Professor Ian Cook
Professor of Cultural Geography
Amory Building, University of Exeter, Rennes Drive, Exeter, EX4 4RJ , UK
Ian is a cultural geographer of trade. He's interested in ways that academics, filmmakers, artists, activists, musicians and journalists try to make tangible the lives of those who make and grow everyday commodities. He runs the spoof shopping website followthethings.com which curates, and researches the making, discussion and impacts of over 80 examples of this work. Once the 100th has been researched and added to the site, he's planning to write a handbook of 'follow the things' activism to inform and hopefully inspire new work in the genre. For those who cannot wait, live reporting on the 'follow the things' project takes place on its blog, and on twitter, facebook and flickr.
Within Geography at Exeter, Ian is Senior Lead (mentoring & promotion), UCU union rep and coordinator of the Cultural and Historical Geographies research group, a hive of fun-based productivity involving artists, academics, postdocs, postgrads, masters students, alumni and guests approaching geographical research, teaching and public engagement through collaborative, creative practice.
In addition to followthethings.com, this approach to creative geographical practice has involved collaborations - see Dust (2015: with Joan & Neville Gabie) and the Museum of Contemporary Commodities (2012-22: with Paula Crutchlow) - and solo/collaborative practice in the field of Political LEGO (click to watch a 2021 conversation with Sophie Woodward for the UK's National Centre for Research Methods) .
Beyond all of this, Ian has lent what he knows about 'follow the things' education and commodity activism to the Fashion Revolution movement. He was, for some time, its Global Coordination Team's official "education maestro and general agitator, activator, and go to guru for facts, and unusual knowledge extraction", is currently a member of its CIC board and Global Education Working Group, and fronts its 'Who Made My Clothes?' online course.
Here, there and everywhere, Ian writes as 'Ian Cook et al' because he/they/we never work alone. His collective self can often be found in person in Exeter University's punk-themed Amory Building but he also works at home.
1986: BSc Human Sciences, University College London, UK
1992: MA Human Geography, University of Kentucky, USA
1997: PhD Human Geography, University of Bristol, UK
Ian worked in the Department of Geography at the University of Wales, Lampeter from 1993 to 1999 and in the School of Geography at the University of Birmingham from 2000 to 2007, before moving to Exeter where he is working right now.
Ian's office hours starting 16 January 2023 are online from 10-11 on Mondays and Tuesdays. Please use this link. There is no booking system.
Research group links
Ian et al is/are perhaps best known for developing the 'follow the thing' approach to commodity geographies. Much of this work has been undertaken via a series of small, collaborative projects exploring ways in which abstract commodity relations can be made 'real' enough to make a difference to the ways in which people imagine, understand and act as citizens and consumers.
Whilst taking massive doses of steroids, he/they/we managed to bring together, for the first time, in one place, for research purposes a wealth of academic and popular 'follow the thing' work in a spoof 'shopping' website called followthethings.com. This mixes up and confuses the research, publication, impact and teaching parts of academic labour. And for good reason. The FAQs are here.
The followthethings.com project has also sparked new collaborative work with artists and activists including the Museum of Comtemporary Commodities and Fashion Revolution.
1) followthethings.com (2010-date)
followthethings.com is a research website with the look, feel and architecture of an online store, with Grocery, Fashion, Electronics, and other departments. It showcases ‘follow the thing’ films, books, academic journal articles, art installations, newspaper articles and undergraduate research. This work has followed nuts, t-shirts, tablet computers, perfume, books, cash, bullets and more. Most of the original work is freely available in-store to watch or download. Most also come with things to discuss. How was the original described by reviewers and audiences? Why, how, by whom and for whom was it made? How did its makers aim to grab its audiences? What (if anything) does this work seem to have done in the world? This site is made for teachers, researchers, journalists, film-makers, artists and other shoppers. It’s an online shop, a database, a resource and a field-site for people who want to learn from, and create, this kind of work. Its social media outpourings include a wordpress blog, a facebook page, a twitter feed, and a flickr group.
