Collected readings and resources in the critical study of logistics.


The calamitous reach of the global commodity chain stands as a monument to modernity’s practice of production. As contemporary critiques consider its mounting intractability, they reveal the worldwide pattern of logistical machinery given by the media forms and historic technologies that govern its flow. In their conceptual simplicity and historical transigence lies an opportunity for transformation, for innovation, and for interruption. While the vocabulary it draws on might seem familiar, the language of logistics is not fixed. It must be made–and so can be re-made–by the tools and techniques assembled every day in service to supply.

This document, intended for collaborative iteration, presents a series of readings in areas of interest to the critical study of logistics. It begins with an opening “Stage Setting” section and continues on to topics in: Logistical Media; Mining and Extraction; Production and Assembly; Shipping, Storage, Distribution; Speculations on Supply; Activism and Resistance; Logistical Histories; Commodity Communications; Migration, Mobility, and Movement; Corporations and Capitalism; Computational Production; Infrastructures and Spaces; and Consumers and Consumption. The goal is to present a broad selection of texts from which more specialized seminars can be developed, or which could be incorporated into other courses.

It also serves as a more general introduction to the field. To this end, it contains supplemental Reference Materials, including Logistics Textbooks and a sample of Logistical Regulations, reports, and legislation, as well as a section on Logistics in Media, including documentaries, cinema, games, literature, and art. It also presents an overview of the Critical Logistics Community detailing Special Issues on Logistics, Syllabi and Conferences, Projects and Groups, Broader Advocacy organizations, and a section on Logistical Praxis, which collates tools for activities like Reverse Sourcing.

Stage Setting

These readings are intended as a broad introduction to supply studies and the critical study of logistics. Working from a mixture of popular and academic articles, these pieces either summarize broad arguments in the field or offer points of discussion for an initial class session centered on the contemporary discourse around logistics.

  • Jackie Brown, “Source Material,” Real Life (March 2021).

    “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.”

  • Neal Stephenson, “Mother Earth Mother Board,” Wired (December 1996).

    “In which the hacker tourist ventures forth across the wide and wondrous meatspace of three continents, acquainting himself with the customs and dialects of the exotic Manhole Villagers of Thailand, the U-Turn Tunnelers of the Nile Delta, the Cable Nomads of Lan tao Island, the Slack Control Wizards of Chelmsford, the Subterranean Ex-Telegraphers of Cornwall, and other previously unknown and unchronicled folk; also, biographical sketches of the two long-dead Supreme Ninja Hacker Mage Lords of global telecommunications, and other material pertaining to the business and technology of Undersea Fiber-Optic Cables, as well as an account of the laying of the longest wire on Earth.”

  • Michael Wilson, “Black Hole Base,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest (2014).

    “At the center of the Mira Loma, CA industrial district lies a large black pit. When scanning the area for distinguishing features, it serves to orient. It’s the spiritual core of this particular ‘sacrifice zone’—an area of ecological and social degradation resulting from unregulated industry and exploitation. Mira Loma sacrifices for the greater goods movement industry—the global supply chain of invisible labor. The invisible labor force toils in factories overseas, but also at ports, along rail lines, and in the many warehouses used to process the flows of commodities.”

  • Joe Allen, “Studying Logistics,” Jacobin (2015).

    “The US economy revolves around the sprawling logistics industry, and the potential power of these workers is enormous. Socialists should always seek a political relationship with those sections of the working class that have the potential power to elevate the organization and politics of the entire class. Without a strong left wing based in the most powerful workplaces, both the working-class movement and the socialist left will continue to be of marginal influence.”

  • Kenneth Tay and Matthew Hockenberry, “The Social Network of Stuff: On Media, Logistics and Supply Chains,” interview for Public Seminar (2018).

    “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. In its simplest definition, we might say that logistics is the management of the flows and circulation of goods, ideas, and peoples, with a typical emphasis placed on efficiency and optimization. Logistics may for all intents and purposes appear to be fairly banal, as most media and infrastructures are; but it is nonetheless encoded with its own politics and affordances, like most media and infrastructures.”

  • Kenneth Tay and Ned Rossiter, “Uneven Distribution: On Logistics and Mediated Environments,” interview for Public Seminar (2019).

  • Miriam Posner, “The Software That Shapes Workers’ Lives,” The New Yorker (March 12, 2019).

  • Charles Duhigg and David Barboz, “In China, Human Costs are Built Into an iPad,” iEconomy Series, New York Times (January 25, 2012).

  • Todd Frankel, “The Cobalt Pipeline,” The Washington Post (September 30, 2016).

  • Charmine Chua, “Logistics: Violence, Empire and Resistance,” discussion with Laleh Khalili and Deborah Cowen, The Dissonance of Things (May 2016).

    “We take a look at the increasing ubiquity and prominence of logistics as a mode for organizing social and spatial life. We discuss how this seemingly banal concern with the movement of goods is actually foundational to contemporary global capitalism and imperialism, reshaping patterns of inequality, undermining labor power, and transforming strategies of governance. We also ask: what might a counter-logistical project look like? What role does logistics play in anti-colonial and anti-capitalist struggles across the globe?”

  • Ingrid Burrington, “A Tour of Some Logistics Landscapes,” Urban Omnbius (February 20, 2020).

  • Christopher Brown, “A Natural History of the Supply Chain,” Field Notes (November 29, 2020).

Supply Chains in the (Post) Pandemic

Logistical Media

Logistical media, John Durham Peters writes, are the media of “orientation,” devices of cognitive, social, and political organization and control like clocks, maps, and calendars. Critical for establishing basic coordinates of time and space, they belong to “a neglected category of media that are so fundamental that they rarely come into view.” These media “do not necessarily have ‘content.’” Peters argues, but rather exist “prior to and form the grid”” in which messages will be sent. This “grid-like functioning” not only gestures to the foundational work of media theorists such as Harold Innis, James Carey, Lewis Mumford, and Paul Virilio, it suggests the ways this definition has been taken up scholars like Peters, Judd Case, and Ned Rossiter.

  • John Durham Peters, “Calendar, Clock, Tower” in Deus in Machina: Religion, Technology, and the Things in Between, ed. Jeremy Stolow (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012).

    “Peters provides a synthetic treatment of the long history of human efforts to measure, divide, and coordinate space and time, demonstrating how evolving technologies for orienting people have served as both partners and competitors with religious institutions, disciplinary practices, and sources of knowledge about the cosmos. From the development of systems of calendrical reckoning for identifying religiously significant dates, and the strategic use of towers for the diverse religious purposes of celestial and terrestrial observation, to the surveillance of populations, and broadcasting of messages, Peters introduces the notion of “logistical media” to refer to the fundamental, pre-discursive mechanisms and techniques used to coordinate communications and activities.”

  • John Durham Peters and Jeremy Packer, “Becoming Mollusk,” in Communication Matters: Materialist Approaches to Media, Mobility, and Networks, eds. Jeremy Packer and Stephen B. Crofts Wiley (New York: Routledge, 2012): 35-53.

  • Carolyn L. Kane and John Durham Peters, “Speaking Into the iPhone: An Interview With John Durham Peters, or, Ghostly Cessation for the Digital Age,” Journal of Communication Inquiry (2010).

  • Judd Case, “Logistical Media: Fragments from Radar’s Prehistory,” Canadian Journal of Communication 38 (2013): 379-395.

    “In this article, we analyze some elements of radar prehistory to emphasize the idea of ​​logistic media. They order and arrange people and objects and subtly influence our experiences of space and time. They focus on logistics, feedback and remote control in communication. They also evoke the work of Harold Innis, Norbert Wiener, James W. Carey, Lewis Mumford and Paul Virilio, as well as the transitive model of communication. This article considers the torpedo, the searchlight, the war horn and the death ray from a logistical point of view, as precursors of the radar. He then proposes the analysis of other logistic media.”

  • Ned Rossiter, Software, Infrastructure, Labor: A Media Theory of Logistical Nightmares (New York: Routledge, 2016).

    “Infrastructure makes worlds. Software coordinates labor. Logistics governs movement. These pillars of contemporary capitalism correspond with the materiality of digital communication systems on a planetary scale. Ned Rossiter theorizes the force of logistical media to discern how subjectivity and labor, economy and society are tied to the logistical imaginary of seamless interoperability. Contingency haunts logistical power. Technologies of capture are prone to infrastructural breakdown, sabotage, and failure. Strategies of evasion, anonymity, and disruption unsettle regimes of calculation and containment. We live in a computational age where media, again, disappear into the background as infrastructure. Software, Infrastructure, Labor intercuts transdisciplinary theoretical reflection with empirical encounters ranging from the Cold War legacy of cybernetics, shipping ports in China and Greece, the territoriality of data centers, video game design, and scrap metal economies in the e-waste industry. Rossiter argues that infrastructural ruins serve as resources for the collective design of blueprints and prototypes demanded of radical politics today.”

  • Ned Rossiter, “Materialities of Software: Logistics, Labour, Infrastructure,” in Advancing Digital Humanities: Research, Methods, Theories, eds. Paul Arthur and Katherine Bode (Berlin: Springer, 2014).

  • Ned Rossiter, “Locative Media as Logistical Media: Situating Infrastructure and the Governance of Labor in Supply-Chain Capitalism,” in Locative Media, eds. Gerard Goggin and Rowan Wilken (New York: Routledge, 2014).

  • Matthew Kirschenbaum, Bitstreams The Future of Digital Literary Heritage, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021).

  • Matthew Kirschenbaum, “Bibliologistics: The Nature of Books Now, or a Memorable Fancy,” Post45 (June 4, 2021).

  • Paul Virilio, War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception (New York: Verso, 1989).

  • Jussi Parikka, A Geology of Media (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015).

  • Liam Cole Young, “Cultural Techniques and Logistical Media: Tuning German and Anglo-American Media Studies,” M/C Journal 18, no 2 (2015).

    “Presenting an overview of German debates, key thinkers, texts, and concepts to English readers, this article offers a consideration of recent Anglo-American work that resonates with German debates – specifically, work by John Durham Peters and Ned Rossiter on logistical media and Jonathan Sterne on formats – while synthesizing these traditions via the early theorization of media by Harold Innis.”

  • Alan Gekker and Daniel Joseph, “Selling Elysium: The Political Economy of Radical Game Distribution,” Baltic Screen Media Review 9 (December 2021).

  • Shannon Mattern, “Middlewhere: Landscapes of Library Logistics,” Urban Omnibus (June 24, 2015).

