Photographs of vinyl sheets and cardboard inserts in awkward approximation of absent goods are mocked by some, but suggest to others signs of deliberate subterfuge. Even mundane maritime maps are assembled as evidence of – commenters claim – countries “under attack.”
Here the manifest becomes an accounting of injuries. I think this provides a better model for unraveling the global supply chain than transparency. Rather than allow transparency to remain as a form of corporate responsibility, with “mapping the supply chain” an exercise in corporate power, “making out its manifest” might now attempt to account for our value, and our injuries. It records the places where labor has been exploited, where the earth has been plundered, where waste overruns into rivers, and poison bleeds into the air. It is not a proclamation from on high, but an admonition from below. Not an attempt at supply chain resilience, but an opportunity for supply chain reconciliation.
Merging visual representation with textual listing, the mail-order catalogue brought the anticipation of availability to the work of supply. As it did, it crystalized the expectations of capitalism for contemporary consumer culture. This essay surveys some examples of this form around this moment of transformation: as the catalogue form gave way to the catalogue function, and the raw stuff of supply transformed into an operative relation—an ontological object defined not by material presence, but by the potential for supply.
This article interrogates the emergence of the supply chain, and the logistical modes of operation it entails, as metaphor for managing the digital distribution of data – adapting approaches from the critical study of logistics in order to re-incorporate the political, social, and environmental attachments that ‘digital supply chains’ attempt to obfuscate.
The history of a product is told by the marks of its making. The stamps and seals of an object once encoded an originary identity connected to an individual craft hall and craftsperson, promising that an object had been “made in” Sheffield, for example, or Solingen. But beyond these obvious indications was the language of assembly itself: The unfinished sides, unraveled threads, and slips of hammer and chisel that until recently marked our manufacture. Heavily accented and regional, this was a kind of communication visible to all but comprehensible only to craftspeople. These were the human signs of production.
Fruits and vegetables, milk and meat—even the grain to feed the animals that provide them—all seem set to unravel. But when these chains—sick and weakened—stumble and fall, the result is not just the empty space on store shelves. In this breakdown we find an entirely unfamiliar state. The supply chain is an act of assembly, but now—it seems—is time for something else. This is a time of disassembly.
This article examines the origins not only of the media that underlie logistical operation, but the techniques that have shaped and structured them. To do so, I focus on the logistical technique of assembly. Not just of parts, but of places and people. Assembly, here, becomes an ur-mediative technique, one produced both before and beside the attendant media functions of storage and transmission. Long before its instantiation in the operations of contemporary software systems, I examine how this logistical technique emerged in the confines of sites like the ancient storehouse. As I do, I consider how the abstract forms of mediation developed there made warehouses accessible as a new kind of virtual assembly, precipitating the instrumental order critical to the operation of the global supply chain.
This chapter for Bauhaus Futures engages with the logistical legacies of the Bauhaus and their implications for the future of remote production in artistic practice and industrial manufacturing. Taking the Bauhaus as a site of investigation into the possibilities of distribution, mobility, and assembly, it argues that its legacy is a form of design that is both obfuscating and instrumental.”
When Western eyes follow the snaking path of the supply chain to its distant ends, they find there surprisingly familiar things. In what should be a diverse and many-faceted site, there is a reliable regularity. They sometimes find factory floors, rows of workers, hands gloved and faces masked, and they attempt, then, to offer an unmasking. But the site I am concerned with is the one comprised of massive markets filled with endless items, stored in booths and boxes waiting in preparative purchase. It is here that we find the liminal site of global logistical assembly. In the space of the Shenzhen markets in southern China and the digital designs of Alibaba, we find a history of Western fascination with the “Oriental bazaar” that has produced the imagination of a logistical territory which promises an approach to the otherwise inaccessible landscape of global supply.
This article examines the ways of knowing that govern public constructions of knowledge in the manufacture of the mobile phone—its cultural meaning, sociality of labor, and environmental consequences. It does so to consider the “material epistemology” of the mobile phone, the way in which one comes to know these devices, especially through the devices themselves. In modern manufacture, the incorporation of corporate supplier audits and investigative reporting into public discourse reveals an epistemology of production that is primarily imagined, rather than historically and ethnographically realized. Although the public epistemology of the mobile supply chain is built from the model of the telephone and telegraph, these networks were themselves mystified, displaced, and obscured. This is illustrated by examining material and conceptual differences between the historic supply chain of the telephone manufacturer Western Electric, and those imagined for contemporary companies like Apple.
This conversation between Matthew Hockenberry and Kenneth Tay marks the beginning of a series of dialogues on the subject of logistics. No longer a mere subject of business management schools or an exclusive expertise of the military, logistics has become a significant presence in recent scholarship, particularly in the humanities, and is now frequently talked about in fields such as geography, information studies, international relations, and media studies.
Despite the sometimes underdetermined discourse surrounding it, there is nothing particularly new about the identification of a product with its place of production. Given a world of global production and far flung supply chains, there is more than a little ambiguity in what these supposedly simple identifications might mean. And it might not be surprising that the history that gives birth to them is just as uncertain.
