The Sympathy of Things


The Sympathy of Things is a two-part radio documentary researched, written and presented by Assemble and produced by Sean Glynn and David Waters from SGP Productions for BBC Radio 4. The programme grew out of Assemble’s collective, on-going research about the interaction between social and economic life and the designed and manufactured world. Listen to the programme here.

The programme is made of a series of interconnected conversations with people involved in designing and producing the objects that make up our everyday material environment - things like toilets, toasters, door handles and pavements, and people who write, teach and think about design and manufacture.

The documentary is split into two parts. The first explores how mass production upended our relationship to the material world, and how its underlying commercial logic continues to have a very powerful influence on everything from policy agendas and taste to our intimate, unconscious relationships with the things we live in, on and among. In the second part, we talk to people who argue that advent of digital technologies will up end our relationship to the material world again, but not in the way you might imagine, as it questions the easy distinctions we make between machines and people, the digital and the material, the local and the global.

Overall the programme attempts to assemble an argument for the value of putting deliberate effort into observing and understanding our material world better and for understanding the way that we make objects, and the way that that objects in turn, make us. We are working towards making longer versions of the conversations featured in the programmes, as well as a few which ended up on the cutting room floor, available for download.

Produced by Sean Glynn, David Waters & Emile Klein
Executive Producer Max O’Brien

Featuring, in order of appearance:

Barbara Hepworth (archive)
Mick Horne and Chris Brown, Ideal Standard 
Thomas Thwaites
Richard Wentworth
Dinah Birch
Adam Sutherland, Grizedale Arts
Marcus Engman, IKEA
Richard Sennett
Glenn Adamson 
Mario Carpo
Kirsty Emery and Ben Alun Jones, Unmade
Cat Rossi
Guy Parker, ASA
Mathew Lawrence

With thanks to the Advertising Standards Agency, Ambrose Gillick, Anthea Black, the Bartlett School of Architecture, Bethany Koby, Candice Hopkins, Catherine Ince, Eric Van Hove, Fogo Island Arts Trust, Granby Workshop, Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Ideal Standard, Ikea, Imogen Heap, the Institute of Public Policy Research, It's Nice That, J W Anderson, Lars Spruybroek, Liverpool John Moores University, Lord Rumi Verijee, the Loewe Craft Prize, Martha McGuinn, Maddie Vriesendorp, Nicole Burisch, Rob Szeliga, Peter Ting, the School of African and Oriental Studies, Takeshi Hayatsu, Thomas Goode Ltd, Timothy Ingold, Tom Emerson, Trevor Marchand, Victor Buchli and Zita Cobb.

The Alphabet and the Algorithm, Mario Carpo
Amateur Craft, Stephen Knott
‘Beyond This Last’, Alice Motard
The Crown of Wild Olive, John Ruskin
Craft on Demand: The New Politics of the Hand Made, Anthea Black and Nicole Burisch
From Global to Local, Finbarr Livesey
The Invention of Craft, Glenn Adamson
Ruskin and Gender, ed. Dinah Birch
Leap Before You Look, ed. Helen Molesworth
Making, Timothy Ingold
Managing Automation: Employment, Inequality and Ethics in the Digital Age, IPPR
The Masons of Djenné, Trevor Marchand
Muscles, Morals and Mind, Trevor Marchand
The Nature and Art of Workmanship, David Pye
News from Nowhere, William Morris
On Weaving, Anni Albers
Stuff, Daniel Miller
The Toaster Project, Thomas Thwaites
The Twentieth Century Fate of the Craft Ideal, Jackson Lears
Unto This Last, John Ruskin
Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, Jane Bennett
White Collar, C. Wright Mills

BBC Radio 4
Sean Glynn
David Waters
Max O'Brien
Emile Klein