Overheating seminar: Following the Flip-Flop Trail: the perils and pleasures of doing ethnography from inside the logics of travel

Caroline Knowles

Director of the Centre for Urban and Community Research (CUCR) and Professor of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Caorline Knowles (Photo: flipfloptrail.com)


Inspired by the ideas of Igor Kopytoff, this paper draws on my recent ethnographic work exploring the trail drawn by the biography of a pair of flip-flop sandals. Tentatively offered as one of globalization’s backroads and an alternate to hegemonic versions of globalisation, the trail begins in the oil fields of Kuwait. It moves on to petrochemical factories in Korea making plastic granules. From here enters the Chinese factories in which flip-flops are manufactured; and their most important emerging market, in urban Ethiopia. The trail ends in the Addis Ababa landfill site. Unpacking the lives and landscapes encountered along the way, I explore the difficulties and benefits of doing ethnography on the move.

Published Aug. 14, 2014 2:34 PM - Last modified Nov. 2, 2017 11:42 AM