Supply Studies Studio

It was my pleasure this month to visit the Portuguese island of Madeira and organize an intensive workshop for HCI, Design, and Computer Science MS and PhD students at M-ITI interested in exploring topics in—and developing interventions for—supply studies. Now that we’ve wrapped up, I thought I would put some of the summary information here for future reference. Partly to remind myself that I’d like to post a more detailed version of my notes and reading list at some point in the near future, and partly because I’d love to hear about similar efforts around syllabi that address logistics, supply chains, and globalization.

Supply Studies Studio: Logistics, Consumption, and Globalization

Monday 16/3/15 – Friday 27/3/15, M-ITI.

Supply Studies

Prompt: The calamitous reach of the global commodity chain stands as a monument to the practice of production, supply, and logistics. As contemporary critiques and commentaries consider its intractability, they reveal the extent to which the consummate consumptive objects of far-flung supply chains rest on distant sources of labor and human and environmental degradation at untold scales. Within the world’s logistical apparatus myriad and precious ingredients are identified, gathered, processed, and assembled in assemblies governed from factories on the periphery of some of the poorest regions on the earth. Considered as socially instantiated commodities—heterogeneous productions made with heterogeneous engineering—plastics are fused by (and with) people. Metals are produced by first producing miners, then producing mines. To a litany of troublesome atoms and elements we add actors, sites, and politics—both lives and ways of life. Housed in factory dormitories in China, assembled in Mexican maquiladoras, or put to work soldering connections in Vietnam, Taiwan, or Brazil, are the diffuse and effusive network of human actors at stake in the machinations of global manufacture. Absent capabilities for systematic investigation, political identification, or social familiarity, their lives in the way stations of the global manufactory appear to distant, Western, consumptive communities only through the arduous application of systematic effort—audits from government agencies, advocacy groups, and concerned corporations—who struggle to manifest understanding about a productive processes they enact, but cannot oversee.

But as with any practice, the pattern of the world’s logistical machine is given by the media forms and enabling technologies that govern the flow of its commodities—each given by a history reaching back to the earliest days of modern trade and industrial production. In their conceptual simplicity and intransigence lies an opportunity for transformation, for innovation, and for interruption. While the vocabulary has become familiar, the language of logistics is not fixed. It is constantly made and re-made by the tools and techniques carried out each and every day in service to global supply. This workshop asks participants to intervene in the flow of the global logistical apparatus—to redirect and not merely interrupt. Logistics, as Albert Toscano writes, should be thought, “not just as the site of interruption, but as the stake of enduring and articulated struggles.”

Session Topics: Production and Assembly, Shipping and Distribution, Markets and Marketplaces, Long Histories of Logistics, Critical Perspectives on Logistics, Queer Logistics, Computational Production, Great Logistics Games, Digital Supply Chains, Theories of Things, Deviant Logistics.

Thanks again to the workshop participants for all of their effort, and to the phenomenal folks at M-ITI for inviting me out!