followthethings.com emerged, in significant part, from a research and pedagogic partnership with Prof. Keith Brown of Arizona State University's School of Politics and Global Studies (for details see here). Most pages start as student research set in Ian's Geographies of Material Culture final year module, and have been updated and completed by nicely paid graduate interns. Others have been added through international collaborations, including that with Finnish media literacy activist Eeva Kemppainen which saw the updating and completion of additional examples of 'follow the thing' cultural activism drawing on techniques of culture jamming. The site continues to expand, most recently with new pages added or substantially updated in 2020 to support Ian's undergraduate teaching on 'follow the thing' filmmaking, including:
Cook et al., I (2020) Handprint. followthethings.com
Mason, L., Shackley, M., Jeffrey, I., Holden, M., Stainer, S., Taylor, E., Gamble, A & Leaman, M. (2020) Nike 30th Anniversary ‘Just do it’ Colin Kaepernick campaign. followthethings.com
Cook et al, I. (2020) Jamelia: whose hair is it anyway? followthethings.com
Buller, R., Bonner, M., Lyons, R., Little, G., Schulzklinger, T., Hart, J. and Kemppainen, E. (2020) Maquilapolis – city of factories. followthethings.com
Craig, R., Daniel, A., Dubec, O., Glynn, E., Jackson, K., Rees, S. & Ward, F. (2020) The True Cost. followthethings.com
Cook et al, I. (2020) Bananas!* followthethings.com
Muirhead, C., Lambert, K., Joyce, K., Sensecall, W., Snowden, I., Creagh, M. & Cousens, H. (2020) Big Boys Go Bananas!* followthethings.com
Barker, T., Collier, J., Baker, A., Coppen, E. & Eve, H. (2020) Udita (Arise). followthethings.com
Bissell, L., Hodges, G., Ravel, F., Sammut, J. & Reynolds, E. (2020) The Messenger Band. followthethings.com
In 2021-2022, Ian has been involved in a 'follow the things' Disaster Trade project (PI Laurie Parsons, RHUL) which has, so far, produced:
Parsons L, Safra De Campos R, Moncaster A, Siddiqui T, Cook I, Jayasinghe AB, Billah T, Pratik M & Abenayake C (2022) Trading disaster: containers & container thinking in the production of climate precarity. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers (early view). Full text
Parsons L, Safra De Campos R, Moncaster A, Cook I, Siddiqui T, Abenayake C, Jayasinghe AB, Pratik M, Scungio L, Billah T, et al (2021) Disaster trade: the hidden footprint of UK production overseas. Egham, Royal Holloway, University of London. 111 pages. Full text.
2) The Museum of Contemporary Commodities (2012-date)
Founded with artist and cultural geographer Dr. Paula Crutchlow, The Museum of Contemporary Commodities (or MoCC) is neither a building nor a permanent collection of stuff - it's an invitation: to consider every shop, online store and warehouse full of stuff as if it were a museum, and all of the things in it part of our collective future heritage. MoCC invites people to imagine themselves as its curators with the power to choose what is displayed and how. To trace and interpret the provenance and value of these things and how they arrived here. To consider the effects this stuff has on people and places close by or far away, and how and why it connects them. What do we mean by things or stuff? Everything that you can buy in today's society. The full range of contemporary commodities available to consume. MoCC invites people to join us on our journey by browsing and adding to our collection, attending an event, becoming a researcher.
In 2015, Paula, Ian and their collaborators curated connections between trade-place-data-values in Finsbury Park, culminating in July in MoCC's 'Free Market' at Furtherfield's Galllery (watch the video here). From 17 October to 22 November 2015, MoCC was featured in 'The Human Face of Cryptoeconomics' exhibition at the Furtherfield Gallery in Finsbury Park, London (see here). In May 2016, the MoCC website and online collection was launched and a disused shop in Exeter was turned into an IRL MoCC for three weeks (watch the video here). In August 2017 MoCC opened for a long weekend in a lovely museum space - the Pavilion Gallery of the RGS(IBG) on Exhibition Road in London - before moving into the RGS annual conference space the following week (watch the video here). In each IRL location, visitors were asked to add commodities to the online collection, to answer and ask questions about them, to rate them according to values like 'freedom' and 'sociability', and to appreciate how the site's algorithms surface and change the collection's top commodities by 'attention', 'controversy', 'positive' and 'negative'.