  • Jordan Frith, A Billion Little Pieces, RFID and Infrastructures of Identification (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2019).

  • Christine Lohmeier, Anne Kaun and Christian Pentzold, “Special Issue: The Mediatization of Time,” New Media and Society 22, no. 9 (September 2020).

  • Neta Alexander, “Rage Against The Machine: Buffering, Noise, and Perpetual Anxiety in the Age of Connected Viewing,” Cinema Journal 56, no. 2 (Winter 2017).

    “Buffering, namely the need to preload data before streaming a video or audio file, epitomizes the oft-ignored ruptures and disruptions of digital engagement. Whereas buffering is often read as “noise” or as a technical nuisance awaiting a solution, a closer look can challenge our notion of mediation, immersion, and control. By contextualizing the study of buffering within a rich history of spectatorial and sonic noise, this article explores the unique “perpetual anxiety” it invokes and exposes, as well as the tension between pleasure and pain embodied in recognizing the imperfections of a supposedly seamless techno-utopia.”

Mining and Extraction

The logistics of production’s upstream end is found in the excavation of “natural” resources and the “raw” materials that lie buried in the earth. But these materials are rarely as pristine as they appear. While media studies has only recently begun to turn to the complex materiality of media technologies, the study of extractive regimes and the sites they occupy has been of longstanding interest to anthropologists and ethnographers, just as the troubled practices that occupy these operations suggest the need for deeper connections to labor history.

  • James Smith and Jeffrey Mantz, “Do Cellular Phones Dream of Civil War?: The Mystification of Production and the Consequences of Technology Fetishism in the Eastern Congo,” in Inclusion and Exclusion in the Global Arena (New York: Routledge, 2006).

  • Sandro Mezzadra and Brett Neilson, “Extraction, logistics, finance: Global crisis and the politics of operations,” Radical Philosophy 178 (Mar/Apr 2013): 8–18.

  • Matthew Hockenberry, “Inkonvensional Pathways: Soldered Supply Chains From Indonesia’s Tin Islands,” in Objects In Motion: Globalizing Technology, 66-78 (Washington DC: Smithsonian Press, 2016).

  • Ingrid Burrington, “Literal American Gold MineSan Francisco Art Quarterly (December 11, 2015).

  • Thea Riofrancos, Research Radicals: From Petro-Nationalism to Post-Extractivism in Ecuador, (Durham: Duke University Press, 2020).

  • Samir Bhowmik, “Lithium Landscapes: From Abstract Imaginaries to Deep Time and Multi-Scalar Topologies,” Media Fields Journal 16 (May 21, 2021).

  • Cara Daggett, “The Birth of Energy: Fossil Fuels, Thermodynamics, and the Politics of Work,” (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019).

  • Ann Marsh Daly, “‘Every Dollar Brought from the Earth’: Money, Slavery, and Southern Gold Mining,” Journal of the Early Republic 41, no. 4 (November 23, 2021).

  • Arie Altena, “Nikel and Nikel Materiality,” Sonic Acts (2015).

  • Alex Golub, Leviathans at the Gold Mine: Creating Indigenous and Corporate Actors in Papua New Guinea (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014).

    “Leviathans at the Gold Mine is an ethnographic account of the relationship between the Ipili, an indigenous group in Papua New Guinea, and the large international gold mine operating on their land. Golub examines how “the mine” and “the Ipili” were brought into being in relation to one another, and how certain individuals were authorized to speak for the mine and others to speak for the Ipili.”

  • Andrew Walsh, “‘Hot money’ and daring consumption in a northern Malagasy sapphire-mining town,” American Ethnologist 30 (2003): 290–305.

    “In Ambondromifehy, a sapphire-mining town in northern Madagascar, young men earn and spend a great deal of what some call ‘hot money.’ Rather than invest their earnings with long-term intentions considered responsible and proper by some around them, they consume ‘daringly’ by spending money to fulfill immediate desires. Walsh argues that such ‘daring consumption’ might be understood as the active response of young men who refuse the passive roles allotted them by both the sapphire trade and traditional systems of social organization.”

Environmental Impact

  • Stuart Kirsch, Mining Capitalism: The Relationship between Corporations and Their Critics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014)

    “Mining Capitalism examines the strategies through which corporations manage their relationships with their critics and adversaries. By focusing on the conflict over the Ok Tedi copper and gold mine in Papua New Guinea, Stuart Kirsch tells the story of a slow-moving environmental disaster and the international network of indigenous peoples, advocacy groups, and lawyers that sought to protect local rivers and rain forests.”

  • Anthony Bebbington and Jeffrey Bury (eds.), Subterranean Struggles: New Dynamics of Mining, Oil, and Gas in Latin America (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013).

    “Blending perspectives from geography and political ecology, this pioneering essay collection probes the recent resurgence of global investment in mineral and hydrocarbon extraction in Latin America, examining the environmental and social consequences through a transdisciplinary lens.”

  • Nicholas Robins, Mercury, Mining, and Empire: The Human and Ecological Cost of Colonial Silver Mining in the Andes (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011).

    “On the basis of an examination of the colonial mercury and silver production processes and related labor systems, Mercury, Mining, and Empire explores the effects of mercury pollution in colonial Huancavelica, Peru, and Potosí, in present-day Bolivia. The book presents a multifaceted and interwoven tale of what colonial exploitation of indigenous peoples and resources left in its wake. It is a socio-ecological history that explores the toxic interrelationships between mercury and silver production, urban environments, and the people who lived and worked in them.”

  • Sy Taffel, “AirPods and the earth: Digital technologies, planned obsolescence and the Capitalocene,” Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space (January 2022).

  • Ted Genoways, “The Price of the Paperless Revolution,” Virginia Quarterly Review (Fall 2010). // via.

  • Marta Escamilla Monell & Jordi Panyella Carbonell, “The Environmental Impact of Digital Publishing,” CCCB Lab (May 11, 2021).

  • Peter Whoriskey, “In Your Phone, In Their Air,” The Washington Post (October 2, 2016).

  • Todd Frankel and Peter Whoriskey, “Tossed Aside in the White Gold Rush,” The Washington Post (December 19, 2016).

  • Tim Maughan, “The Dystopian Lake Filled by the World’s Tech Lust,” BBC Future (April 2, 2015).

    “Hidden in an unknown corner of Inner Mongolia is a toxic, nightmarish lake created by our thirst for smartphones, consumer gadgets and green tech.”

Mineral: Tin and Tantalum

  • June Nash, We Eat the Mines and the Mines Eat Us: Dependency and Exploitation in Bolivian Tin Mines (New York: Columbia University Press, 1979).

    “This book is about the high human cost of producing tin and other minerals. June Nash vividly describes the arduous physical labor and life of Bolivian miners in the physically inhospitable Andean mountains. More than an anthropological account of indigenous miners in far-off Bolivia, the book is a serious rendering of the contemporary social, economic, and political reality at the industrial world periphery.”

  • Mats Ingulstad, Andrew Perchard, Espen Storli (eds.), Tin and Global Capitalism, 1850-2000: A History of “the Devil’s Metal” (London: Routledge, 2015).

    “Tin provides a particularly telling illustration of how the interactions of business and governments shape the evolution of the global economic trade; the tin industry has experienced extensive state intervention during times of war, encompasses intense competition and cartelization, and has seen industry centers both thrive and fail in the wake of decolonization. This history reveals complex interactions and interdependencies between local actors and international networks, decolonization and globalization, as well as government foreign policies and entrepreneurial tactics.”

  • Marina Welker, Enacting the Corporation: An American Mining Firm in Post-Authoritarian Indonesia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014).

    “Anthropologist Marina Welker draws on two years of research at Newmont Mining Corporation’s Denver headquarters and its Batu Hijau copper and gold mine in Sumbawa, Indonesia, to address these questions. Against the backdrop of an emerging Corporate Social Responsibility movement and changing state dynamics in Indonesia, she shows how people enact the mining corporation in multiple ways: as an ore producer, employer, patron, promoter of sustainable development, religious sponsor, auditable organization, foreign imperialist, and environmental threat.”

  • James Smith, “Tantalus in the Digital Age: Coltan ore, temporal dispossession, and ‘movement”’in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo,” American Ethnologist 38, no. 1 (February 2011): 17-35.

Animal: Ivory and Oil

Not all extractive sites are found under the earth. The story of ivory remains a fascinating logistical case study of extraction, colonialism, and the threat of material death. It also suggests radical disjunctures in information between “upstream” and “downstream” sites on the ivory supply chains. While the development of plastics lessened the threat of material death (and Elephant extinction), the ivory trade is not entirely a historical case.

Production and Assembly

Modern objects are networked objects. An entity like the mobile phone is not only connected, literally, within the telecommunication network. Like all global productions, it is inescapably enmeshed in the material network of its making. It is composed of cadmium, nickel, and lithium, constituted from gold, copper, tantalum, and tin. Buy to this litany of already troublesome elements, a comprehensive account must add actors, sites, and politics—both lives and ways of life. And it must contend with the ideologies of assembly that have brought them together. Consumer interest in distributed production began with outsourcing in the textile industry, but critiques of global assembly encompass everything from the hazards facing garment workers in Bangladesh to the architectures of factory cities in China.

  • Pun Ngai, Made in China: Women Factory Workers in a Global Workplace (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005).

    “As China has evolved into an industrial powerhouse over the past two decades, a new class of workers has developed: the dagongmei, or working girls. The dagongmei are women in their late teens and early twenties who move from rural areas to urban centers to work in factories. The young women are not coerced to work in the factories; they know about the twelve-hour shifts and the hardships of industrial labor. Yet they are still eager to leave home. Made in China is a compelling look at the lives of these women, workers caught between the competing demands of global capitalism, the socialist state, and the patriarchal family.”

  • Aihwa Ong, Spirits of Resistance and Capitalist Discipline: Factory Women in Malaysia (Albany: Suny Press, 1987).

    “Why are Malay women workers periodically seized by spirit possession on the shopfloors of modern factories? Ong captures the disruptions, conflicts, and ambivalences as they make the transition from peasant society to industrial production. To discover the meaning that the market economy and wage labor holds, Ong conducted anthropological field work in an agricultural district in Selangor, Peninsular Malaysia, undergoing rapid proletarianization. Weaving together history, ethnography, and quantitative analysis, she shows how the diverging roles of young men and women are increasingly channelled toward conformity with corporate culture and capitalist discipline.”

  • Matthew Hockenberry, “Material Epistemologies of the (Mobile) Telephone,” Anthropology Quarterly 91, no. 2 (Spring 2018).

