticulously catalogued references, discussion, and impact analysis that treat scholarly articles, popular discourse, documentaries, forums, and artistic installations—but rather the breadth of initiatives it brings under its banner. A favorite of mine is the “Made in Lego” series, which recreates contemporary accounts of the disjunctures between production, consumption, and everyday life. Not only do these lego enactments produce openly assembled bespoke imagery, imagined encounters, and clever juxtapositions, they invite construction in the literal and figurative sense. This creative and playful diversity of method is part of a deliberate pedagogy bringing humans into closer communion with their nonhuman counterparts. Beyond the mere acknowledgement that things “have” social lives, [followthethings.com] takes serious the need to not only gesture toward these biographies, but to make manifest the complex narratives contained within them (Matthew Hockenberry, New York University, USA & developer of 'Sourcemap': source).
When we set up the www.fairtracing.org project in 2006 it was in part inspired Ian Cook’s landmark Follow the Thing: Papaya (2004) article. We used barcode-reading mobile phones to give consumers and producers more information about products billed as ethical, tracing them through the value chain. We figured out the technical side and successfully connected producers and consumers, but we identified further challenges to work on. Two of these, followthethings.com has solved brilliantly: First, how to amass the sheer amount of detailed information on each product. Answer: crowd-sourcing, including pioneering and exemplary integration of research, teaching and public pedagogies. Second, how to vet the information so that the material is trustworthy. Answer: Expert curation by Ian Cook and Keith Brown. I’d like to congratulate them and the followthethings team on the amazing work they do and the resource they have created. We look forward to collaborating with the global community of thingfollowers, barcodewikipedians, goodguiders, tracers etc. to work on the remaining challenges. We have the technical tools, especially internet and smartphones, to facilitate thingfollowing and tracing to become part of consumption practices - let’s do it! (Dorothea Kleine, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK: via email).
followthethings.com is a fantastic resource that peels back the facades of everyday products and uncovers the often hidden social, economic, and political processes involved in their production. Too often our knowledge about the things that we buy stops at lists of ingredients and certification labels. But the wealth of research collated by the followthethings.com team reminds us that many of our supermarket decisions can have powerful, unintended, and real impacts on the lives of people around the world (Mark Graham, Oxford Internet Institute, UK & creator of 'Wikichains': via email).
A cool mock-shopping website ... that helps consumers find documentaries, books, and more that detail how their products are created, distributed, and consumed (Anonymous, Paradoxical Food blog, Tufts University, USA: source).
... this resource is ALWAYS brilliant- inspiring, critical, affective. I use in writing, lectures & coffee chats (exciting ha!) (Susan Henderson, University of the West of Scotland: source).
The [Follow The Things] project draws together filmmakers, artists, activists and students to explore the stories behind – or ‘social lives’ – of the things we buy (groceries, fashion, electrical goods, pharmaceuticals, gifts and more) using a variety of creative and playful means to communicate these hidden relations to wider publics. The lynchpin of the project is the Follow the Things website, although others may also be familiar with the FTT shopping bags and ladybird activities (Tara Woodyer, University of Portsmouth, UK: source).
Where did your T-Shirt come from? Where did the food your parents bought at the grocery store come from? What's the origin of the components in your cell phone? These questions all allude to what geographers call a commodity chain analysis. Analyzing where the consumer goods that we use every day came from can make global issues hit a little closer to home and reinforce concepts such as globalization. The website Follow the Things is a great resource for teaching students about commodity chains and mapping out your own personal geographies (Seth Dixon, Rhode Island College, USA: source).
[followthethings.com is] a 'complex and elaborately composed research centre' designed to resemble an online store' … one of a number of experiments that draw upon the public, collaborative potentials of web 2.0 both to document and to encourage new forms of food (and wider commodity) activism for progressive eco-social change (Ian Cook, Peter Jackson, Allison Hayes-Conroy, Sebastian Abrahamsson, Rebecca Sandover, Mimi Sheller, Heike Henderson, Lucius Hallett, Shoko Imai, Damian Maye & Anne Hill (2013) 'Food's cultural geographies: texture, creativity and publics.' in Nuala Johnson, Richard Schein & Jamie Winders (eds) The Wiley-Blackwell companion to cultural geography. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, p.350).