This project has been funded by the ESRC, AHRC, Arts Council England, Islington Council, Exeter City Council, the University of Exeter and the Department of Geography at the University of Exeter. Ian and Paula continued to work together on MoCC after she was awarded a ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2020-2022. Some more traditional academic publications are now emerging from the project, including:
Crutchlow P & Cook I (2022) Museum of Contemporary Commodities / MoCC zine. Exeter, Museum of Contemporary Commodities (download here)
3) Fashion Revolution (2013-date)
Since 2013, Ian has been working with a group of ethical fashion pioneers, NGOs, journalists, academics and others dedicated to marking the week of 24 April (in 2013, the day the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing over 1,100 workers) as Fashion Revolution Week. Now active in over 90 countries worldwide, its key question to fashion brands and retailers is 'Who made my clothes?'
Drawing on the examples researched in followthethings.com's Fashion Department and the pedagogical practice from Ian's 'Geographies of Material Culture' module, in June 2014, he directed a week-long public research project called 'Fashion ethics after the Rana Plaza collapse' from a disused shop in Exeter's Guildhall Shopping Centre. Later that year, he became Fashion Revolution's Global Education & Resources lead, designed its Education Resources, curated its Research Library, Film Library, Do Something and Education Pinterest Boards and, in 2015, co-authored the movement's book How to be a fashion revolutionary with Sarah Ditty and Laura Hunter. A second edition of the book, with additional co-author Tamsin Blanchard, was published in 2018. In 2017, he joined the consultation committee behind the movement's annual Fashion Transparency Index. In June-July 2017 and 2018 he fronted (with Dr. Verity Jones at UWE) a free 3 week online course with/for Fashion Revolution called 'Who made my clothes?' organised according its maxim 'Be Curious. Find Out. Do Something'. It's still available to take, unmoderated, here. From to 2016 to 2019, he wrote the movement's annual Quiz (here are 2019's questions and answers). In 2020 he contributed a lecture and a workshop presentation to Fashion Revolution Brazil's 'Young Fashion Revolutionaries' initiative in Sao Paulo, funded by the British Council. This led to the publication of a 'how to' booklet for Brazilian educators and students which included 'how to play' instructions for the Fashion Transparency Trump Game first developed by students taking his Geographies of Material Culture module at the University of Exeter:
Artuso E, Tupiná E & Luglio I (2020) Educar Para Revolucionar: Um manual para disseminar e fomentar práticas sustentáveis dentro das salas de aulo do Brasil. São Paulo, British Council & Fashion Revolution.
Ian is currently working as an education resources editor for Fashion Revolution Slovakia and Fashion Revolution Czech Republic's Erasmus+-funded RecyCOOL Academy project.
Ian et al's research/cultural activism relating to media reporting of the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse and brands' responses has fed into :
Cook et al I (2018) Inviting construction: Primark, Rana Plaza and political LEGO. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 43(3), 477-495
National Centre for Research Methods (2021) In conversation with Sopie Woodward and Ian Cook - material methods 4: Political LEGO. 7 October. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9fPy68O6vYo (last accessed 21 June 2022)
Publications by category
Publications by year
External Engagement and Impact
Visiting Professor in Geography, Université Paris Diderot (2016-17)
Fashion Revolution Global Education & Resources Lead (2014-2016), Global Education Group member (2020-), Fashion Trasparency Index consultation committee member (2018) and CIC member.
Trustee of the Geographical Association (2011-2016)
Geography Compass (Oxford: Blackwell: cultural geography editor, 2006-2012)
Cultural Geographies (London: Sage - editorial board member, 2011-)
Geography (Sheffield: Geographical Association - editorial board member, 2008-2018)
ACME: an on-line journal for critical geographies (editorial board member, 2000-2007)
Qualitative research (London: Sage - editorial board member, 1999-2021)
External Examiner Positions
MA in Food Security and Food Justice, University of Sheffield (2015-2018)
University Preparatory Certificate in the Humanities (Geography), UCL (2008-2011)
Invited lectures & workshops
Ian Cook et al (2021) A cultural geography of trade in 60 objects: developing the pattern language for a handbook of follow the things activism. Paper presented at the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) annual conference, online.
