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

Andrew Murray, Alan Bradshaw

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This article introduces the ‘agnotology of spectacle'. While agnotology is a relatively recent term used to describe the production and use of ignorance, we argue that Debord's Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (1992) is an early attempt to outline a global field of disinformation and secrecy. For Debord, such secrecy is required to maintain the political and moral authority of what he defined as ‘spectacle', namely the images used by states and corporations to mediate relations of power with consumers and citizens. We consider how the spectacle creates fields of disinformation and secrecy to maintain its political and moral authority by examining notes in commodities that purport to be calls for help from coerced labourers in China. These notes allow us to assess the uncanny experience of consuming goods manufactured across global supply chains which may well comprise of serious labour exploitation. However, these sources also demand a more expansive agnotology than that provided by Debord: one that engages with labour processes, contracts and race. We therefore develop Debord's ideas by examining the work of Mills and Benaji. Finally, drawing on Brecht's concept of the 'estrangement effect', we discuss how exploited workers can co-opt the aesthetics of the uncanny to articulate their subject position within a global agnotological field.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)275-293
JournalEnvironment and Planning D: Society and Space
Issue number2
Early online date27 Feb 2024
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2024

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