  • Sylvia Lindtner, Prototype Nation: China and the Contested Promise of Innovation (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020).

  • Seth Perlow, “On production for digital culture: iPhone Girl, electronics assembly, and the material forms of aspiration,” Convergence 17, no. 3 (2011): 245-269.

  • Jenny Chan and Pun Ngai, “Suicide as Protest for the New Generation of Chinese Migrant Workers: Foxconn, Global Capital, and the State,” The Asia-Pacific Journal 8, iss. 37, no. 2 (September 13, 2010);

  • Jenny Chan, Pun Ngai, and Mark Selden, “The politics of global production: Apple, Foxconn and China’s new working class,” New Technology, Work and Employment 28, no. 2 (July 2013): 100–115.

  • Steven Mckay, Satanic Mills or Silicon Islands?: The Politics of High-Tech Production in the Philippines (Ithaca: ILR Press, 2006).

  • Jesse Adams Stein, “Industrial Craft in Australia Oral Histories of Creativity and Survival” (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021).

Textiles and Fashion

  • Minh-Ha T. Pham, “A World Without Sweatshops: Abolition Not Reform, Abolition Feminisms: Organizing, Survival, and Transformative Practice,” (June 15, 2021).

    “To bring forth a world without sweatshops, we have to accurately identify the sources of sweatshops. Sweatshops aren’t the results of individual brands behaving badly but a broad configuration of state, capital, and cultural political interests. Without a serious critique of the sweatshop’s structural reality, any efforts to make fashion more ethical can only be what prison abolitionists call “reformist reforms.” Reformist reforms pursue gentler and more inclusive forms of labor and resource extraction rather than the abolition of this extractive industry altogether.”

  • Minh-Ha T. Pham, “‘How to Make a Mask’: Quarantine Feminism and Global Supply Chains,” Feminist Studies 46, no. 2 (2020).

  • Poulomi Saha, An Empire of Touch: Women’s Political Labor and the Fabrication of East Bengal (New York: Columbia University Press, 2020).

  • Rob Horning, “The Accidental Bricoleurs,” n+1 (2011).

  • Leslie Chang, Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China (New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2009).

  • Hasan Ashraf, “Beyond Building Safety: An Ethnographic Account of Health and Well-Being on the Bangladesh Garment Shop Floor,” in Unmaking the Global Sweatshop: Health and Safety of the World’s Garment Workers, eds. Rebecca Prentice and Geert De Neve (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), 250-274.

  • Lamia Karim, “Disposable Bodies: Garment Factory Catastrophe and Feminist Practices in Bangladesh,” Anthropology Now 6, no. 1 (2014): 52-63.

  • Rashedur Chowdhury, “Rana Plaza fieldwork and academic anxiety: some reflections,” Journal of Management Studies 54, no. 7 (2017), 1111-1117.

Apple, Foxconn, and Shenzhen

Modes of Production

Shipping, Storage, Distribution

The most emblematic images of logistics are of storage and distribution. These are the massive warehouses stacked high with boxes, the colossal container ships that ferry them the world over, the “tens of thousands of human workers” laboring amid a gigantic system “of steel and silicon.” And for good reason. The container conjures a “smooth, lossless,” “almost immaterial” image of transportation, so much so that, Alexander Klose writes, it is “easily forgotten” that it was “a change in the fundamental order of thinking.” For Deborah Cowen, an object like the container is thus a symbol of “logistics space,” a cartography defined by the global networks of circulation. For Klose, it is a “time capsule.” “Enclosed and sealed in the container,” he writes, cargo is removed from the continuum in which it is produced, emerging sometime in the future.

  • Deborah Cowen, The Deadly Life of Logistics: Mapping Violence in Global Trade (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014).

    “In The Deadly Life of Logistics, Cowen traces the art and science of logistics from the battlefield to the boardroom and back. Focusing on choke points such as national borders, zones of piracy, blockades, and cities, she tracks contemporary efforts to keep goods circulating and brings to light the collective violence these efforts produce. All the while investigating how the military origins of logistics played a critical role in the making of the global economic order-—not simply the globalization of production, but the invention of the supply chain and the reorganization of national economies into transnational systems.”

  • Laleh Khalili, Sinews of War and Trade: Shipping and Capitalism in the Arabian Peninsula (New York: Verso, 2021).

  • Dara Orenstein, Out of Stock: The Warehouse in the History of Capitalism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019).

  • Edna Bonacich, Jake B. Wilson, Getting the Goods: Ports, Labor, and the Logistics Revolution (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008).

    “Edna Bonacich and Jake B. Wilson look at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to examine the impact of the logistics on workers in distribution. Built around the invention of shipping containers and communications technology, the logistics ‘revolution’ has enabled retailers like Walmart and Target to sell cheap consumer products made using low-wage labor in developing countries. Shipped through an efficient, low-cost, intermodal freight system, containers move from factories in Asia to distribution centers across the United States without ever being opened. Bonacich and Wilson follow these flows, exploring the importers, container shipping companies, the ports, railroad and trucking companies, and warehouses.”

  • Pietra Rivoli, The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power and Politics of the World Trade (Hoboken: Wiley, 2005).

    “Tracing a T-shirt’s life story from a Texas cotton field to a Chinese factory and back to a U.S. storefront before arriving at the used clothing market in Africa, the book uncovers the political and economic forces at work in the global economy. Along the way, this fascinating exploration addresses a wealth of compelling questions about politics, trade, economics, ethics, and the impact of history on today’s business landscape. This new printing of the second edition includes a revised preface and a new epilogue with updates through 2014 on the people, industries, and policies related to the T-shirt’s life story.”

  • Thomas Birtchnell, Satya Savitzky, John Urry (eds), Cargomobilities: Moving Materials in a Global Age (New York: Routledge, 2015).

  • Tim Maughan, “The Invisible Network that Keeps the World RunningBBC Future (February 9, 2015).

  • Tim Maughan, “The Inevitable Rise of the Internet of Shipping Containers,” Motherboard (September 24, 2015).

  • Joshua Davis, “High Tech Cowboys of the Deep Seas,” Wired (February 25, 2008).

Container Technologies

  • Marc Levinson, The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006).

  • Richard Pollak, The Colombo Bay (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004).

  • Craig Martin, Shipping Container (London: Bloomsbury “Object Lessons” Series, 2016).

  • Craig Martin, “Shipping Container Mobilities, Seamless Compatibility, and the Global Surface of Logistical Integration.” Environment and Planning A 45, no. 5 (2013): 1021–36.

  • Charmaine Chua, “Slow Boat To China: A Container Ship Ethnography,” Series, The Disorder of Things (2015). // via

  • Alexis Madrigal, Containers Series (Doral, FL: Fusion Media Group, 2017).

  • Alexander Klose, The Container Principle: How a Box Changes the Way We Think, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2015).

  • Jacob Hodes, “Whitewood under Siege,” Cabinet 53 (Winter 2013/14).

  • Beth Kowitt, “It’s Ikea’s world. We just live in it,” Fortune (2015).

    “The magic of flat packing allows goods to be jammed into shipping containers without wasting any space. Wasted space means wasted money and is also environmentally unfriendly. ‘I hate air,’ says Dickner. In the beginning of the 2000s, the company did an internal air hunt competition. The winner, who received a two-week vacation to Thailand, came up with a better way of transporting tea lights. They had been packaged loosely in a bag, but a Dutchman had the idea of stacking them in rows and vacuum sealing them. The metal cups encasing the candles were redesigned to sit neatly on top of one another. Ikea then borrowed from another very Nordic industry in constructing a machine that could sort them. ‘We looked at how to pack fish sticks.’”

  • Hege Høyer Leivestad and Johanna Markkula, “Container Economies: Logistics and Labor Along the Maritime Supply ChainFocaal, no. 89 (2021).

Warehouses, Walmart, and the Everything Store

Speculations on Supply

Supply chains are not new, Anna Tsing reminds us, they extend as far as trade itself. What is new is the “sense of possibility that supply chains offer.” Founded on “the enhanced mobility of labor and the economic and political vulnerabilities created by recent forms of imperialism and histories of global war,” production was no longer composed of silo-ed sites of assembly. It was a “networked enterprise,” tightly coupling suppliers and distributors to maximize the efficiency of the productive process. With associations formed by arrangements of subcontracting, outsourcing, and an overriding logic of flexibility and interchange, “supply chain capitalism” has produced new possibilities for exploitation and defined new subjectivities for those within its web. So too, it demands correspondingly new ways of thinking to unravel them. To that end, this section engages with the critiques and critical theories that engage with the supply chain, logistics, and the global system of circulation.

  • Anna Tsing, “Supply Chains and the Human Condition,” Rethinking Marxism: A Journal of Economics, Culture and Society 21, no. 2 (2009);

  • Alberto Toscano, “Lineaments of the Logistical State,” Viewpoint Magazine, no. 4 (September-October 2014).

    “It has long been noted that the apparatuses of control and accumulation that structure the social and material reality of circulation – transport, the energy industry and, after World War Two, ‘business logistics’ – though born to break the bargaining power of transport workers and accumulate profits by annihilating space and depressing wages, have also, especially through their energetic dimensions, created dynamic arenas for class struggle.”

  • Alberto Toscano and Jeff Kinkle, Cartographies of the Absolute (London: Zero Books, 2015).

  • Deborah Cowen, “Disrupting Distribution: Subversion, the Social Factory, and the ‘State’ of Supply Chains,” Viewpoint Magazine, no. 4 (September-October 2014).

    “We have entered a time of logistics space. Contemporary capitalism is organized as a dispersed but coordinated system, where commodities are manufactured across vast distances, multiple national borders, and complex social and technological infrastructures. Geopolitical economies that were previously governed largely at the national scale – even though as part of a global system of trading nation states – have been reordered into transnational circulatory systems.”

  • Sergio Bologna, “Inside Logistics: Organization, Work, DistinctionsViewpoint Magazine, no. 4 (September-October 2014).

    “Logistics can never be understood from outside the warehouse, only by coming inside and looking at the techniques employed, the equipment and the organization of work does one understand if we find ourselves faced with something that belongs to the new economy, in the real sense of the term, or that resembles the sweatshops of Bangladesh. There is therefore no organization of standardized labor with specific figures, because every commodity sector has its specificity in industrial logistics, and because in distribution logistics, not all goods are subject to the same treatment (think only of perishable products, the cold chain or dangerous and toxic products). Speaking in the generic sense of “logistics” does not lead us anywhere.”

