There has been an upsurge of geographical work tracing globalised flows of commodities in the wake of Appadurai’s (1986) call to ‘follow the things’. This paper engages with calls to follow the thing but argues that work thus far has been concentrated, first, on global flows from developing world producers to developed world consumers, and, second, on things that remain stable as they circulate. This paper instead argues that ‘follow the thing’ research needs to also attend to flows ’down’ the value chain, from developed to less developed worlds, and to things that are either coming apart or being disassembled. The case presented here is end-of-life ships, sent to be broken in less developed countries, as most are, in this case in Bangladesh. It looks at how the arts of transience re-work materials from rubbish value ships into new forms and objects in the household furnishing sector, which are then appropriated by Bangladeshi middle class consumers. Far from being a minor feature this is shown to be empirically a significant component of the Bangladeshi economy. Theoretically the paper challenges many habitual assumptions about global flows of commodities and urges ‘follow the thing’ research to rethink the thing. Paying attention to the back-end of the value chain shows that things are but temporary configurations of material. At best partially stable, things are argued to be endlessly being assembled, always becoming something else somewhere else.
Gregson, N., Crang, M., Ahamed, F., Akhtar, 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