On Methods of Thing-Following
RGS-IBG Annual International Conference, London, 1st-4th September, 2020
Convenors: Peter Forman (Lancaster University) and Angeliki Balayannis (University of Exeter)
‘Following’ has become a popular methodological practice for human geographers over the last two decades. Early work that followed consumer goods along supply chains (Mintz, 1986; Cook, 2004; Barnett et al., 2005) has now been joined by a rich collection of accounts that trace the connections developed across a diversity of movements – from the circulation of energy products (Forman, 2017), to the movements of people (Knowles, 2009), activist networks (Davies, 2009), animals (Nimmo, 2011), chemicals (Balayannis 2020), waste (Gregson et al., 2010), finance (Christophers, 2011), policies (Peck and Theodore, 2012), and data (Akbari, 2019). In the process, the scope of so-called ‘follow-the-thing’ research has expanded beyond cultural geography and an early focus on violence within global trade networks, to permeate practically all areas of the discipline and cover a wide variety of socio-political concerns related to circulation.
Yet despite this growth in ‘follow-the-thing’ research, the practice and practicalities of thing-following – including the practical, ethical, conceptual, and personal challenges of studying circulations – has remained relatively undocumented (notable exceptions include the accounts of Christophers, 2011 and Hulme, 2017). Clearly, following sensitive data, molecules, or evidence of academic impact presents quite different challenges to following papayas or bottles of hot sauce. Some things may even be impossible to follow. As Hulme (2017) suggests, documenting these challenges, and acknowledging the gaps in knowledge that they produce, is an important line of enquiry. These details can expose power structures and their workings, and can reveal their precarities and violences. Moreover, discussing the difficulties that we encounter and the coping strategies that we develop has value for others seeking to conduct future follow-the-thing research.
This session consequently aims to provide a space for sharing experiences and techniques of thing-following (across and beyond human geography), and for reflecting upon these methodologies as tools for political engagement.
Possible topics for discussion include:
- How do we define the start and end points of our studies? When do we decide to stop following? How do these decisions affect the stories that we can/cannot tell?
- How do issues of power, volume, connectivity, plurality, aggregation and divergence present issues for determining what it is that we follow? What problems are raised by the complex geographies of circulations?
- In what directions must we travel in the process of following? Along which routes do we go? When? How often? What borders and boundaries must we cross in the process?
- How do we sense, encounter and learn about the movements of particular kinds of thing? How do the terms of our encounters condition the narratives that we produce?
- Where are the gaps in follow-the-thing accounts? What can we (not) follow? Where can we (not) follow them to? When is it (not) possible to follow?
Abstracts should be no more than 250 words and should be submitted to email@example.com by the 5th of February. We are also planning to submit a proposal for a methods handbook on ‘follow the thing methodologies’. If you would like to be considered for inclusion in this, please include an expression of interest with your abstract. We particularly encourage papers from ECRS and under-represented groups in the academy.
Akbari, A. (2019). Follow the Thing : Data Contestations over Data from the Global South, 0(0), 1–22. https://doi.org/10.1111/anti.12596
Balayannis, A. (2020). Toxic sights : The spectacle of hazardous waste removal. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, Early Acce. https://doi.org/10.1177/0263775819900197
Barnett, C., Cloke, P., Clarke, N., & Malpass, A. (2005). Consuming Ethics: Articulating the Subjects and Spaces of Ethical Consumption – Barnett – 2005 – Antipode – Wiley Online Library. Antipode, 37(1), 23–45. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0066-4812.2005.00472.x
Christophers, B. (2011). Follow the thing: Money. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 29(6), 1068–1084. https://doi.org/10.1068/d8410
Cook, I. (2004). Follow the Thing: Papaya. Antipode, 36(4), 642–664. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8330.2004.00441.x
Davies, A. D. (2009). Ethnography, space and politics: Interrogating the process of protest in the Tibetan Freedom Movement. Area, 41(1), 19–25. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-4762.2008.00847.x
Forman, P. J. (2017). Circulations beyond nodes: (in)securities along the pipeline. Mobilities, 0101(November), 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1080/17450101.2017.1403776
Gregson, N., Crang, M., Ahamed, F., Akhter, N., & Ferdous, R. (2010). Following things of rubbish value: End-of-life ships, chock-chocky furniture and the Bangladeshi middle class consumer. Geoforum, 41(6), 846–854. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2010.05.007
Hulme, A. (2017). Following the (unfollowable) thing: Methodological considerations in the era of high globalisation. Cultural Geographies, 24(1), 157–160. https://doi.org/10.1177/1474474016647370
Knowles, C., & Harper, D. (2009). Hong Kong: Migrant Lives, Landscapes, and Journeys. University of Chicago Press. Retrieved from https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Yc5NeduCd1YC
Mintz, S. (1985). Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books.
Nimmo, R. (2011). Bovine Mobilities and Vital Movements: Flows of Milk, Mediation and Animal Agency. In J. Bull (Ed.), Animal Movements, Moving Animals: Essays on Direction, Velocity and Agency in Humanimal Encounters (pp. 57–74). Uppsala: Centre for Gender Research, Uppsala University.
Peck, J., & Theodore, N. (2012). Follow the policy: A distended case approach. Environment and Planning A, 44(1), 21–30. https://doi.org/10.1068/a44179