Could commodities themselves speak? An Introduction to the Agnotology of the Spectacle

Murray, Andrew and Bradshaw, Alan (2024). Could commodities themselves speak? An Introduction to the Agnotology of the Spectacle. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space (Early access).

Abstract

Over the last decades, notes from Chinese prisoners have been found in Western commodities, ones often asking their recipient to notify human rights organisations of abuses in China. These notes often cause distress to their recipients and raise debate in Western media on the extent of abuses within global supply chains. This article analyses the production and impact of these notes within what we call an 'agnotology of spectacle'. By agnotology, we mean the general production of ignorance within society. The notes are part of an 'agnotology of spectacle' because they speak of what is usually concealed within what Guy Debord calls a 'society of the spectacle', one in which conditions of visibility and invisibility - who and what is seen as unseen - is organised around globalised commodity production. We show how Debord himself provided the framework for such an agnotology by closely his reading his 'Comments on Society of the Spectacle', a text where he reframes his arguments about spectacle around the concept of secrecy. By supplementing Debord's arguments with more recent theories about race, labour and fetishism, we summarise our account of how global supply chains produce ignorance into twelves theses.

Plain Language Summary

Over the last decades, notes from Chinese prisoners have been found in Western commodities, ones often asking their recipient to notify human rights organisations of abuses in China. These notes speak of labour conditions and human rights abuses that are often concealed from view. This paper studies how and why this concealment takes place.

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