Shoe City vs Sole Rebels

Two radically opposed models of development are being born in Ethiopia at the same time. One is small, local, socially fair, and ecologically respectful. The other takes the globalisation of fashion to a new and more destructive level.


No sooner had I posted a long piece on Politics And The Fashion System than two stories  reached me from Ethiopia that embody the profound rift between old and new models of development. Read More »

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A Whole New Cloth: Politics and the Fashion System

In fashion, despite more than 400 eco labels, an incremental ‘do less harm’ approach has addressed the symptoms, but not the principal cause, of our difficulties: an economy based on perpetual growth in a finite world. A new and global ‘leave things better’ politics affirms our co-dependency with living systems and the biosphere. The Commons, and the sharing or Peer-to-Peer economy, give shared meaning to this new politics. It is beginning to take practical form in the creation of foodsheds and fibersheds at the scale of the bioregion.


[The text below was commissioned by Kate Fletcher and Mathilda Tham for their forthcoming anthology, Routledge Handbook on Fashion and Sustainabilitywhich will be published in September. It’s 4,800 words long].

You probably need to be naked to read this paragraph with a clear conscience. Its author, for one, felt like stripping off as his exploration of the fashion system progressed. It took 700 gallons of fresh water to make my cotton t-shirt, I learned. It’s partly down to me that 85 per cent  of the Aral Sea In Uzbekistan has disappeared because its water is used to grow cotton in the desert. A quarter of all the insecticides in the world are used on cotton crops. Nearly all the Read More »

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The Dementia Care Economy

Yesterday’s G8 Dementia Summit made much of the fact that millions will now be spent in a race to identify a cure or a ‘disease-modifying therapy’ for dementia.  The likely outcome will be the creation of a Dementia Industrial Complex – and the mass production of un-met expectations.A better way for nation states to spend money on dementia is in the ratio: 95 per cent for Care, five percent for Big Research.


(Above: the demential care ecology of Newcastle, in North East England. Illustration by Barbara Douglas)

When War was declared on Terror, a Security Industrial Complex (SIC) boomed.  For the purveyors of full-body scanners, high-end police trucks, and Total Information Domination software, Terror has been good business. But is the world is a safer place? The SIC and this writer are aligned on the question: No, it is not. Read More »

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Ecuador, Open Knowledge, and ‘Buen Vivir’: Interview With Michel Bauwens

“The global economy treats nature and material resources as if they were infinite, and knowledge as if it was scarce. We have to swap those two around”. (Michel Bauwens). Audio interview below the fold. 

Having enshrined the rights of nature in its constitution (*) Ecuador is now exploring how this principle, and the principle of open knowledge, might  reshape its economic development. The contribution of Michel Bauwens, founder of the P2P Foundation, is to lead a strategic policy project for Ecuador’s government called Free/Libre Open Knowledge (FLOK), also known as the social knowledge economy project. Read More »

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Desert of the Real

It is surely alarming that the world’s economy is being shaped by people who are mesmerised by all things digital – but who are blind to a much larger reality: the analogue knowledge accumulated in nature during 3.5 billion years of evolution.


The invitation to do this talk arrived around the time I was stopped in my tracks by this perplexing sight (above) in one of those endless corridors at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.

Who commissioned such a thing, and why?
What, if anything, was in their mind?
Where did they procure that cheesy stick-on foliage?
Is that a robot digging away behind the window – or does it have a driver? What does she make of the living wall that’s not, in fact, alive? Read More »

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Ten answers from Brisbane

My hosts last week at the Asia Pacific Design Library in Brisbane (which, on reflection, is probably the finest new library I have been in) asked me a few questions before our xskool:

Q: What does a typical day look like for you?

A: When I’m on the road, which is nearly half the time, I get up between 5 and 6, make the custom porridge which I bring from home In vacuum-sealed sachets, and then prepare the talk or workshop that I promised myself I would Read More »

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Ways Of Knowing


[Photograph: Hans Sylvester]

Interni and the Be Open Foundation are publishing a book, called Gallery Of The Senses, that explores the ways we experience the contemporary world through sight, hearing,smell, taste, and touch. It then asks: Are we missing a sixth sense? Here is my contribution. 

Humanity’s troubles did not begin with with the industrial age, nor even with agriculture. Our problems began when we embraced symbolic culture and placed language, art, and number above other ways of knowing the world. Read More »

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Speed? What Speed? Prisoners of Speed, by Ivan Illich (Part 3 of 3)

Ivan Illich

In 1996, Ivan Illich (above) agreed to speak at Doors of Perception in Amsterdam on the theme of  ‘speed’. The philosopher-educator surprised us by bringing along two fellow speakers: Sebastian Trapp, a field biologist, and Matthias Rieger, a musicologist. Their contributions are as  fresh today as when we heard them in Amsterdam – so we are running them again in three parts. This is part three, the concluding remarks of Ivan Illich. 

Ivan Illich: Prisoners of Speed

First let me thank the organisers of this conference for challenging us to prepare an intervention. My circle of friends in Bremen owe it to your programme that we have examined a neglected subject, the historicity of speed. Let me take you right to the core of the issue by expressing my thanks in old-fashioned English: Michiel, ‘God speed thee and thy close!’ Milton’s words would fit the occasion well. ‘To speed’ then meant ‘to prosper’ and not ‘to go fast’. Read More »

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Speed? What Speed? The Belly-Dance Drummer, by Matthias Rieger (Part 2, of 3)


In 1996, when Ivan Illich agreed to speak at Doors of Perception in Amsterdam, our theme that year was ‘speed’. The philosopher surprised us by bringing along two fellow speakers: Sebastian Trapp, a field biologist, and Matthias Rieger, a musicologist. Their contributions are as  fresh today as twhen we heard them in Amsterdam – so we are running them again in three parts. This the second.

Matthias Rieger: Some remarks about speed from a belly-dance drummer’s point of view

When I prepared for this conference about speed, I was somewhat at a loss what to say in front of people who would have come from all over the world by car, train, or plane. This event, so I read in the programme, should give scientists, designers and philosophers a chance ‘to rub their brains’. After a while, I decided to ask my drum teacher Mohammed for help. Read More »

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