  • Davide Gallo-Lassere, Frédéric Monferrand, and Sergio Bologna, “From the Factory to the Container: Interview with Sergio Bologna,” Période (in French; 2019).

  • Chandra Mukerji, “The Territorial State as a Figured World of Power: Strategics, Logistics, and Impersonal Rule.” Sociological Theory 28:4 (2010): 402-424.

  • Sandro Mezzadra and Brett Neilson, Border as Method, or, the Multiplication of Labor (Durham: Duke University Press, 2013).

  • Brett Neilson, “Five Theses on Understanding Logistics as Power,” Distinktion: Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory 13, no. 2 (2012)

  • Martin Danyluk, “Capital’s logistical fix: Accumulation, globalization, and the survival of capitalism” in Charmaine Chua, Martin Danyluk, Deborah Cowen, Laleh Khalili, “Turbulent Circulation: Building a Critical Engagement with Logistics,” Society and Space 36, no. 4 (August 2018).

    “Since the mid-20th century, logistics has evolved into a wide-ranging science of circulation involved in planning and managing flows of innumerable kinds. In this introductory essay, we take stock of the ascendancy and proliferation of logistics, proposing a critical engagement with the field. We argue that logistics is not limited to the management of supply chains, military or corporate. Rather, it is better understood as a calculative logic and spatial practice of circulation that is at the fore of the reorganization of capitalism and war. Viewed from this perspective, the rise of logistics has transformed not only the physical movement of materials but also the very rationality by which space is organized. It has remade economic and military space according to a universalizing logic of abstract flow, exacerbating existing patterns of uneven geographical development. Drawing on the articles that make up this themed issue, we propose that a critical approach to logistics is characterized by three core commitments: (1) a rejection of the field’s self-depiction as an apolitical science of management, along with a commitment to highlighting the relations of power and acts of violence that underpin it; (2) an interest in exposing the flaws, irrationalities, and vulnerabilities of logistical regimes; and (3) an orientation toward contestation and struggle within logistical networks.”

  • Jasper Bernes, “Logistics, Counterlogistics, and the Communist Propspect,” Endnotes 3: Gender, Race, Class and Other Misfortunes (September 2013).

  • Niccolò Cuppini, Irene Peano, Evelina Gambino, Maurilio Pirone, Carlotta Benvegnú, Mattia Frapporti, “Gendering Logistics: Feminist Approaches for the Analysis of Supply Chain Capitalism,”Into the Black Box (November 18, 2021).

  • Benjamin Bratton, The Revenge of the Real: Politics for a Post-Pandemic World (New York: Verso, 2021).

  • Jussi Parikka, “A Natural History of Logistics,” Strelka: The Terraforming (July 1, 2020).

  • Geoffrey Aung, “A ‘becoming logistical’ of anthropology?,” Focaal no. 91 (2021).

  • Benjamin McKean, “What Supply Chains Teach Us About Neoliberalism,” LPE Project (2021).

Black Studies

  • Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study, especially “Fantasy in the Hold” (Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 2013).

    “In this series of essays Fred Moten and Stefano Harney draw on the theory and practice of the black radical tradition as it supports, inspires, and extends contemporary social and political thought and aesthetic critique. Today the general wealth of social life finds itself confronted by mutations in the mechanisms of control: the proliferation of capitalist logistics, governance by credit, and the management of pedagogy. Working from and within the social poesis of life in the undercommons Moten and Harney develop and expand an array of concepts: study, debt, surround, planning, and the shipped. On the fugitive path of an historical and global blackness, the essays in this volume unsettle and invite the reader to the self-organised ensembles of social life that are launched every day and every night amid the general antagonism of the undercommons.”

  • Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (Durham: Ducke University Press, 2016)

  • Simone Browne, Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015).

Activism and Resistance

As a site of resistance against global capital, the supply chain shares none of the power present in the gatherings once found on the planation or the factory floor. As Charmaine Chua explains, sites like the containerized port have all but been “evacuated of the workers” they once “depended so heavily upon.” Supply chain management has shifted capital’s focus from the sites of production to those of circulation, and as a consequence, “the mass labor force expelled from the factory floors of the world has now spilled into the streets, articulating their dissatisfaction with the state of things through uprisings, strikes, blockades, and riots.” Has this dispersal, Chua asks, “foreclosed collective action”? If not—if the supply chain may yet be thought of “as a scattered entity” with which one may still engage—then what are its points of vulnerability, the best means of confrontation, and the most effective form of this resistance?

Logistical Histories

The supply chain has a hard origin point in history—when business consultant Keith Oliver proposed, in a meeting with the Dutch consumer electronics manufacturer Philips, the idea of managing production, marketing, distribution, sales, and finance “as though” they were a single entity. He called the approach, “supply chain management.” But logistical operation has a far more ancient lineage than this. Since the beginning of time humans have exchanged goods, moved materials, and distributed the work of production. Historical accounts that are relevant to the study of logistics include its recognition in the art of war and its adoption by businesses for the optimization of transportation and manufacture, but they also include broader histories of commodity exchange, labor, and nature.

  • Michael Stamm, Dead Tree Media: Manufacturing the Newspaper in Twentieth-Century North America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018).

  • James Schwoch, Wired into Nature: The Telegraph and the North American Frontier (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2018), 31.

  • Sven Beckert, Empire of Cotton: A Global History (New York: Knopf, 2014).

    “Cotton is so ubiquitous as to be almost invisible, yet understanding its history is key to understanding the origins of modern capitalism. Sven Beckert tells the story of how, in a remarkably brief period, European entrepreneurs and powerful statesmen recast the world’s most significant manufacturing industry, combining imperial expansion and slave labor with new machines and wage workers to change the world. The empire of cotton was, from the beginning, a fulcrum of constant global struggle between slaves and planters, merchants and statesmen, workers and factory owners. Beckert makes clear how these forces ushered in the world of modern capitalism, and how the present global world came to exist.”

  • Sidney Mintz, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar and Modernity (New York: Viking, 1985).

    “Studying a single food or commodity such as sugar may seem like an incongruous project for an anthropologist who claims to work mostly with living people. Still, it is a rich subject for someone interested in the history and character of the modern world, for its importance and popularity rose together with tea, colonial slavery, and the machine era. Had it not been for the immense importance of sugar in the world history of food, and in the daily lives of so many, I would have left it alone … My work on sugar, Sweetness and Power, situates it within Western history because it was an old commodity, basic to the emergence of a global market.”

  • Deborah Cowen, “A Geography of Logistics: Market Authority and the Security of Supply Chains,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 100, no. 3 (2010).

  • Deborah Cowen, “Logistics’ Liabilities,” LIMN 1: Systemic Risk (June 2011).

  • Terence K. Hopkins and Immanuel Wallerstein, “Commodity Chains in the World-Economy Prior to 1800,” Review (Fernand Braudel Center) 10, no. 1 (Summer 1986): 157-170.

  • Edward Jones-Imhotep, “The Ghost Factories: Histories of Automata and Artificial Life,” History and Technology 36, no. 1 (2020).

  • Luke Keogh, The Wardian Case: How a Simple Box Moved Plants and Changed the World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020).

Logistics and War


  • Martin T. Farris, “Evolution of Academic Concerns with Transportation and Logistics,” Transportation Journal 37, no. 1 (Fall 1997): 42-50.

  • M.L. Emiliani, “Historical Lessons in Purchasing and Supplier Relationship Management,” Journal of Management History 16, no. 1, (2010): 116-136.

  • Paul L. Govekar and Michele A. Govekar, “The Parable of the Pig Iron: Using Taylor’s Story to Teach the Principles of Scientific Management,” Journal of Higher Education Theory and Practice 12, no. 2 (2012).

Primary Sources

  • Peter Drucker, “The Economy’s Dark Continent,” Fortune (April 1962).

  • Le Baron de Jomini, Précis de l’Art de la Guerre: Des Principales Combinaisons de la Stratégie, de la Grande Tactique et de la Politique Militaire (Brussels: Meline, Cans et Copagnie, 1838); Translated as The Art of War, G.H. Mendell and W.P. Craighill (trans) (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1862); see also Introductory Material to Summary of the Art of War (1854; GPO, Combat Studies Institute).

  • Tim Laseter and Keith Oliver, “When Will Supply Chain Management Grow Up?” Strategy and Business 32 (Fall 2003).

  • Arnold Kransdorff, “High stock levels—not the answer to volatile demand, Arnold Kransdorff reports on ‘supply chain management,’” Financial Times (June 4, 1982), p.18.

  • Edward W. Smykay and Bernard J. LaLonde, Physical Distribution Management (London, The Macmillan Company, 1968).

  • Bernard J. LaLonde, John R. Grabner, and James F. Robeson, “Integrated Distribution Management: A Management Perspective,” The International Journal of Physical Distribution 44, no. 1 (1970).

  • Raymond Lekashman and John F. Stolle, “The Total Cost Approach to Distribution,” Business Horizons 8 no. 4 (1965): 33-46.

  • Stewart Brand, “The Whole Earth Catalog,” (September 1, 1968-June 1, 1971); see also “The Electronic Whole Earth Catalog” (1988).

Commodity Communications

In a 1928 letter to Henry Ford, José Eustasio Rivera suggested that, were rubber to speak, “…it would exhale the most accusing wail, formed by the cries of flesh torn away by the whip, the moans of bodies devastated by hunger and swollen by beriberi, and the screams of the exploited and persecuted tribes.” Things cannot speak, but this has not stopped them from being ventriloquized for all sorts of purposes. In early capitalism so-called “it-narratives” functioned as a way to understand the changes that had taken place in the production of things, and legacy of this genre has persisted as they have become ever-more complex, spread out throughout the supply chain.

  • Leonard E. Read, “I, Pencil: My Family Tree as told to Leonard E. Read, Library of Economics and Liberty (1958) and Anne Elizabeth Moore, “Milton Friedman’s Pencil,” The New Inquiry (2012).

  • Emily Green, “Memoirs of a Musical Object, Supposedly Written by Itself: It–Narrative and Eighteenth–Century Marketing,” Current Musicology 95 (2013).

  • Annie Leonard, “The Story of Stuff,” Footnote and Annotated Script, Story of Stuff Project (2007); and also “The Story of Bottled Water” (2010); “The Story of Electronics” (2011).

  • Mark Blackwell, “The It-Narrative in Eighteenth-Century England: Animals and Objects in Circulation,” Literature Compass 1, no. 1 (2004).

  • Christina Lupton, Heather Keenleyside, Liz Bellamy, Mark Blackwell (eds), British It-Narratives, 1750-1830 (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2012).