Maintenance is the work of repairing and refurbishing faults in technological systems. To reaffirm shopping as a maintenance practice, then, it is necessary to recognize that it must also be the work of organizing the materials that are necessary to sustain them. It is the work, one might say, of supply.
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.
Recently I’ve had the chance to give some talks on the history of trade infrastructure, bills of lading, factories, and the intellectual history of “supply.” I shared a similar version of this talk at both the Neil Postman Conference and the Media, Materiality, and Infrastructures workshop here at NYU, so I thought I’d do so here.
During my fellowship this past summer I had the opportunity to take a trip to the archives of the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum in Cornwall. On my way back to Penzance, I decided to stop off at the Geevor Tin Mine.
I recently came across an interesting post Andrew James Myers produced as part of his participation in Henry Jenkin’s PhD seminar on Public Intellectuals. Myers writes about the visual representations Apple deploys to narrate that consummate object of modern consumption, the iPhone.
The most meaningful realization about working on the history of production is seeing how ragged and disjoint it can be. Rather than a smooth flow toward anonymous production, we see not only pockets of alternative modes that persisted long into the present, but moments where these alternatives seemed positioned to retake the future of production. One such pocket of production can be found in accounts of the “Little Mesters” of Sheffield. Here the “factory” becomes not a collection of generalized unskilled production, but a site for the compilation of craftwork.
[An] example of the German manuscript tradition of military authorship. Maximilian ordered the creation of spectacular inventory books as one part of his large-scale reorganization of the imperial army. The reform augmented the imperial arsenal by creating a new artillery-manufacturing center in the Tyrol and a new arsenal in Innsbruck. The inventory books record the content of the imperial arsenals both in images and in itemized lists. …visually spectacular… The folios display beautiful hand-painted illustrations of cannon with their stone or iron balls, culverins (light field guns), and other armaments at various sites in the empire.
In Arjun Appadurai’s introduction to The Social Life of Things, he noted that one of the aims of the essay was to “justify the conceit that commodities, like persons, have social lives.” Thirty years later, this conceit has become widespread.
I’ve been spending a lot of time on how ways of knowing about production have changed. One of my favorite images for this is a 1923 Western Electric ad that catalogues all of the human participants in the production of the telephone–albeit in the most caricaturish fashion.
At different scales, and within unique (and sometimes conflicting) patterns of discourse, individual perceptions of the system of global production have become a tangled snarl of impossible imaginings. For the consuming public, the origin of things are written in the labels they wear, the companies, brands, and individuals known to organize their assembly, and, often, within the frustratingly singular notion that they must be “made in” one particular promised place. But these beliefs have been challenged by an expanding familiarity with the reality of contemporary manufacture, by a heightened awareness of the apparatus of worldwide production, and of the global marketplace of labor.
The Government wishes to inform members of the public that the faults and defects in certain objects, utensils, machines, and installations (OUMIs, in abbreviated form) that have become increasingly common in recent months, are being scrupulously examined by a panel of experts which now includes a parapsychologist. Members of the public should beware of anyone spreading rumors or trying to provoke panic and hysteria. Citizens should remain calm, even when the aforesaid OUMIs start disappearing: objects, utensils, machines, or installations. Everyone should be on their guard. Every OUMI (object, utensil, machine or installation) should be carefully examined in the future. The Government wishes to stress the importance of sighting any OUMI (object, utensil, machine or installation), the moment it starts to disappear. Anyone who can give detailed information or prevent the disappearance of OUMIs will be duly rewarded and promoted to category C if classified in a lower category. The Government is counting on public support and trust.
Of course she knew all about the communication-system. There was nothing mysterious in it. She would summon a car and it would fly with her down the tunnel until it reached the lift that communicated with the air-ship station: the system had been in use for many, many years, long before the universal establishment of the Machine. And of course she had studied the civilization that had immediately preceded her own – the civilization that had mistaken the functions of the system, and had used it for bringing people to things, instead of for bringing things to people.
The production of things, already distant from daily life, can seem a more remote reality than it is. Objects of high technology seem to be embroiled in a bifurcating world of mysterious production processes and unfamiliar social and geographic landscapes.
A colleague of mine pointed me towards this insightful piece by the Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy. In his 1929 short story, Chains (Láncszemek, but here translated as Chain-Links), Karinthy’s narrator describes the “well-connected game” he has been playing.
How do we think things that are both familiar and essentially unknowable? The mobile phone is a device that stands at the nexus of productive forces spanning thousands of lives and dozens of countries. At the same time, this massive assemblage lies dormant in its placement as the familiar functionary of Western daily life. A thing like an iPhone is a networked object. Like scores of communicative technologies before it, it produces (even as it is produced by) a global network of assemblages. The carefully polished glass and impeccably molded plastic are the congealed essence of a process of production that seems to leverage the effort of an entire global community.