Ian Cook et al (2021) Minifigurative politics. Invited seminar, Department of Geography, University of Sussex, online.
Ian Cook et al (2020) How to be a Fashion Revolutionary? Be Curious. Find Out. Do Something. Invited keynote for the Young Fashion Revolutionaries Education Programme, São Paulo, Brazil
Ian Cook et al (2019) followthethings.com x Fashion Revolution. Invited presentation to the 'How Critical is Research Impact?' PGR conference, School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow, UK.
Ian Cook & Zahra Ali (2019) 'Be Curious. Find Out. Do Something'. Invited keynote at the University of Leiden's Education Festival, The Netherlands
Ian Cook et al (2019) Political LEGO: think pieces. Invited contribution to the 'Social Movements, everyday life and the political of sustainable consumption' workshop, Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester, UK
Ian Cook et al (2018) Follow the things: who makes the things we buy, where, how and under what conditions? Invited presentation at the emlyon Lifestyle Research Centre's 'Sustainability Research Day', Lyon, France
Ian Cook et al (2018) Lives in+of food. Invited presentation at the Food 2.0 Lab's 'Rethinking Food + Food Safety' conference, Paris, France
Ian Cook et al (2018) Minifigurative politics. Invited talk and LEGOLab at the 'Lives in Brick: Bodies, Justice, Power' workshop, London, UK
Ian Cook et al (2018) Minifigurative politics. Inaugural lecture, University of Exeter, UK
Ian Cook et al (2017) Invited panel contriution to ESRC Consumption Ethics: Interdisciplinary Meanings and Intersections seminar, Birkbeck, Univeristy of London, UK
Ian Cook et al (2017) Why I refuse to write about followthethings.com, and then do so. Invited panel contribution to the RGS(IBG) Digital Geographies Working Group event Revolution, Evolution, Imposition, London, UK
Ian Cook et al (2016) Toxic materialities. Invited organisation of screening and panel discussion of Sasha Friedlander's (2012) documentary Where Heaven Meets Hell for Passengerfilms, London, UK
Ian Cook et al (2015) Critical making with web2.0: on the material geographies in/of followthethings.com. Invited seminar in the ‘How social sciences shape society’ conference series, University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland
Ian Cook et al (2015) Making conversations about ethical consumption with followthethings.com. Invited presentation at the ESRC Consumption Ethics in Society seminar, University of Leicester, UK
Ian Cook et al (2015) Food talk: geographies of food and the ‘follow the thing approach. Invited keynote at the White Rose DTC Inaugural Food Studies Seminar Event, University of Sheffield, UK
Ian Cook, Will Kelleher, Charlotte Brunton & Jennifer Hart (2014) followthethings.com: research & teaching through global connection. Invited presentation at the Brown International Advanced Research Institutes, Brown University, Providence RI, USA
Ian Cook et al (2013) followthethings.com as open access publishing. Invited panel contribution on ‘Open Access Publishing: a stock-take and critical debate’, RGS(IBG) annual conference, London, UK
Ian Cook et al (2010) Shopping online: new sites and technologies for 'follow the thing' research. Invited keynote presentation to the ERC EUROQUAL workshop on Spatial and network analysis in qualitative research, European University Cyprus, Nicosia, Cyprus
National Centre for Research Methods (2021) In conversation with Sopie Woodward and Ian Cook - material methods 4: Political LEGO. YouTube, 7 October
Sirpa Tani (2018) Tarinoita papaijasta, etnografiasta ja tieteen rajojen koettelusta: haastattelussa Ian Cook ja Eeva Kemppainen. Terra 130(1), 39-42
Joss Hands (2015) The Museum of Contemporary Commodities. Digicult October
Anon (2015) The Museum of Contemporary Commodities. Hack Circus (Issue 8, Prediction) September
Lizzie Lloyd (2015) Review of Bideford Black: The Next Generation, Burton Art Gallery and Museum, Devon. Aesthetica 2 November
Olivia Edward (2013) I‘m a geographer: Ian Cook. Geographical magazine April, p.82
Anon (2012) Food Globalisation (interview). Geography in the news, Royal Geographical Society, October
Documentary film & other panels
2019: Fashion Revolution Week 'Meet the Makers' discussion, Sancho's Exeter, 27th April, panel chair with Rosie Drake Knight (Rosie Drake Knight), Helen Newcombe (Davy J swimwear), Phil Wilbore (Monkee Genes) & Sophie Glover (Makers HQ).
