After the tedious application of heat gun and pliers to loosen the metal cage affixed to the iPhone’s back case, we found a surprising sequence of numbers and letters. Some short, some longer, and all at various angles and orientations. As marks, they were meaningless. But the marking, itself, surely had meaning.
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.
In the chapter “Telephone, Color Chart, Napkin: The “Logistical Legacies of the Bauhaus” in Laura Forlano, Molly Wright Steenson, and Mike Ananny’s Bauhaus Futures, out now with MIT Press: “Hockenberry engages with the logistical legacies of the Bauhaus and their implications for the future of remote production in artistic practice and industrial manufacturing…considering the Bauhaus […]
This is a preprint of an article that appeared in lo Squaderno no. 51 | Logistical Territories. 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. It is as […]
This is a preprint of an article that appears in the Spring 2018 issue of Anthropological Quarterly, part of the special collection on Unseen Connections: The Materiality of Cell Phones. Housed in factory dormitories in China, assembled in Mexican maquiladoras, and put to work soldering connections in Vietnam, Thailand, and Taiwan, are the diffuse network […]
This interview originally appeared on Public Seminar. This conversation with Matthew Hockenberry  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 […]
British Empire Marketing Board, 1927 [via]. Despite the sometimes underdetermined discourse surrounding it, there is nothing particularly new about the identification of a product with its place of production. One the earliest examples can still be found preserved in the ruins of Pompeii, on amphora inscribed with the word “Vesuvinum”—wine, from Vesuvius.1 But despite this […]
This is a draft of a talk I delivered at the Maintainers II: Labor, Technology, and Social Orders Conference on April 6-9, 2017 as part of our telephone panel, “Dial M for Maintenance,” with Shari Wolk, Joshua Bell, and Fabian Prieto-Ñañez. The telephone may seem to be the pre-eminent emblem for the history of innovation. There […]
I have to confess to being something of a phone nerd (I am a telephone historian, after all). I love watching shows and seeing people talk, type, and text. While most of the time these phones are of the mobile variety, period pieces let us see a telephonic landscape that doesn’t really exist anymore. Stranger […]