This article examines the ways of knowing that govern public constructions of knowledge in the manufacture of the mobile phone—its cultural meaning, sociality of labor, and environmental consequences. It does so to consider the “material epistemology” of the mobile phone, the way in which one comes to know these devices, especially through the devices themselves. In modern manufacture, the incorporation of corporate supplier audits and investigative reporting into public discourse reveals an epistemology of production that is primarily imagined, rather than historically and ethnographically realized. Although the public epistemology of the mobile supply chain is built from the model of the telephone and telegraph, these networks were themselves mystified, displaced, and obscured. This is illustrated by examining material and conceptual differences between the historic supply chain of the telephone manufacturer Western Electric, and those imagined for contemporary companies like Apple.
British Empire Marketing Board, 1927 [via]. Despite the sometimes underdetermined discourse surrounding it, there is nothing particularly new about the identification of a product with its place of production. One the earliest examples can still be found preserved in the ruins of Pompeii, on amphora inscribed with the word “Vesuvinum”—wine, from Vesuvius.1 But despite this […]
I’ve just gotten through Pamela Long’s Openness, Secrecy, Authorship: Technical Arts and the Culture of Knowledge from Antiquity to the Renaissance (it might be available for you here, depending on your institutional access, otherwise to get the figures you are better off getting a print copy). Given how long its been out, and how closely […]
I’ve been spending a lot of time on how ways of knowing about production have changed. One of my favorite images for this is a 1923 Western Electric ad that catalogues all of the human participants in the production of the telephone–albeit in the most caricaturish fashion.
At different scales, and within unique (and sometimes conflicting) patterns of discourse, individual perceptions of the system of global production have become a tangled snarl of impossible imaginings. For the consuming public, the origin of things are written in the labels they wear, the companies, brands, and individuals known to organize their assembly, and, often, […]