Knowing where things come from is fundamental to humanity. Things are very different when they come from different places. We might speak of terroir as the earth in the food, the unique sense of locale imparting an irreplaceable difference that cannot be found in another place. The provenance of a work tells us the importance of not only where something has come from, but when it was created and who it was that fashioned it. Ancient vessels in Pompeii bear the eternal mark of Vesuvinum, and shelves of China are still identified by their geographic namesake. New terms in new disciplines all center themselves around the specific origins of production, seeking to follow the path of circumstances and making that lends the unique sense to the works of art and engineering that become the everyday objects of our lives.
SES is a world-leading satellite operator, providing reliable and secure satellite communications solutions to broadcast, telecom, corporate and government customers worldwide. It owns and operates a fleet of 52 geostationary satellites that are complemented by a network of teleports and offices located around the globe. This far-reaching infrastructure enables their customers to reach 99% of the world’s population and places SES at the heart of the global communications chain.
OpenStreetMap is a project about geography, and deals with the shape of features and information about places on the face of the Earth. Thus, the emerging question is ‘what influence does geography have on OSM?’ Does geography make some fundamental changes to the basic principles of crowdsourcing, or should OSM be treated as ‘wikipedia for maps’?
Processing raw ore into rare earths is an intensive operation that has been associated with radioactive water spills. But with China slashing exports of rare earths and Washington concerned the U.S. military could face a shortage of materials for lasers, smart bombs, guided missiles, night-vision goggles and jet engines, Don Ranta is optimistic about his Black Hills National Forest mine proposal.
Can an algorithm edit a journal? Can a library exist without books? Can students build and manage their own learning management platforms? Can a conference be held without a program?
CitySourced is a real time mobile civic engagement platform. CitySourced provides a simple and intuitive platform empowering residents to identify civic issues (public safety, quality of life, environmental issues, etc.) and report them to city hall for quick resolution; an opportunity for government to use technology to save time and money plus improve accountability to those they govern; and a positive, collaborative platform for real action. A picture tells a thousand words and CitySourced makes it a snap.
So Eigen left the World Bank in protest and started Transparency International. He tells us that the lessons learned in starting the project have implications for other issues, like the work Auret Van Heerden is doing on global supply chains. As with the supply chain, there’s a real danger that as you stop permitting bribery, you’ll get out competed by countries that do permit it. You have to overcome this prisoner’s dilemma by cooperating with businesses. Eigen advocates “antagonistic cooperation” – using a term his wife, a prominent political scientist coined. In Germany, he explained that in the first meetings, no one was willing to admit that they paid bribes. In the second, everyone admitted they did, and in the third meeting, they all agreed to change. This was especially amazing because the government explicitly didn’t apply pressure, and believed that bribery was necessary to keep German business competitive.
These are evidence of governance gaps – gaps in our supply chains. Some happen in failed states. Some happen in states that feel like deregulation or lack of regulation is good for trade. But they provide a human rights dilemma for all of us. And most of the companies involved in these supply chains can’t assure us that no one had to suffer to make our products.
Civic Media: any use of any technology for the purposes of increasing civic engagement and public participation, enabling the exchange of meaningful information, fostering social connectivity, constructing critical perspectives, insuring transparency and accountability, or strengthening citizen agency.
A lot of people have begun using the term ecosystem to describe these big platforms. That captures their decentralized, emergent character, but ecosystems do not have a central point of control. Apple decided to eliminate third party analytics between one release and the next. That doesn’t happen in an ecosystem. The right analogy is a government.
Mitchel Resnick, who leads the Scratch project at the M.I.T.’s lab, said in an e-mail message, “I’m disappointed that Apple decided not to allow a Scratch player on the iPhone or iPad.” He added: “In my mind, there is nothing more important than empowering the next generation of kids to design, create, and express themselves with new media technologies. I hope that Apple will reconsider its policies so that more kids can experience the joys of creating and sharing with Scratch. Our group is planning to make Scratch authoring tools for the iPad in the future, and we hope Apple will allow us.
The Dum Dum mystery pop is a mixture of two flavors (the end of one batch of candy meets the beginning of the next batch). Our candy lines are continuous and the switch over from one flavor to another results in some pops containing both flavors.
A basic piracy operation requires a minimum eight to twelve militia prepared to stay at sea for extended periods of time, in the hopes of hijacking a passing vessel. Each team requires a minimum of two attack skiffs, weapons, equipment, provisions, fuel and preferably a supply boat. The costs of the operation are usually borne by investors, some of whom may also be pirates.
The Story of Bottled Water, employs the Story of Stuff style to tell the story of manufactured demand—how you get Americans to buy more than half a billion bottles of water every week when it already flows from the tap. Over five minutes, the film explores the bottled water industrys attacks on tap water and its use of seductive, environmental-themed advertising to cover up the mountains of plastic waste it produces.
The ties which hold men together in action are numerous, though and subtle. But they are invisible and intangible. We have the physical tools as never before. The thoughts and aspirations congruous with them are not communicated, and hence are not common. Without such communication the public will remain shadowy and formless, seeking spasmodically for itself, but seizing and holding its shadow rather than its substance. Till the Great Society is converted into a Great Community, the Public will remain in eclipse. Communication can alone create a great community.