  • Bruce Robbins, “Commodity Histories,” PMLA 120, no. 2 (2005).

  • Howard Morland, The Secret That Exploded (New York: Random House, 1981).

Ethnographies of Circulation

  • Anna Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015).

    “Matsutake is the most valuable mushroom in the world—and a weed that grows in human-disturbed forests across the northern hemisphere. Through its ability to nurture trees, matsutake helps forests to grow in daunting places. It is also an edible delicacy in Japan, where it sometimes commands astronomical prices. In all its contradictions, matsutake offers insights into areas far beyond just mushrooms and addresses a crucial question: what manages to live in the ruins we have made? A tale of diversity within our damaged landscapes, The Mushroom at the End of the World follows one of the strangest commodity chains of our times to explore the unexpected corners of capitalism. Here, we witness the varied and peculiar worlds of matsutake commerce: the worlds of Japanese gourmets, capitalist traders, Hmong jungle fighters, industrial forests, Yi Chinese goat herders, Finnish nature guides, and more. These companions also lead us into fungal ecologies and forest histories to better understand the promise of cohabitation in a time of massive human destruction.”

  • Brenda Chalfin, Shea Butter Republic: State Power, Global Markets and the Making of an Indigenous Commodity (New York: Routledge, 2004). // via

  • Gabrielle Hecht, Being Nuclear: Africans and the Global Uranium Trade (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2012).

New Materialisms and Theories of Things

  • Bill Brown, Things (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2004).

    “This book is an invitation to think about why children chew pencils; why we talk to our cars and computers; rosary beads and worry beads; the fetishism of daily life in different times and in different cultures. It is an invitation to rethink several topics of critical inquiry—camp, collage, primitivism, consumer culture, museum culture, the aesthetic object, still life, “things as they are,” Renaissance wonders, “the thing itself”—within the rubric of “things,” not in an effort to foreclose the question of what sort of things these seem to be, but rather to suggest new questions about how objects produce subjects, about the phenomenology of the material everyday, about the secret life of things.”

  • The Social Life of Things (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

    “The meaning that people attribute to things necessarily derives from human transactions and motivations, particularly from how those things are used and circulated. The contributors to this volume examine how things are sold and traded in a variety of social and cultural settings, both present and past. Focusing on culturally defined aspects of exchange and socially regulated processes of circulation, the essays illuminate the ways in which people find value in things and things give value to social relations. By looking at things as if they lead social lives, the authors provide a new way to understand how value is externalized and sought after.”

  • Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham: Duke, 2010).

  • Jane Bennett, “Commodity Fetishism and Commodity Enchantment,” in The Enchantment of Modern Life (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 111-130.

  • Levi Bryant, The Democracy of Objects (New York: Open Humanities Press, 2011).

  • Ian Bogost, Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012).

  • Daniel Miller, Stuff (Cambridge: Polity, 2009).

  • Harvey Molotch, Where Stuff Comes From: How Toasters, Toilets, Cars, Computers, and Many Other Things Come to Be as They Are (London: Routledge, 2003).

  • Peter Stallybrass, “Marx’s Coat,” in Border Fetishisms: Material Objects in Unstable Spaces, ed. Patria Spyer (London: Routledge, 1997).

Migration, Mobility, and Movement

Global logistics depends on movement, on scale and on speed. It operationalizes and operates on the minute movements of fingers and hands, just as it does gross navigation across vast distance. It is this latter association that this section considers, examining the relationship of logistics and migratory labor. Throughout much of the Global North, migrant laborers are responsible for many of the logistical operations of urban life: driving, delivering, picking, and packing. They work in warehouses and factories, kitchens and homes. And indeed, this recurring tension between urban and rural drives productive potential throughout the world. Even in industries as fundamental as consumer electronics, global consumption depends on products produced (cheaply) as a result of the largest migrations in human history.

Deviant Circulation

Corporations and Capitalism

While critiques of the corporation reach back to the birth of capitalism, one of the first critiques of the supply chain came when protesters targeted Dow Chemical’s manufacture of napalm. The conclusion—that corporations should be responsible for what they produce—served to negotiate the relationship between publics and products. As corporations became increasingly complex, however, this connection was no longer so clear. When evidence was found in 1996 of child labor in textile outsourcing, the public outcry that resulted from Nike’s infamous “sweatshop summer” signaled a renegotiation of corporate responsibility. Companies were now to be held accountable for the whole of their supply chain.

  • Pietra Rivoli and Sandra Waddock, “‘First They Ignore You…’: The Time-Context Dynamic and Corporate Responsibility,” California Management Review 53, no. 2 (Winter 2011): 87-104.

    “Pietra Rivoli and Sandra Waddock acknowledge that corporate social responsibility (CSR) discussions often fall prey to a logical trap. If some socially desirable activity is profitable, then it is best described as “intelligent operation of the business.” When private profits and public welfare are aligned, CSR is irrelevant. If the socially desirable activity is not profitable, then companies will not voluntarily undertake it unless required to do so by law or regulation. The concept of CSR is “intensely confused” because in both the above cases it is not a useful construct; CSR is either irrelevant or ineffective.”

  • Anne Mayhew, Narrating the Rise of Big Business in the USA: How Economists Explain Standard Oil and Wal-Mart (New York: Routledge, 2008).

    “‘This is a story about stories and specifically about some of the stories that Americans have told themselves about corporate economic power.’ In this book, Anne Mayhew focuses on the stories surrounding the creation of Standard Oil and Wal-Mart and their founders , John D. Rockefeller and Sam Walton, combining the accounts of economists with the somewhat darker pictures painted by writers of fiction to tease out the overarching narratives associated with American big business.”

  • Raluca Dragusanu, Daniele Giovannucci, and Nathan Nunn, “The Economics of Fair Trade,” Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 3 (Summer 2014): 217–236.

  • Damani James Partridge, “Activist Capitalism and Supply-Chain Citizenship: Producing Ethical Regimes and Ready-to-Wear Clothes,” Current Anthropology 52, no. S3, (Supplement to April 2011): S97-S111.

  • Erik Hofmann, Simon Templar, Dale Rogers, Thomas Choi, Rudolf Leuschner, Rohan Korde, “Supply Chain Financing and Pandemic: Managing Cash Flows to Keep Firms and Their Values Networks Healthy Rutgers Business Review 6, no. 1 (2021).

Supplier Responsibilities

  • Kim Fortun, Advocacy after Bhopal: Environmentalism, Disaster, New Global Orders (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2001).

  • Susan Schultz Huxman and Denice Beatty Bruce, “Toward a dynamic generic framework of apologia: A case study of Dow chemical, Vietnam, and the napalm controversy,” Communication Studies 46 nos. 1-2 (1995): 57-72.

  • Sydney Schanberg, “On the playgrounds of America, Every Kid’s Goal is to Score: In Pakistan, Where children stitch soccer balls for Six Cents an hour, the goals is to Survive,” Life Magazine (June 1996): 38-48.

  • Richard Locke, “The Promise and Perils of Globalization: The Case of Nike,” Industrial Performance Center, MIT, Working Paper (July 2002).

  • Richard Locke, Fei Qin, and Alberto Brause, “Does Monitoring Improve Labor Standards? Lessons from Nike,” Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative, Working Paper no. 24 (Cambridge: John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, 2006).

  • Dara O’Rourke, “Smoke From a Hired Gun: A Critique of Nike’s Labor and Environmental Auditing in Vietnam as performed by Ernst and Young,” CorpWatch (November 1997).

  • Simon Bøge “The Well-travelled Yoghurt pot: Lessons for new Freight Transport Policies and Regional Production,” World Transport Policy & Practice 1, no. 1 (1995): 7-11.

  • Stephen John New, “Modern Slavery and the Supply Chain: the Limits of Corporate Social Responsibility?” Supply Chain Management 20, no. 6 (2015), 697-707.

Computational Production

Software, Ben Bratton writes, is a “part of every supply chain.” And indeed, it is impossible to speak of global logistics without considering the logistical software systems that govern it. Companies like SAP design integrated solutions that not only manage the whole of the supply chain, they constitute it. If production and digitization have become nearly synonymous, what differrence is the container from the cloud?

Enterprise Resource Planning

  • Miriam Posner, “Breakpoints and Black Boxes: Information in Global Supply Chains,” Postmodern Culture 31, no. 3 (2021).

    “Supply chain management (SCM) deals with the procurement and assembly of goods, from raw material to the consumer. With the growing prevalence of offshore manufacturing and suppliers’ reliance on “just-in-time” inventory management, SCM has become both astoundingly complex and critical to companies’ competitiveness. This essay examines how data works in global supply chains, focusing on SAP SCM, the huge but hard-to-access SCM software with the greatest market share. It argues that SCM is characterized by two countervailing tendencies: the demand for perfect information about goods and movement, and the need to erect strategic barriers to the fullest knowledge about supply chains. Counterintuitively, this selective obscurantism is what makes supply chains so fast and efficient.”

  • Vincent A. Mabert, “The Early Road to Material Requirements Planning,” Journal of Operations Management 25 (2007): 346–356.

  • Mohammad A. Rashid, Liaquat Hossain, and Jon David Patrick, “The Evolution of ERP Systems: A Historical Perspective” in Enterprise Resource Planning: Global Opportunities and Challenges (Idea Group, 2002).

  • Bill Waddell, “Farewell To APICS,” Kevin Meyer (2006).

  • Karl E. Kurbel, Enterprise Resource Planning and Supply Chain Management: Functions, Business Processes and Software for Manufacturing Companies (Berlin: Springer, Progress in IS, 2013).

Digital Supply Chains

Infrastructures and Spaces

Geography, Clare Lyster writes, “is no longer a prerequisite for urbanism; the network is. At the same time that logistics denies place, however, it would be misleading to say that it is completely a-geographic.” Rather, it only “upends the city’s traditional reliance on geophysical qualities to facilitate new possibilities…”

  • Clare Lyster, Learning from Logistics: How Networks Change Our Cities (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2016).

    “In the 19th century railroads and canals provided both structure and motor for city development. This role has been taken over today by the global flow of data and products, as the author argues. Flow of material and communication is the DNA of contemporary environments. This development has enormous and partially unfathomable implications for our city fabric. Logistics networks and their complex structure increasingly bear upon many urban spheres. Counter trends to the ubiquitous internet retail trade – to name one of the most palpable phenomena – are gaining momentum as well, exemplified by the criticism of labor conditions in e-commerce and the trend to buy regional products from local stores. Lyster describes the current development and its impact on architecture, landscape architecture and urbanism: Aspects such as today’s hypermobility of both products and people have repercussions in design work and create new paradigms for architecture and urban design. Concepts for the integration of these new issues are introduced by a number of exemplary urban design projects.”

