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Study information

Geographies of Material Culture

Module titleGeographies of Material Culture
Module codeGEO3123
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Professor Ian Cook (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This module encourages you to better appreciate the complexities of globalisation and trade (in)justice through studying the travels of everyday things from factories and farms to shops and homes and, specifically, through studying the ways in which filmmakers try to involve their audiences as responsible supply chain actors.

It is delivered through the screening of 8 films about trade (in)justice, through the analysis and workshop discussion of their intentions, tactics, responses and impacts, and through recommended academic readings to enable diverse understandings of their trade justice activism to be developed.

It is assessed through two pieces of coursework.
You are not required to have any specific pre- or co-requisite modules. This module is suitable for anyone fascinated and/or concerned about these issues and keen to learn about them in this way.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module will enable you to gain a rich understanding of ‘follow the thing’ trade justice activism through watching, analysing and critically reflecting upon a selection of eight films. These films highlight the lives and struggles of supply chain workers and call on their audiences to act in solidarity with those workers, in diverse ways.

In this module, you will learn how filmmakers frame responsibilities for the trade (in)justices that they bring to the screen and who can and should act to remedy them. They will learn to critically analyse the ways in which these framings are accepted, challenged and/or deflected by their audiences in ways that (don’t) make a difference to the lives of supply chain workers. They will learn the language of trade justice activism through connecting the module’s ‘ingredient phrases’ – for intentions, tactics, responses, and impacts – in order to critically appreciate how trade justice activism can work, and what it can do.

The module will call into question the model of the ‘guilty Western consumer’ as the main supply chain actor whose behaviour needs to change, will bring into consideration more dispersed and decolonial senses of responsibility and solidarity that can lead to meaningful change for supply chain workers, and challenge you to re-consider your roles as responsible supply chain actors.

This module is based on research into the geographies of material culture that is showcased on the spoof shopping website Each film has its own page on this website which you will be asked to read and analyse in order to identify and discuss its intentions, tactics, responses and impacts.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Describe the geographies in and of material culture flows
  • 2. Connect case studies with wider social, cultural, economic, etc. processes, including impact
  • 3. Illustrate how understandings cross disciplinary and sub-disciplinary boundaries
  • 4. Combine creative and academic writing to make sense of relationships and connections
  • 5. Analyse and evaluate your own involvements in the geographies of material culture

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. Illustrate and discuss the contested and provisional nature of knowledge and understanding
  • 7. Describe the nature of explanation within human geography, allowing for the critical evaluation of arguments, assumptions and abstractions, to make correct judgments, to frame and successfully solve a problem

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 8. Communicate ideas, principles and theories effectively and fluently
  • 9. Formulate a sustained and reasoned argument
  • 10. Identify, acquire, evaluate and synthesise data from a range of sources
  • 11. Formulate and evaluate questions and identify and evaluate approaches to problem-solving
  • 12. Undertake independent/self-directed study/learning (including time management) to achieve consistent, proficient and sustained attainment
  • 13. Reflect on the process of learning and evaluate personal strengths and weaknesses
  • 14. Contribute effectively to the achievement of objectives
  • 15. Use C&IT effectively and appropriately to select, analyse and present information

Syllabus plan

Indicative structure:

1: Introduction | 2: Mangetout | 3. The Forgotten Space | 4. Sweatshop: Deadly Fashion | 5. Kodaikainal Won’t | 6. Reading Week | 7. (coursework) | 8. The Green Lie | 9. Letter from Masanjia | 10. UDITA (Arise) | 11. Untitled (ginger iDoc) | 12. (coursework)

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching22Workshop discussions
Guided Independent Study9Film watching and reflection
Guided Independent Study119Textual analysis, academic reading and writing

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Worksheet300 words1-9Written

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Film Analysis331000 words1-9Written
Module Reflection672000 words1-9Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Film AnalysisFilm Analysis1-9Referral/deferral period
Module ReflectionModule Reflection1-9Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit the Film Analysis and/or Module Reflection as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Ian Cook & Tara Woodyer (2012) Lives of things. in Eric Sheppard, Trevor Barnes & Jamie Peck (eds) The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Economic Geography. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 226-241

Kate Nash & John Corner (2016) Strategic impact documentary: contexts of production and social intervention. European Journal of Communication 31(3), 227–242

Erik Olin Wright (2015) How to be an anti-capitalist today. Jacobin 12 February

Jennifer Wenzel (2011) Consumption for the common good? Commodity biography film in an age of post consumerism. Public Culture 23(3), 573-602

Iris Marion Young (2003) From guilt to solidarity: sweatshops and political responsibility. Dissent 50(2), 39-44

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

ELE page for module content and coursework submission information. 

For analysis: individual film pages on

Key words search

Geography, film, trade justice, commodity fetishism, activism

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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NQF level (module)


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Last revision date