Lectures 7 and 8: Encountering Others

NOTE: These notes can be read in conjunction with the pdfs of Lecture 7 powerpoint slides and Lecture 8 powerpoint slides. The week numbers in the powerpoint slides are different to the lecture numbers used here because of public holidays.


These two lectures were based on Chapter 4, Take Back the Market: Encountering Others. The aims were to:

  • introduce students to some of the issues with mainstream markets and what can be done to address these issues so that mainstream markets are 'taken-back' (Lecture 7)
  • introduce students to other ways of transacting goods and services so that the issues that arise with mainstream markets can be avoided (Lecture 8).



This week the focus was on mainstream markets, the issues that arise with these markets and the ways that people are addressing the issues to take back the market. We chiefly did this by working on a series of exercises. (But first I gave the students some feedback on their first reflective journal exercise, including showing them some extracts from the journal that received the highest marks, see slides 2 to 7).

FIRST, we started with a Where From? Inventory, based on the one in Take Back the Economy (TBTE) (page 90) and the Taking Back Markets, Chapter 4 Tool (see slide 10). However, I modified the inventory in two ways: by including mainland China as its own category (given how many products come from mainland China); and by simply having a blank column for the items. Students worked in pairs and did an inventory of the following:

  • What we are wearing (e.g. jacket, hoodie, watches, shoes, glasses, backpack)
  • What’s in a pencil case (e.g. pens, pencils, rulers ,erasers, correction pen)
  • What’s in a backpack (e.g. distilled water, TBTE book! (extra points for that); I-Phone; earphones);
  • Our favourite fruits (e.g. mango, strawberry, blueberry, dragon fruit, lychee, banana).

Helen (our tutor) and I did an inventory over morning tea, as Helen had a cup of ginger tea and I had a delicious Hong Kong milk tea (click here if you want to know more about Hong Kong milk or stocking tea as it is sometimes called).  We could not find out much about what went into my milk tea (for some makers, it’s a commercial secret). We found out marginally more about Helen’s ginger tea from the wrapper, and we used this example in the class to discuss one of the issues with mainstream markets (see below).

SECOND, student briefly presented what they had been able to find out about their items. Unsurprisingly, most had come from mainland China. I had planned to then do the Distance Others Dandelion (slides 12 to 13) but we ran out of time so got straight onto discussing the concerns (slides 14 to 18). As mentioned above, Helen’s ginger tea was a great example of the third point—how hard it can be to find information about the product we purchase. In the case of the ginger tea, it was a Dilmah tea, but the packaging only said it contained tea, ginger and honey and that it was packed in Sri Lanka. This raised more questions than it answered! And it led to a great discussion of product labelling in Hong Kong and how there are different rules in different countries. We also discussed the case of conflict minerals from TBTE (slides 17 and 18).

THIRD, we looked at what is being done to try to address the concerns and issues with mainstream markets, starting with ethical shopping guides (slides 19 and 20). Students went back to their inventories and had to use one of the readily available ethical shopping guides to research some of their items in more detail. The students chiefly used the Ethical Consumer guide from the UK. I showed them an Australian ethical shopping site as a comparison. The students had a lot of fun poking around these sites and looking at how different products and companies rates. Overall, their conclusion was that the more well-known a brand, the more poorly it scored (and therefore the less ethical it was). For example in the cola category, Coca Cola and Pepsi scored the lowest, while two unknown brands, Gusto Organic Sparking Kola and Ubuntu Cola, scored the highest.

This exercises demonstrated the first collective action to take back the market—track where products come from and use an Ethical Shoppers’ Checklist (slides 21 and 22). We then looked at three other collective actions:

  1. legislating against unethical practices (discussed via the examples of the ban on battery cages for egg-laying hens in Europe, page 99 of TBTE; and the US’s suspension of the Generalized System of Preferences for Bangladesh, because of concerns about the Bangladeshi government’s slow response on workers’ rights, following the Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013) (slides 22 to 28)
  2. voluntary agreements, such as those run by the Fair Labor Association (which was initiated through student action in the US) (slides 29 to 42)
  3. developing different sorts of markets, such as Fair Trade (and here we looked at page 102 in TBTE on fair trade) and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) (which we didn’t discuss in any detail as one of the students is doing her case study on a rice CSA in Hong Kong, and will present this in-class) (slide 43).



This week the focus was on the range of ways, other than mainstream markets, that people use to get the goods and services that they need—and through which they encounter more directly the people and places that provide these goods and services.

FIRST, we did a quick with a recap of last week (slides 2 to 18), and I updated them on several things I had found out during the week:

  • A new page on the Australian Shop Ethical website that promotes initiatives such as CSA and Farmers’ Markets (slide 9)
  • A guide on what seafood to eat/not eat in Hong Kong, produced by WWF and information about a Hong Kong government ban on eating shark fins and bluefin tuna (slides 10 to 11)
  • Information about practices by Apple in Mainland China (based on a seminar I attended during the week by Professor PUN Ngai who has researched Apple's production processes and the impact on workers) (slides 13 to 17).

SECOND, I did an introduction to the idea that people can encounter each other more directly as part of the process of securing what they need—and that these encounters can be reciprocal or gift-based (slides 19 to 24).

THIRD, we went through three examples of reciprocal encounters:

  • Hour Exchange in Portland, Maine. We watched a short documentary about the Exchange. The documentary is on this webpage and you need to scroll down to find it—but there are lots of other good documentaries on the way (slide 25)
  • We contrasted this with a second time bank, Fureai Kippu in Japan (and these two time banks and the differences between them are discussed in TBTE, pages 106 to 107)
  • A Time Coupon system in the Wan Chai neighbourhood of Hong Kong and run through St James Settlement (which I had visited several weeks earlier and had lots of photos to use to discuss this example) (slides 28 to 36). (For one story about this initiative, click here).

FOURTH, we looked at two examples of gifting: Fallen Fruit (slides 37 to 40); and gleaning (slides 40 to 45).

FINALLY, we concluded by looking at the Collective Actions section of this chapter in TBTE (pages 112 to 122); and I had a few words of advice on their case study presentations (including showing them a short section of the wonderfully poetic video essay see in the Kowloon district of Hong Kong, Precipitations, but explaining that this would not be appropriate for their visual presentations—although in their own wonderful way I feel like Hope and Victor captured something equally unique with the time-lapse video of a portion of their 11pm to 1.30am shift in the Special Service Period at the Women Workers’ Cooperative at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) (food outlets at CUHK are required to be open until 1.30am, so to assist the Women Workers’ Cooperative, students have formed a support group to run the late shift, so the women can go home and rest). (Here’s the link to Hope and Victor’s full visual presentation).

I should add that there are lots of examples in these lectures as the students had given their mid-semester feedback and one thing they identified was that they would like more examples in lectures.