  • Keller Easterling, Jesse LeCavalier, and Clare Lyster, “Logistics, Flow, and Contemporary Urbanism,” Cabinet, November 10, 2016.

  • Shannon Mattern, “Infrastructural Tourism,” Places Journal (July 2013).

  • Nicole Starosielski, “Signal Tracks,” Media-N: Journal of the New Media Caucus 10, no. 1 (Spring 2014); and Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski, eds. Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2015).

  • Keller Easterling, Organization Space: Landscapes, Highways, and Houses in America (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999); Enduring Innocence: Global Architecture and its Political Masquerades (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005).

  • Keller Easterling, Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space (New York: Verso, 2014).

  • Keller Easterling, “Interchange and container: The new orgman,” Perspecta 30 (1999): 112–121.

  • Keller Easterling, “Cable.” in New Geographies Vol.1: After Zero (Cambridge: Harvard University Graduate School of Design, 2009).

  • Brett Neilson and Ned Rossiter, “The Logistical City,” in Transit Labour: Circuits, Regions, Borders no. 3 (August 2011)

  • Brett Neilson, Ned Rossiter, and Soenke Zehle, “From Flows of Culture to the Circuits of Logistics: Borders, Regions, Labour in TransitTransit Labor 2 (2010).

  • Dara Orenstein, “Foreign-­Trade­ Zones­ and ­the ­Cultural ­Logic of ­Frictionless ­Production,” Radical History Review 109 (Winter 2011).

  • The FTZ as Device,” Southwest Corridor Northwest Passage (2014)

  • Rozalinda Borcila, “Riding the Zone,” Deep Routes: The Midwest in all Directions (2015).

  • Ingrid Burrington, “The Cloud is Not the TerritoryWaging Nonviolience (May 20, 2014).

  • Brian Larkin, “The Politics and Poetics of Infrastructure,” Annual Review of Anthropology 42 (October 2013): 327-343.

  • Susan Leigh Star, “The Ethnography of Infrastructure,” American Behavioral Scientist 43, no. 3 (November 1999): 377-391.

  • Markus Hesse, The City as a Terminal: The Urban Context of Logistics and Freight Transport (London, Routledge, 2016).

  • Jussi Parikka and Samir Bhowmik, “Memory Machines: Infrastructural Performance as an Art Method,” Leonardo 54, no. 4 (August 2021).

    “Through the Memory Machines performance tour conducted in a public library, the authors analyze multisensory methods including immersive performance and walking tours as probes into cultural infrastructures. Combining discussions of media theory and artistic practice, including collaboration with the 00100 Ensemble, the authors present infrastructural performance as an art method for creative infrastructural research.”

  • Shannon Mattern, Code and Clay, Data and Dirt, Five Thousand Years of Urban Media (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2017).

  • Hong Shen, Alibaba: Infrastructuring Global China (London: Routledge, 2022).

  • David Vega-Barachowitz and Adam Luubinsky, “Ship Shape,” Urban Omnbius (March 11, 2020).

  • Mark Graham and Martin Dittus, Geographies of Digital Exclusion (London: Pluto Press, 2022).

  • Environmental Media Lab, “Data Center Industrial Complex,” (2021).

  • Mél Hogan and Asta Vonderau, eds., “The Nature of Data Centers,” Culture Machine 18 (2021).

  • Sayd Randle, “Holding Water for the City: Emergent Geographies of Storage and the Urbanization of Nature,” Environment Planning E: Nature and Space (October 2021).

Histories of Infrastructures

  • Paul N. Edwards, “Infrastructure and Modernity: Force, Time, and Social Organization in the History of Sociotechnical Systems,” in Modernity and Technology, eds. Thomas J. Misa, Philip Brey, and Andrew Feenberg (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005), 185-226.

  • Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010 [1934]).

  • David E. Nye, Electrifying America: Social Meanings of a New Technology, 1880-1940 (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992) and American Technological Sublime (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994).

  • Christopher F. Jones, Routes of Power: Energy and Modern America, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014).

Consumers and Consumption

“In the new predominance of an organized market,” Raymond Williams wrote, “the acts of making and of using goods and services were newly defined in the increasingly abstract pairings of producer and consumer, production and consumption.” The term, once meant in “an unfavourable sense”—”to destroy, to use up, to waste, to exhaust,” has become the identity through which the supply chain is approached—an abstract relationship from which to view an abstraction.

  • Brett Neilson, “Beyond Kulturkritik: Along the Supply Chain of Contemporary Capitalism”, Culture Unbound 6 (2014): 77–93.

  • Dara O’Rourke, Shopping for Good (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2012).

  • Daniel Miller, A theory of shopping (Cambridge: Polity, 1998).

  • Daniel Miller, “Consumption,” in Handbook of Material Culture, eds. Mike Rowlands, Christopher Tilley, Patricia Spyer, Webb Keane, Susanne Küchler (London: Sage, 2006), 341-354.

  • Roopali Mukherjee and Sarah Banet-Weiser, Commodity Activism: Cultural Resistance in Neoliberal Times (New York: New York University Press, 2012).

  • Roopali Mukherjee, “Diamonds (are from Sierra Leone): Bling and the Promises of Consumer Citizenship,” in Commodity Activism: Cultural Resistance in Neoliberal Times, eds. Roopali Mukherjee and Sarah Banet-Weiser (New York: New York University Press, 2012), 114-133.

  • Altha Cravey, “Students and the Anti‐Sweatshop Movement,” Antipode 36. (2004): 203-208.

  • Abigail Bakan and Yasmeen Abu-Laban, “Palestinian Resistance and International Solidarity: the BDS Campaign,” Race and Class 51, no. 1 (2009): 29-54.

  • Clive Barnett, Paul Cloke, Nick Clarke, Alice Malpass, “Consuming Ethics: Articulating the Subjects and Spaces of Ethical Consumption,” Antipode 37, no.1 (2005): 23–45.

  • Nick Clarke, “From Ethical Consumerism to Political Consumption,” Geography Compass 2, no. 6 (2008): 1870-1884.

  • Hiedi Zimmerman, “Becoming Ethical: Mediated Pedagogies of Global Consumer Citizenship,” Journal of Consumer Culture (2017): 1-18.

  • Iris Young, “Responsibility and Global Labour Justice,” The Journal of Political Philosophy 12, no. 4 (2004): 365–388.

  • Stephen Duncombe, “It stands on its head: Commodity fetishism, consumer activism, and the strategic use of fantasy,” Culture & Organization 18, no. 5 (2012): 359-375.

  • Veronica Redini, “Commodity Fetishism Again. Labour, Subjectivity and Commodities in ‘Supply Chains Capitalism,’” Open Cultural Studies 2, no. 1 (2018): 353–362.

  • David Boarder Giles, A Mass Conspiracy to Feed People (Durham: Duke University Press, 2021).

  • Aaron Shapiro, “Platform Urbanism in a Pandemic: Dark Stores, Ghost Kitchens, and the Logistical-urban Frontier,” Journal of Consumer Culture (February 2022).

Retail and Commerce

  • Joseph Turow, The Aisles Have Eyes: How Retailers Track Your Shopping, Strip Your Privacy, and Define Your Power (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017).

  • Nicola Twilley, “What Do Chinese Dumplings Have to Do With Global Warming?,” New York Times (2014).

    “Despite the expansion in frozen foods and refrigerators, the critical growth area is what’s known in the logistics business as the “cold chain” — the seamless network of temperature-controlled space through which perishable food is supposed to travel on its way from farm to refrigerator. In the United States, at least 70 percent of all the food we eat each year passes through a cold chain. By contrast, in China, less than a quarter of the country’s meat supply is slaughtered, transported, stored or sold under refrigeration. The equivalent number for fruit and vegetables is just 5 percent.”

  • Heather Paxson, “The Art of the Monger,” LIMN 4: Food Infrastructures (May 2014).

  • Dan Williams, “Christmas in Yiwu” (November 19, 2014).

    “I heard my first Christmas music of the year in District 1. It was the 1st of August, 27°C outside and All I Want For Christmas was drifting out of a market stall dedicated to selling Santa hats. Neighbouring booths were were filled with artificial Christmas trees, baubles and Christmas stockings. More than half of the world’s Christmas decorations come from here.”

  • Tim Maughan, “Yiwu: The Chinese City Where Christmas is Made and Sold,” BBC Future (December 14, 2014).

  • Michael Andreae, Jinn-yuh Hsu, Glen Norcliffea, “Performing the Trade Show: the Case of the Taipei International Cycle Show,” Geoforum 49 (2013): 193-201.

  • Amanda Mull, “The Nasty Logistics of Returning Your Too-Small Pants: What happens to the stuff you order online after you send it back? The Atlantic (October 7, 2021).

  • Tamara Kneese, “Keep it Oakland: E-commerce Meets Social Justice,” Media, Culture, and Society (October 2021).

  • Tamara Kneese, “Home Spun,” Real Life (August 19, 2021).

  • Tamara Kneese & Michael Palm, “Brick-and-Platform: Listing Labor in the Digital Vintage Economy,” Social Media + Society (July 2020).

Maintenance, Repair, Waste

Reference Materials

One requirement for the critical study of logistics is a well-founded knowledge of its constitution. With that in mind, this section presents a brief look at materials related to its contemporary operation.

Logistics Textbooks

  • Edward Frazelle, Supply Chain Strategy (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001).
  • Graham Sharman, “The Rediscovery of Logistics,” Harvard Business Review 62, no. 5 (1984): 71–79.
  • Donald J. Bowersox, David J. Closs, M. Bixby Cooper, Supply Chain Logistics Management (New York: McGraw Hill, 2007).
  • J. R. Tony Arnold, Stephen N. Chapman, Lloyd M. Clive, Introduction To Materials Management (London: Pearson, 2011).

Logistical Regulations

This section presents a (small) sample of various reports and regulations that address the impacts of global logistics.

Reports and Representations

Law and Orders

Logistics in Media

This section presents representations of logistics in documentaries, cinema, games, literature, and art.

Logistical Documentaries

  • Allan Sekula, The Forgotten Space (2010); 112 minutes.

