Collection no. 007: #Logistics
When retail businesses close during the third Covid-19 lockdown in Germany, a woman orders a new pair of trousers through an online webshop. Her order is processed through a network of fiber optic cables, data centers and resource management software. A worker in a warehouse full of clothing stock uses a scanner to log the package’s next step along its route. A delivery driver on ‘the last mile’ stands with gritted teeth as they wait for the customer to answer the doorbell and digitally sign the screen on the handheld that logs their delivery times to each second.
All this logistical work between the order and receipt of a package usually fades into the backdrop for the customer. But then a container ship becomes lodged sideways in the Suez Canal. For a moment, the world buzzes about a “logistical nightmare” before returning to business as usual.
Now you see it, now you don’t…
With this issue of Roadsides, we will take a closer look at the various disappearing acts and occasional spectacles of logistics. Typically, logistics figures only as a secondary dimension of infrastructure in its mundane register as “the study of boring things” (Star 1999). As a managerial science for designing the operative logics of “flow” through various infrastructures (e.g., trade, migration, data), logistics also appears as the handmaiden to the distinct movements it mediates. For instance, until recently, the logistics of commodity flows have been largely understudied in the social science of market economies, as most studies have focused either on production or consumption as an organizing economic trope. Similarly, research investigating the flows of migration or data infrastructures tend to sideline logistics as something not worthy of serious analysis, if they recognize it at all.
And yet logistics is increasingly ubiquitous and essential to how the circulation of people, things, and data get routed, processed or stalled along the infrastructural channels of ports, supply chains, and digital exchange. Inequalities in labour and capital also figure prominently along the ‘backstage’ of infrastructures – packaging, ordering, storage, collection, transport, distribution, and delivery. How can a “logistics lens” help us to uncover the hidden pragmatics of circulation or the organising agencies and sociopolitical stakes involved in movement across various kinds of infrastructures?
Edited by Julie Y. Chu and Tina Harris
Cover design by Julie Y. Chu (creative direction) and Shahira Bhasha (illustration)
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Julie Y. Chu and Tina Harris call on readers to consider the figure-ground relations of #Logistics; as both hidden workings and occasional spectacle, and as a social conundrum to puzzle out.
None Dare Call It a Supply Chain: Logistics as Conspiracy
Examining the spread of online misinformation during the Covid pandemic, Matthew Hockenberry illustrates how supply chain logistics are hidden, abstracting processes that cannot be “easily understood, rationalized, or justified.”
How to Play Logistics Command
In this first Roadsides Breakdown, Zachary Sheldon and Jack Mullee dissect the rules of a 1978 board game produced by the military-industrial giant Westinghouse for teaching players how to think like a logistical engineer in the global contest for geopolitical dominance.
Reminding us not to forget the ground when we dream about the possibilities of the sky, Mia M. Bennett explores the logistics of situating satellite ground stations in areas like the Arctic and Xinjiang.
Piling Up: Cargo Paperwork in a Global Port
Hege Høyer Leivestad investigates the political economy of piled-up administrative paperwork in facilitating and mediating the movement of container ships in southern Spain.
Invisible Logistics: Women Office Cleaners in Bhutan
Examining the backstage work of cleaners in high-tech IT offices in Bhutan, Roderick Wijunamai focuses on how the use of materials like mops and brooms are crucial to maintaining the offices’ future.
From Social Trust to Blockchain-Mediated Trust
Yuxing Zhang explores how trustworthiness works in supply chains through the new promotion and use of blockchain technologies with a particular focus on the specialized crab market and its logistical operations in China.
Buffering as Everyday Logistical Labour
Using “buffering” tactics to deal with devices that measure driving and rest periods, Debbie Hopkins demonstrates how truck drivers in the UK navigate chokepoints wrought by Brexit-affected delays.
How to Read Logistical Traces
In our second Roadsides Breakdown, Naomi Veenhoven uncovers how a package label from the Netherlands can be deciphered – and experimented with – by the workers whose handheld devices dictate the limited time allowed to deliver the parcels to their destinations.
Through Punjabi trucking videos and songs from preindustrial agricultural production to postcolonial emigration, Davindar Singh reveals the tensions between different experiences of Indian national development and transnational migration.
Logics of Metal Containment
Stefanie Graeter explores the toxic logistics of lead containment in Peru, demonstrating how human bodies become part of the movement and dispersion of poisonous minerals.