I applaud projects such as Followthethings who put in 1000s of hrs of difficult detective work (Angela Last, experimental geographer and semi-aquatic biped, UK: source).
[followthethings.com] is a brilliant Blog (to me it is a blog, because new content is added all the time, though some might see it more as a website), which tells us where our stuff comes from (Megan Blake, University of Sheffield, UK: source).
Super resource for learning about things and sharing (Damian Maye, Countryside & Community Research Institute, UK: source).
@followthethings don't give presents to everyone (but everyone should follow them) (Gavin Brown, University of Leicester, UK: source).
You should definitely explore the @followthethings site for thought-provoking interventions on the life of things (Simon Moreton, Knowledge Exchange Fellow at REACT Hub, Bristol, UK: source).
excellent database of documentaries & media exploring paths of production of everyday products (CONSENSUS research project. Trinity College Dublin & National University of Ireland, Galway: source).
For present day accounts [of global value chains], see the remarkable followthethings.com (Seth Rockman, Brown University, USA: source).
Extraordinary review of reviews (James Kneale, University College London, UK: source).
Keep up those important back stories to all that stuff we buy (Rebecca Sandover, University of Exeter, UK: source).
F****** AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!' (Kye Askins, University of Glasgow, UK: via email).
i've just discovered the tremendous followthethings.com unbelievably up my street (Corrine Felgate, artist, UK: source).
Great web project that catalogs art/culture/political work about production and consumption (Laura Kissell, documentary filmmaker and director of the Cotton Road: source).
... the first truly intellectually useful web site I have visited (Toby Miller, author, Los Angeles, USA: source).
... excellent piece ... (Bhopal Medical Appeal, Brighton, UK: source).
... amazing compilation ... of comments, reviews & more ... (Platform, arts, activism, education & research organisation, London, UK: source).
I love the immortalisation in Lego, it neatly sums up all the emotions of the series perfectly...! The webpage is great, and a wonderful resource for gathering together all the articles and feedback on the series - thanks for taking the time to do this... It still fascinates me how much of an impact the shows made (James Christie-Miller, Director and Producer of the BBC3 TV series 'Blood, sweat & takeaways': via email).
How exhaustive is the overview of WHERE AM I WEARING by FollowTheThings.com? … If you are doing a report, story, or are just plain interested in diving into the subjects I wrote about in WEARING, I’ve never seen a better place to start. This is by far the most extensive review of everything that’s ever been said about my book, both good and bad. These folks did their homework. I’m surprised they didn’t call my grandma to see what she thought. ... Thanks for all of your hard work and constructive criticism (Kelsey Timermann, author of 'Where an I wearing': source 1 & 2).
Your longtime efforts in creating and expanding the contents of the followthethings.com website are truly valuable to global readers. The traumatic human stories behind our global commodities compel us to think: "how can we support factory workers in global supply chains to fight for a decent work?" A new generation of Chinese workers are challenging the power of their employers, brand-name buyers, and / or the national states at critical times and spaces. They're calling on global consumers to stand in solidarity with them. followthethings.com shares their victories (Jenny Chan, executive committee member of Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior, Hong Kong: via email).
The resources which followthethings.com has provided for Fashion Revolution Day have been indispensable for the engagement of consumers and students, both at schools and Universities. The ethical fashion trump card game has been widely used and provides an engaging, interactive tool for people to find out about the provenance of their clothing and the ratings of the brands and retailers. The Fashion Department of the website has been an extremely useful resource for Fashion Revolution Day 2014 which had as its theme the question 'Who Made Your Clothes? followthethings.com has shown that, even with the absence of a 'Made In' label on a garment, it is still possible, with a little detective work, to piece together the story behind your clothes (Carry Somers, creator of the ethical fashion and accessories brand Pachacuti, founder of Fashion Revolution Day, UK: via email).
[followthethings.com] provides a novel way to find out about some of the interesting stories behind the commodities that make up our everyday lives. Visit [the website] and you will find an extremely familiar looking, some may say amazonian, shop-front. This, however, couldn’t be more different to the jungle inspired Behemoth – you can’t buy anything here, but you can explore the stories of where all the things you have, need and want, come from. ... Many of the stories are created by some of the super-clever undergraduate students at the University of Exeter, but the website also curates other sources, such as TV documentaries and newspaper articles. And the best bit … some of the stories are presented using LEGO. Yes long before the University of Cambridge proposed their Professor of LEGO, [followthethings] were using their LEGOlab to visualise the stories behind the commodities that are essential parts of our everyday world (Lucy Rose, director of Creative Data, UK: source).