    “The Forgotten Space follows container cargo aboard ships, barges, trains and trucks, listening to workers, engineers, planners, politicians, and those marginalized by the global transport system. We visit displaced farmers and villagers in Holland and Belgium, underpaid truck drivers in Los Angeles, seafarers aboard mega-ships shuttling between Asia and Europe, and factory workers in China, whose low wages are the fragile key to the whole puzzle. And in Bilbao, we discover the most sophisticated expression of the belief that the maritime economy, and the sea itself, is somehow obsolete.”

  • Alberto Toscano, “The Mirror of Circulation: Allan Sekula and the Logistical ImageSociety and Space (July 2018).

  • Jennifer Burris, “Material Resistance: Allan Sekula’s Forgotten Space.” Afterall (June 24, 2011).

  • Lucy Raven, China Town (2009); 51 minutes.

    “China Town traces copper mining and production from an open pit mine in Nevada to a smelter in China, where the semi-processed ore is sent to be smelted and refined. Considering what it actually means to “be wired” and in turn, to be connected, in today’s global economic system, the video follows the detailed production process that transforms raw ore into copper wire—in this case, the literal digging of a hole to China—and the generation of waste and of power that grows in both countries as byproduct.”

  • Steve McQueen, Gravesend (2007); 17 minutes.

    “The film Gravesend uses a documentary approach to focus on the mining of coltan, employed in the manufacture of cell phones, laptops and other high-tech apparatus. The film cuts between two sites: a technological, highly automated industrial plant in the West where the precious metal is processed for the final production of microelectronic parts, and the central Congo, where miners use simple shovels or their bare hands to extract, wash and collect the ore on leaves. In the Congo, the dirt and clumps of ore are barely distinguishable, while in the industrialized West, the metal is weighed in minute milligrams and cast in antiseptic surroundings.”

  • Natasha Raheja, Cast in India (2014); 26 minutes, Bengali and Hindi with English subtitles.

    “Iconic and ubiquitous, thousands of manhole covers dot the streets of New York City. Enlivening the everyday objects around us, this short documentary is a glimpse of the working lives of the men behind the manhole covers in New York City.”

  • Michael Cot Shipbreakers (2004); 73 minutes. // via

    “Shipbreakers takes the viewer into the heart of Alang, India, a vibrant shantytown where 40,000 people live and work in the most primitive conditions. Since the early ’80s, the rusting hulks of thousands of the world’s largest ships have been driven onto the remote beaches of Alang, off the Arabian Sea, to be dismantled, piece by piece. Sold for scrap, the ship owners rarely bother to abide by the UN Basel Convention, which bans shipments of transboundary waste. One worker a day, on average, dies on the job, some from explosions or falls, but many will contract cancers caused by asbestos, PCBs and other toxic substances.”

  • Jennifer Baichwal, Manufactured Landscapes (2006); 90 minutes.

    “This documentary reveals the gritty underside of industrial landscapes. Photographer Edward Burtynsky explores the subtle beauty amid the waste generated by slag heaps, dumps and factories. Memorable scenes include a Chinese iron factory where employees are berated to produce faster, and shots of children playing atop piles of dangerous debris. The contrasts between wealth and poverty are most striking in Shanghai, with new high-rises towering above old slums.”

  • David Redmon, Mardi Gras: Made in China (2005); 74 minutes.

    “The life cycle of plastic beads is traced from their manufacture at a Fuzhou, China, manufacturing facility to their extensive use by revelers at the annual Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans. Documentary filmmaker David Redmon investigates the low wages and substandard conditions endured by the factory’s workers, many of whom are young women. Candid interviews with both the Chinese workers and the Mardi Gras crowd reveal the vast economic and cultural chasm between the two.”

  • Garrett Bradley, Like (2016); 9 minutes.

    “A short documentary about clickfarmers in Dhaka.”

  • Nick Broomfield, “Ghosts,” (2006); 96 minutes.

  • Peter Galison and Robb Moss, “Containment” (2019); 81 minutes.

  • Denis Delestrac, Freightened: The Real Price of Shipping (2016); 90 minutes.

    “In an audacious investigation, Freightened will reveal the mechanics and perils of freight shipment; an all-but-visible industry that holds the key to our economy, our environment and the very model of our civilisation.”

  • Frank Piasechi Poulsen, Blood in the Mobile (2010); 83 minutes. “The dark side of our cell phones. No company can say for sure that they didn’t buy conflict minerals from the Congo to produce your cell phone.”

  • Erika Magnusson and Daniel Andersson, Logistics Art Project (2012); 53280 minutes.

    “A 37 day-long road movie in the true sense of the meaning. The work is about Time and Consumption. It brings to the fore what is often forgotten in our digital, ostensibly fast-paced world: the slow, physical freight transportation that underpins our economic reality. We wanted to convey it in the most direct manner possible in order to share the journey with others. That’s why we recorded the journey in real time and screen it in real time. 37 days and 37 nights, nonstop.”

  • Kyle Stine, “Nonhuman Cinema and the Logistical Sublime,” October no. 177 (Summer 2021).

See also the work of the Sensory Ethnography Lab, especially: Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez, Manakamana (2013), 118 minutes; Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel, Leviathan (2012), 87 minutes; and Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Ilisa Barbash, Sweetgrass (2009), 101 minutes.

Logistics in Cinema

For Marshall McLuhan, cinema was an assembly line comprised “of still shots on celluloid,” where mechanical movement and the projection of light came together to create the “illusion” of motion. Paul Virilio suggested that it was this quality that allowed cinema to “get away from the static focus and share the speed of moving objects.” Cinema operated in logistical space, with “fragments” assembled in “non-sensory order.” Not in products, but in montage. Cinematic images are powerful, he explains, because, now, “to move was to produce.” Despite this suggestive overlap, logistical operations have themselves rarely been cinematic subjects—though in television Mary Tyler Moore spinoff Lou Grant famously opened with the lifecycle of newspaper production, from the falling of timber to an ignominious end as birdcage liner. More often, the logistical labor of the supply chain is largely a backdrop for other human dramas.

  • Alex Rivera, Sleep Dealer (2008).
  • William Friedkin, Sorcerer (1977).
  • Steven Soderbergh, Traffic (2000).
  • Ridley Scott, Alien (1979).
  • Robert Zemeckis, Castaway (2000).
  • Edward Zwick, Blood Diamond (2006).
  • Andrew Niccol, Lord of War (2005).
  • Terry Gilliam, Brazil (1985).
  • Alfred Hitchcock, Strangers on a Train (1951)

Logistical Games

“Congratulations! By the virtue of owning SimCity 2000 you are hereby proclaimed Mayor of a million cities and ruler of a billion simulated lives (your Sims). It’s a tough game, but somebody’s gotta play it.” —SimCity 2000, user manual.

  • SimCity (1989)

    “SimCity is the first of a new type of entertainment/education software, called SYSTEM SIMULATIONS. We provide you with a set of RULES and TOOLS that describe, create and control a system. In the case of SimCity the system is a city.”

  • A-Train (1985)

    “A-Train is a simulation game built upon trains and railroad management—but that’s just the beginning! A-Train exemplifies the relationships between transportation, business, and city development.”

  • OpenTTD (2004-)

    “OpenTTD is a business simulation game in which players try to earn money via transporting passengers and freight by road, rail, water and air. It is an open source remake and expansion of the 1995 Chris Sawyer video game Transport Tycoon Deluxe.”

  • Cargonauts (2015)

    “Part of the Logistical Worlds Project, Cargonauts envisions a logistical world of infrastructure, of transport economies, of zones and concessions, of nocturnal possibilities for sabotage and revenge.”

  • Phone Story (2011)

    “Phone Story is an educational game about the dark side of your favorite smart phone. Follow your phone’s journey around the world and fight the market forces in a spiral of planned obsolescence.”

  • TransOcean (2014)

    “TransOcean – The Shipping Company is your ticket to the world of gigantic ships and transnational transport empires. Build a mighty fleet of modern merchant ships and conquer the seven seas. Track your routes and real time, take the controls as ships enter and leave the harbor, and see to it that freight gets loaded efficiently. Keep in mind that time is money!”

See also Ned Rossiter, “Logistical worlds,” Cultural Studies Review 20, no. 1 (2014): 53–76.

Logistical Art

“What one sees in a harbor is the concrete movement of goods. This movement can be explained in its totality only through recourse to abstraction. Marx tells us this, even if no one is listening anymore. If the stock market is the site in which the abstract character of money rules, the harbor is the site in which material goods appear in bulk, in the very flux of exchange. Use values slide by in the channel; the Ark is no longer a bestiary but an encyclopedia of trade and industry. This is the reason for the antique mercantilist charm of harbors. But the more regularized, literally container-ized, the movement of goods in harbors, that is, the more rationalized and automated, the more the harbor comes to resemble the stock market. A crucial phenomenological point here is the suppression of smell. Goods that once reeked—guano, gypsum, steamed tuna, hemp, molasses—now flow or are boxed. The boxes, viewed in vertical elevation, have the proportions of slightly elongated banknotes. The contents anonymous: electronic components, the worldly belongings of military dependents, cocaine, scrap paper (who could know?) hidden behind the corrugated sheet steel walls emblazoned with the logos of the global shipping corporations: Evergreen, Matson, American President, Mitsui, Hanjin, Hyundai.” — Allan Sekula, Fish Story.

  • Allan Sekula, Fish Story, (Düsseldorf: Richter Verlag, 2002).

  • Gabby Miller, “Turquoise Wake”, 2015, Oakland, Random Parts

  • Pieter Hugo, Permanent Error (London: Prestel, 2011) and a review by Sean O’Toole, “Permanent Error,” Mahala (May 2011). // via

    “In his previous volumes of photographs, Hugo offers unflinching yet striking portraits of humans, animals, societies, and landscapes that shock and disturb, but also demand our attention. In Permanent Error, he documents a garbage dump in Ghana that has become the repository for discarded computers from around the world.”

  • A. Laurie Palmer, In the Aura of a Hole: Exploring Sites of Material Extraction (New York: Black Dog, 2015).

    “In the Aura of a Hole focuses on a decade long project Palmer undertook as an extended exploration of mineral extraction sites in the U.S, which through her narration of a first person perspective, discusses themes of the raw scientific and mechanical aspects of the industry.”

  • Michael Shane Boyle, “Container Aesthetics: The Infrastructural Politics of Shunt’s ‘The Boy Who Climbed Out of His Face’,” Theatre Journal 68, no. 1 (March 2016): 57-77.

  • Chen HangFeng, Santa’s Little Helpers (2007); 9 minute video installation.