2019: The Green Lie (dir. Werner Boote, 2018), UK Green Film Festival, Exeter Phoenix, November 12th, panel chair with panellists including Debbie Luffman (Finisterre), Julian Bond (Greenpeace) & Bernardo De Cerqueira Fernandes (University of Exeter)
2018: River Blue (dir. David McIlbride & Roger Williams, 2017), Fashion Revolution Week at University of the Arts London, April 25th, panelist with Luke Smitham (Impactt Limited) and Anna Fitzpatrick (Centre for Sustainable Fashion)
2018: Fashion Revolution Week panel discussion, Sancho's Exeter, April 27th, panel chair with Ed Bird (Bird Sunglasses), Howard Davey (Submariner) & Anna (Lush Exeter).
2017: Machines (dir. Raul Jain, 2016), Exeter Phoenix, June 20th with panel including Kalkidan Legesse (Sancho's) & Dr Verity Jones (University of the West of England)
2016: Where Heaven Meets Hell (dir. Sasha Friedlander, 2013), Passengerfilms' 'Toxic materialities' event, The Water Poet, London, panel chair with Prof. Gavin Bridge (Durham University), Dr Jennifer Gabrys (Goldsmiths, University of London), & Andrew Hickman & Andy Whitmore (London Mining Network)
2016: Just Eat It: a Food Waste Story (dir. Grant Baldwin, 2014), Museum of Contemporary Commodities screening, Exeter Phoenix, May 4th, panel chair with Dr Rebecca Sandover (University of Exeter), Suzanne Hocknell (University of Exeter) & Kevin Cotter (Love Local Food)
2016: The Forgotten Space (dir. Noël Burch & Alan Sekula, 2010) Museum of Contemporary Commodities screening, Exeter Phoenix, May 11th, panel chair with Tracey Williams (LEGO Lost at Sea), Ross Curwen (Surfers Against Sewage) & Alex Gendenhuys (New Dawn Traders)
2016: Where Heaven Meets Hell (dir. Sasha Friedlander, 2013), Museum of Contemporary Commodities screening, TOPOS artspace, Exeter, May 18th, panel chair with Dr Andrea Butcher (University of Exeter), Jeff Harrison (Drakelands Tungsten Mine), Dr Ben Williamson (Cambourne School of Mines) & Daniel Pranajaya (University of Exeter)
Advisory Board member: Blood Bricks, ESRC-DFID funded project (PI Prof Katherine Brickell, Royal Holloway, University of London).
Advisory Board member: Designing a Sensibility for Sustainable Clothing, AHRC-funded project (PI Prof Clare Saunders, University of Exeter).
‘Follow The Things’: developing critical pedagogies to promote geographically-informed and ethically-aware consumption in school geography curriculum (REF 2014 impact case study: download).
Fashion ethics after the Rana Plaza factory collapse (University of Exeter Grand Challenge, Exeter Guildhall shopping centre, 2-6 June 2014: website)
Service and recognition
In 2021-2022, Ian worked with Dr Tom Roland, Dr Caitlin Kight and student interns Ellie Cook and Seb Padroza to inform and encourage geography's contributions to the University's 'Decolonising the Curriculum' project (see the toolkit here).
In 2022, examples of student coursework from the second year optional module 'Global lives: decolonial geographies' module co-taught with Prof Nicola Thomas were exhibited online as part of the 'In Plain Sight: Translatlantic Slavery and Devon' exhibition at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter. See the 'behind the scenes' blog post here.
In 2017, the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) gave Ian the Taylor and Francis Award for Excellence in the Promotion and Practice of Teaching and Learning of Geography in Higher Education. More here.