This is great!! (Rachel Blais, advisory board member, Model Alliance, New York, USA: source).
... amazing - love this project... (Nancy Schwartzman, films, feminism, apps, activism & pop-culture person, New York, USA: source).
Blimey ... (Chris Hamilton, Journalist and Social Media Editor for BBC News, UK: source).
... trois étoiles au Michelin pas moins (three Michelin stars no less) (Philippe Rekacewicz, journalist and geographer cartographer for Le Monde diplomatique: source).
This amazing site is in my plans again for this year. A really valuable resource for each & every #geographyteacher (Matt Podbury, Head of Geography at the International School of Toulouse, France & author of http://www.geographypods.com: source).
Critical thinking and acting requires more than information. Universities are not the only source of critical thinking in/of/about digital media, perhaps not even the most influential but let’s define what Universities ARE good for in this age of information. For my money it’s public / open scholarship plus developing digital literacies of the critical variety. For a fabulous example of both, here’s a web site/activist project/geography programme at Exeter … a truly exciting example of critical pedagogy in action ... (Helen Beetham, JISC consultant, UK: source 1 & 2).
The website is created in the form of a 'shopping experience', but follows the stories behind the products which sit on the 'shelves'. It explores themes related to trade justice, which are of course very raw and topical at the moment, with the rising death toll from the incident at Rana Plaza in Savar, near Dhaka (Alan Parkinson, Educational Consultant & Geography Teacher, UK: source).
Great website, I've been searching for this type of content for years. Valuable resource for social educators (Jarrad Northover, preservice secondary school geography and business studies educator, Queensland University of Technology, Australia: source).
The Follow the Things site and the work that comes with it stand to have a huge impact on consumer behavior. Knowing where the things we buy come from implicitly holds us responsible for our decisions as consumers, or at the very least gives such decisions greater weight (Jeff Bauer, undergraduate student, Brown University, Providence, USA: source).
A great resource for all social studies and #geographyteacher (Steve Mouldey, Geography Teacher, Auckland, New Zealand: source).
Great stimulus for our Yr 7, 'Where does my Stuff come from?' enquiries (Ben King, Geography Teacher, UK: source).
This [Lego re-creation] is brilliant (Bob Digby, 2012-13 President of the Geographical Association, UK: source).
Loving your work ... (Alan Parkinson, Educational Consultant & Geography Teacher, UK: source).
Wow, what a successful project! Thanks to Professor Ian for coming in and showing us some of the amazing things we can find if we follow our food back down the production line! The children were amazed to find out about child slavery and their favourite milk chocolate buttons, horse meat and frozen pies and the falling price of milk. This was a great stimulus to produce some really lovely writing. It was amazing to see how caring and sympathetic year 3/4 are! (Anon, Montgomery Primar School, Exeter, UK: source).
This exercise was such a success that Ian was asked by one child if there was more opportunity to be a food researcher! (Joe Lambert, PGCE student, Montgomery Primary School, Exeter, UK: source).
love this clever project! (Muka Kids, New Zealand: source).
Love your site ... (Supply Chain Digital, news, information and events service for supply chain executives: source).
Love this 'Follow The Things' website ... tracking the journey of items (Holly Dawson, Communications consultant @ethicalseoltd: source).
Fashionable AND cool (Barney Smyth, 'food chap' at the Sustainable Research Association, US: source).
Who makes the things that we buy? Fascinating studies charting the origins of our possessions (Tim, Eccentric Parabola, UK: source).
What a neat site ... It’s fascinating to see the life of objects from creation to destruction… and sad to think that we’ve lost site of the process. I feel like our disconnection to the process has created our unreasonable expectations for the cost / price of things. When we don’t know what it took to create something, I think that we devalue it and treat it as disposable. When we get informed (like with followthethings.com) then maybe we can find more respect for the cost of food / clothes / household items, and relish them more. Thanks for the link, that’s a rabbit-hole I’m happy to fall down (Cheyenne, Deconstruction Crafts blog: source).
Fantastic bag (The Natural Nursery, UK: source).