    “The video is shot in a small village in Zhejiang Province, (China) where 50% of the world’s Christmas decorations are made by hand. The family workshops were doing the ornaments all year along and the landscape had been littered with garbage. The video has been edited into a 9-minute video and screened it inside a small wooden box wrapped like a Christmas present, people only can see the secret from a small peep whole on the box.”

  • Lonnie Van Brummelen and Siebren De Haan, Monument Of Sugar: How to Use Artistic Means to Avoid Barriers (2007); 67 minute video installation. // via

    “Upon learning that most of Europe’s beet sugar today is consumed outside its borders, the artists devised a plan that began with purchase of that same sugar at a fraction of its domestic price. From there, they set out for Nigeria, a nation which, despite a climate wholly conducive to sugarcane cultivation, was said to be the largest importer of European sugar. Van Brummelen and de Haan’s idea was to transform that raw material into art and reimport it for an exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum.”

  • Samuel Pelts, “Extraction: The MegazineExtraction Art (2021).

  • Tiffany Sia, “Slippery When Wet,” Artists Space (2021).

  • Mari Bastashevski, “10.000 Things out of China (2016); see also “Gestures of Potentiality: An Introduction to Distributed Utopias,” EastEast (2021).

  • Simon Denny, “Mine,” Petzel (2021).

Logistics in Literature

To suggest, as Sam Halliday does, Bram Stoker’s epistolary novel as one of the “logistical sublime,” is to recognize its peculiarly modern fascination with time. “Left Munich at 8.35 p.m. on 1st May,” the first line reads, “arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6.46, but train was an hour late.” As a result of the encounter, Halliday notes, Harker’s interest in “the correct time” will become a near-obsession. Indeed, Dracula is a sequence of events, near misses, and long delays punctuated by sudden collisions. Like the examples below, it is a story of the mediation of movement in space and time, of storage and transmission in sites both recognizably logistical and not.

  • Bram Stoker, Dracula (1887).
  • Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (1899).
  • Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877).
  • Joseph Conrad, “An Outpost of Progress” (1897) and Heart of Darkness (1899).
  • Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (1851).
  • John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (1939).
  • Philip K. Dick, “Adjustment Team” (1954), Time Out of Joint (1959), and many others.
  • Ray Bradbury, “A Sound of Thunder” (1952), “The Toynbee Convector” (1984), and many others.
  • Jack Kerouac, On the Road (1957).
  • Jorge Luis Borges, “The Lottery in Babylon” (1962; in English).
  • William Burroughs, Nova Express, 1964
  • William Gibson, “Johnny Mnemonic” (1986).
  • Ursula K. Le Guin, “Sur” (1982), Changing Planes (2003), and many others.
  • Annie Proulx, The Shipping News (1993).
  • Umberto Eco, The Island of the Day Before (1994).
  • Mark Danielewski, House of Leaves (2000).
  • Ted Chiang, “Tower of Babylon” (1990).
  • Paolo Bacigalupi, “The People of Sand and Slag” (2004).
  • China Miéville, Iron Council (2004), The City & the City (2009).

See also Kate Marshall, Corridor: Media Architectures in American Fiction (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013).

Critical Logistics Community

This section, broadly speaking, collates the work of scholars, artists, and activists engaged with the critical study of logistics.

Special Issues on Logistics

  • Charmaine Chua, Martin Danyluk, Deborah Cowen, Laleh Khalili, “Turbulent Circulation: Building a Critical Engagement with Logistics,” Society and Space 36, no. 4 (August 2018).

  • Cabinet 47: Logistics (Fall 2012).

    “Every time you put a letter in the mail, every time you stop at a traffic light, a complex—and usually invisible—network of logistics is at work. This issue also features James Whittington on the diaries of Dmitri Pavlov; Jacqueline Bochner on the harmonization of international postal systems; Daniella Stone on the logistics of the hospital kitchen; and a travelogue from the Cabinet ‘Hand-Delivered Issue Road Trip.’ Elsewhere in the issue: Rasha Salti on intrigue and celebrity in the bar of Beirut’s Phoenicia Hotel; Jeffrey Kastner on saintly ‘incorruptibles’; and Will Wiles on Bill Phillips’ “MONIAC,” a device that models the national economy using the flow of liquids.”

  • “Logistics of Power” in Viewpoint Magazine, no. 4 (“The State”) (September-October 2014).

  • Patrick Brodie, Lisa Han, Weixian Pan, “Becoming Environmental: Media, Logistics, and Ecological Change,” Synoptique 8, no. 1 (2019)

  • Supply,” Thresholds no. 49 (2021).

  • Logout! Worker Restance Within and Against the Platform Economy,” Notes From Below 7 (June 2019).

Syllabi and Conferences

Projects and Groups

  • Logistical Worlds: Infrastructure, Software, Labour

    “How to study China-led globalisation through infrastructural interventions? This question prompts the investigation of logistical operations that fabricate the emerging trade network known as the New Silk Road. Moving between software studies and geocultural analysis of labour regimes, the project tracks algorithmic arrangements of power across the tricontinental sites of Piraeus, Valparaíso and Kolkata… Subjectivity and labour expose the power and vulnerability of logistical worlds.”

  • Empire Logistics

    “Empire Logistics is an interactive mapping project begun in 2009. As a collaborative initiative, Empire Logistics maps the global supply chain through research that articulates the infrastructure and ‘externalized costs’—human, economic, social and environmental—of the international flow of things.”

  • Center for Land Use Interpretation

    “The Center for Land Use Interpretation is a research and education organization interested in understanding the nature and extent of human interaction with the surface of the earth, and in finding new meanings in the intentional and incidental forms that we individually and collectively create. We believe that the manmade landscape is a cultural inscription, that can be read to better understand who we are, and what we are doing.”

  • Transit Labour: Circuits, Regions, Borders

    “Transit-labour investigates changing patterns of labour and mobility in the whirlwind of Asian capitalist transformation. Mindful of the view of Asia as the world’s factory, this three year research project examines the role of creativity, invention and knowledge production in the new economic order being forged from the region’s capitalist centres. Particular attention is given to changing relations of culture and economy in this transition and their entanglement with the production of new subjectivities and modalities of labour.”


    “ is a website designed to have the look, feel and navigation of a familiar online store. But it’s stocked with research examining films, art, activist and other work that encourages shoppers to critically consider their relationships with those who make the things that they buy. Its purpose is to encourage careful thought and lively conversation about trade (in)justice, and to encourage and inform new work in this genre of commodity activism.”

  • The Story of Stuff Project

    “We have a problem with Stuff. We use too much, too much of it is toxic and we don’t share it very well. But that’s not the way things have to be. Together, we can build a society based on better not more, sharing not selfishness, community not division.”

  • Unknown Fields Division

    “The Unknown Fields Division is a nomadic design research studio that ventures out on expeditions to the ends of the earth to bear witness to alternative worlds, alien landscapes, industrial ecologies and precarious wilderness. These distant landscapes - the iconic and the ignored, the excavated, irradiated and the pristine, are embedded in global systems that connect them in surprising and complicated ways to our everyday lives. In such a landscape of interwoven narratives, the studio uses film and animation to chronicle this network of hidden stories and re-imagine the complex and contradictory realities of the present as a site of strange and extraordinary futures.”

  • The Infrastructure Observatory

    “The Infrastructure Observatory is a community devoted to exploring and celebrating the infrastructural landscape. Our mission is to render visible the oft-invisible guts of modern life, and foster chapters of enthusiasts around these structures throughout the world. IO is mostly involved in organizing field trips to infrastructure sites”

  • Warehouse Workers for Justice

    “Warehouse Workers for Justice is a worker center founded in 2009 to win stable, living wage jobs with dignity for the hundreds of thousands of workers in Illinois’ logistics and distribution industry. We provide workshops so warehouse workers can educate themselves about workplace rights, unite warehouse workers to defend their rights on the job, build community support for the struggles of warehouse workers and fight for policy changes to improve the lives of warehouse workers and members of our communities.”

  • Sinews of War and Trade

    “Sinews of War and Trade is part of the ‘Military Mobilities and Mobilising Movements in the Middle East’ project based at the Politics and International Studies department, SOAS University of London.”

  • CHORD: The Center for the History of Retailing and Distribution” (2021).

Broader Advocacy

  • Global Witness

    “Many of the world’s worst environmental and human rights abuses are driven by the exploitation of natural resources and corruption in the global political and economic system. Global Witness is campaigning to end this by carrying out hard-hitting investigations, exposing these abuses, and campaigning for change. They are independent, not-for-profit, and work with partners around the world in the fight for justice.”

  • The Enough Project

    “The Enough Project seeks to build leverage for peace and justice in Africa by helping to create real consequences for the perpetrators and facilitators of genocide and other mass atrocities. Enough aims to counter rights-abusing armed groups and violent kleptocratic regimes that are fueled by grand corruption, transnational crime and terror, and the pillaging and trafficking of minerals, ivory, diamonds, and other natural resources. Enough conducts field research in conflict zones, develops and advocates for policy recommendations, supports social movements in affected countries, and mobilizes public campaigns.”

  • Responsible Raw Materials” (2021).

  • Corporate Justice Coalition” (2020).

Logistical Praxis

The critical study of logistics often conincides with the practical operation of unraveling logistical operations. This section presents a growing list of tools and methodologies that facilitate this process.

Reverse Sourcing

  • The Kit - Supply Chain and Product Investigations

    “The Kit is a collaborative, self-learning resource that makes investigative techniques and tools used by experienced investigators more accessible to people and communities who feel motivated to start their own investigations, collect and verify information, build evidence and create a better understanding of issues without losing sight of ethical or safety considerations. The Kit is a resource of Exposing the Invisible (ETI). This resource provides an introduction to supply chain investigations including an overview of the main tools, techniques, data resources and essential precautions to take. It focuses on the main actors, stages and processes of a supply chain and includes a hypothetical step-by-step investigation. These materials supplement existing resource pages on Maritime Shipping, Human Trafficking and Slavery, Extractive Industries, and Corruption.”

  • Global Investigative Journalism Network Supply Chain Database

    “Exposing ‘supply chains’ — the connections between the products we buy and the circumstances of their creation — has proved to be fertile ground for investigative journalism. In seeking to understand the origins of our food, raw materials and manufactured goods, reporters have uncovered slavery, environmental crimes, corruption and human rights abuses. In this GIJN resource page, we identify the investigative tools used for tracking the supply chains that link farms, oceans, mines and factories with the end products we buy.”

  • Tim Hwang and Craid Cannon, The Container Guide (San Francisco: Infrastructure Observatory Press, 2015).