In 2010, 2011 and 2012, Ian was shortlisted for the University of Exeter Student Guild's 'Innovative Teaching' award. In 2012, he won.
For the 2022-23 academic year, Ian will be teaching on the following undergraduate modules:
GEO1313: Learning through place: doing human geography (compulsory year one module - co-convening & lecturing with Dr Laura Smith & Dr Eliott Rooke)
GEO2137: Global lives: decolonial geographies (optional second year module - convening and teaching with Prof Nicola Thomas)
Ian is not currently teaching his long-running final year 'behind the scenes of followthethings.com' module 'Geographies of material culture', but the public module archive of its film-based online revamp last taught in lockdown in 2020 is available here.
- GEO1313 - Learning through Place: Doing Human Geography
- GEO2137 - Global Lives: Decolonial Geographies
Supervision / Group
- Molly Bond (2022-2024) From the Land to the Lab: Unearthing synthetic biology food futures and the changing ‘nature’ of production. A global ethnography of stevia / ka’a he’ê. (ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship, mentored with Susan Molyneux-Hodgson, Sociology)
- Tara Woodyer (2011-12) Playing with toys: the animated geographies of children's material culture (ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship, Mentor)
- Bharath Ananthanarayana (2021-date) From ginger fields to the aisles of consumerism: making the geographies of ginger visible. (AHRC 3 studentship co-supervised by Judith Aston, UWE and Nicola Thomas, Exeter)
- Harriet Earle-Brown 'Homeless Women and their ‘transgressive’ bodies' (ESRC-funded PhD co-supervised with Paul Cloke and Jo Little)
- Cai Haohui (2021-date): The Apiculture sector in China (China Studentship Council-funded, co-supervised with Henry Buller)
- Lizzie Hobson (2017-date) Scarred Landscapes (Exeter-funded, co-supervised with John Wylie)
- Beth Sugg (2020-date ) Sustainability within fashion supply chains (ESRC-funded PhD co-supervised by David Evans
- Matt Wilkins (2009-) Collaborative publics: shopping, performance and the blind individual (Exeter funded PhD, co-supervised with Paul Cloke) .
- Angeliki Balayannis (2015-18) Following the Pesticides in Disposal: a Chemical Geography (Australian Postgraduate Award-funded, co-supervised with Rachel Hughes and Jon Barnett (Melbourne) and Gail Davies (Exeter))
- Martin Buttle (2001-05) Ethical finance in the social economy: a multi-locale ethnography (Birmingham University funded PhD, co-supervised with John Bryson)
- Paula Crutchlow (2014-2019) The Museum of Contemporary Commodities (ESRC-funded PhD, co-supervised with Sam Kinsley)
- Matt Grace (2009-13) Geography, cancer and dragon boats: ethnographic explorations of breast cancer dragon boating in the Lake District, UK. (Exeter funded PhD, co-supervised with David Harvey)
- Helen Griffiths (2005-2010) Engaging students as citizens and consumers innew school geographies (ESRC-funded PhD, co-supervisedwith James Evans).
- Suzanne Hocknell (2012-17) Adding Fat to the Fire: Fat-assemblages and (re)making the world (ESRC-funded PhD, co-supervised with Steve Hinchliffe)
- Verity Jones (1999-00) A Pear Shaped Thesis: research becoming in/of/with/ the National Botanic Garden of Wales (University funded MPhil, University of Wales, Lampeter)
- Rebecca Morris (2005-2010) Bloody geographies: exploring identities, relatedness, connectedness and care in the exchange of blood and blood products (University of Birmingham, co-supervised with Jason Chilvers)
- Rebecca Sandover (2009-13) Doing food - knowing food: an exploration of allotment practices and the production of knowledge through visceral engagement (Exeter University funded PhD, co-supervised with Henry Buller)
- Sunnie Wu (2015-) Globalisation and the Reconstruction of Rurality: Cases Study of Canton, China (co-supervised with Jo Little and Paul Cloke)
- Lynne Wyness (2008-12) Placing Global School Partnerships: the politics, praxis and pedagogies of global citizenship. (Exeter University funded PhD, co-supervised with Nicola Thomas)