Merging visual representation with textual listing, the mail-order catalogue brought the anticipation of availability to the work of supply. As it did, it crystalized the expectations of capitalism for contemporary consumer culture. This essay surveys some examples of this form around this moment of transformation: as the catalogue form gave way to the catalogue function, and the raw stuff of supply transformed into an operative relation—an ontological object defined not by material presence, but by the potential for supply.
This article 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 […]
Wonderful source. “Sampling Inspection” is a one act play about the (surprisingly dramatic) business of quality control. It was written by Bonnie Small, a statistical quality control consultant for Western Electric, and first presented in September of 1953 for the Allentown-Bethlehem Section of the American Society for Quality Control. As Small writes: The Consolidated Equipment […]
The editors of LIMN were kind enough to let me contribute a small historical overview to the recent Food Infrastructures issue. While I’m no expert in food studies (other than in the eating of it), I think it serves as a reasonable primer (particularly with regard to packaging, production, distribution, and data) for the articles […]
During my fellowship this past summer I had the opportunity to take a trip to the archives of the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum in Cornwall. On my way back to Penzance, I decided to stop off at the Geevor Tin Mine. Buried in the west of Cornwall, Geevor produced nearly 50,000 tons of “black tin” during […]
I recently came across an interesting post Andrew James Myers produced as part of his participation in Henry Jenkin’s PhD seminar on Public Intellectuals. Myers writes about the visual representations Apple deploys to narrate that consummate object of modern consumption, the iPhone. As Myers writes: Apple’s recent release of two new iPhone models — the […]
The most meaningful realization about working on the history of production is seeing how ragged and disjoint it can be. Rather than a smooth flow toward anonymous production, we see not only pockets of alternative modes that persisted long into the present, but moments where these alternatives seemed positioned to retake the future of production. […]
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 […]
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, […]