04 July 2011

Following things of rubbish value: End-of-life ships, ‘chock-chocky’ furniture and the Bangladeshi middle class consumer


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.

Keywords: Follow the thing; Waste; Value chains; Ships; Furniture; Consumption; Bangladesh

Article Outline:

1. Introduction
2. Following things – a critique
3. Sites of translation, transformation and re-valuation
3.1. The furniture businesses of Bhatiary: a tale of rubbish turned to value
3.2. Shipbreaking furniture in the homes of the Bangladeshi middle class
4. Conclusions

Journal Title: Geoforum
Volume 41, Issue 6, November 2010, Pages 846-854

Received 20 August 2009; revised 14 April 2010.  Available online 7 August 2010.

N. Gregsona, , M. Crangb, F. Ahamedb, c, N. Akhterc and R. Ferdousc

Author Affiliations:
a Department of Geography, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2T, United Kingdom
b Department of Geography, Durham University, United Kingdom
c Department of Anthropology, Chittagong University, Bangladesh

Corresponding Author: Tel.: +44 114 222 7943;
Fax: +44 114 279 7912.

Source: Science Direct.

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