Supply Studies is a research initiative focused on the critical study of logistics. Started by Matthew Hockenberry in 2010, it has published original writing investigating the past, present, and future of global supply chains. Other notable activities include the /syllabus/, a curated collection of readings in the field, and https://manifest.supplystudies.com, a digital humanities toolkit for mapping supply chains.
Over the last several years, a growing number of studies have tried to trace the vast networks of human labor, data, and natural resources that fuel our digital lives. These investigations cast new light on the exploitative practices masked by the staggering complexity of global supply chains. Academics and journalists have long been interested in chronicling the long and convoluted travels of various commodities, from sugar to T-shirts. But the supply chains of our technologies are even more overwhelming. Apple publishes a list of its top 200 suppliers working out of a total of more than 1,000 facilities. Samsung states that it works with approximately 2,200 suppliers around the world. These suppliers have their own networks of hundreds if not thousands of providers.
This focus on supply chains — or supply studies, as some have called it — is rooted in the knowledge that our relationship to technology cannot be understood purely in terms of how we make use of it. Instead, the approach is premised on investigating the metals, refineries, factories, shipping containers, and warehouses that not only manufacture and deliver our electronics, but also form the infrastructure that organizes our society. Supply studies attempts to distill and make legible these global networks, whose complexity obfuscates the harm they cause. It provides a crucial lens for understanding the real origins, and the real impacts, of our devices.
—Jackie Brown, “Source Material,” Real Life Magazine (2021).