Debate: so, what difference does it make?

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Image modified from CC original (click for source)

Yesterday saw the launch of a video by people involved in Fashion Revolution Day, and its tweeting. There was a short and sharp discussion on twitter about whether FRD will make any difference, based on previous unsuccessful attempts to effect change. The viewpoint reminded me of a previous post – a newspaper article by the journalist Gethin Chamberlain – about the effect that exposures of sweatshop conditions, etc, have not had. But, the question we want to ask is what’s the same and what’s different about what’s happening now?

A simple point to make is that you can’t just tell people that bad things are happening, that they should care about people they don’t know, and then expect them to change what they think and do. Why’s that? For a start, because we have plenty of other relationships and concerns wrapped up in our clothes (and everything else). Academic geographer Tara Woodyer explains:

The material culture of our commodified world matters in our everyday lives. Through things, we make sense of ourselves and our relations with others. Through things, we express and maintain social relations (see Geoghegan 2009; Miller 2008). The role that commodity fetishism plays in capitalism, in a basic sense, is to efface the social relations between people connected through the production and consumption of things, and to present trade ‐ instead ‐ as apparently abstract, calculative relations between commodities and money. A central aim of ‘de‐fetishising’ work is to ‘re‐humanise’ commodities by re‐attaching the lives of workers to them (see Cook et al 2007). Yet, as … commodities are thoroughly and complexly ‘humanised’ through the (anticipated) social relations of their post-sale lives. What ‘de‐fetishising’ work therefore tries to do is attach new and different lives to things with often already‐crowded ‐ not absent ‐ social lives. So, responding ‘appropriately’ to the de‐fetishising of a commodity is not just a matter of conscience. It’s a matter of negotiating multiple voices, ethics and responsibilities (see Miller 1998a). Congealed in those Nike shoes, that Nike kit bag and its contents were, for example, not only its distant producers, but also many others closer to home including the football team I played for at the time, and Arsenal FC. If Nike was good enough for them, it was certainly good enough for me. This kind of complexity, and the ambivalent feelings that can result from it, needs to be worked with, not against.

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We’re hoping that the approach taken in our Challenge, its base in a shopping centre, and in social engagement, talk, finding out, etc.. will help to flesh out this way of thinking and working. We’ll report on any effects that this seems to have, on whom, including us.


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