Work Organisation, Labour & Globalisation invites contributions to a special issue which focusing on logistics
This issue will be guest-edited by Into the Black Box – A Research Collective focusing on Logistics, Spaces and Labour (Carlotta Benvegnù, Niccolò Cuppini, Mattia Frapporti, Floriano Milesi and Maurilio Pirone). See further details below.
Logistics has deep historical origins, deeply interwoven with the affirmation of the ‘Modern Era’.
Framed as a combination of knowledges and techniques related to the opening of the new State and Global spaces (both to sustain military operations on a European and colonial scale, and to support the new trade routes – not least the Atlantic slave trade), logistics has progressively imposed itself as an overall logic of governmentality (Cowen, 2014). It has become a paradigm of production and circulation optimisation along with efficient localisation (just in time and to the point)that now influences many different fields: from commodity distribution to the planning of urban spaces and the new forms of labour organisation.
Two specific turning-points can be identified in its recent development. The first is usually labelled as the Logistics revolution of the 50s and 60s when, thanks to the large-scale introduction of containers, it became a benchmark of capitalist production and re-production (Bruce, 1997). The second concerns the impact of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) on production, linked to the transition from the Fordist factory to contemporary forms of algorithmic management. The so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution has led to a massive use of digital apps and devices for the organisation and control of labour (Scholz, 2012; Srnicek, 2017).
Logistics is thus acting as a leading vector for the decomposition and restructuring of transnational value chains, allowing an undefined expansion of global production networks (Henderson et al, 2002) that is contributing to the configuration of a giant wall-less global factory. Indeed, it is now possible to speak of a new ‘logistical mode of production’ bound to deep political transformations (Bonacich, 2003; Tsing, 2009).
Until recently, the study of logistics was confined to the disciplines of engineering and management in which the roles and conditions of the labour force were reduced to cariables in algorithms and abstracted tasks. However, in the last decade there has been a flowering of critical research in the field, as well as disruptive events such as strikes and blockades, that have led to innovative approaches to this issue (Toscano 2011). Recent scholarship has clarified how logistics is not a neutral mechanism, a simple device to manage commodities in the most efficient way, but rather a complex biopolitical apparatus: a device that produces subjectivity (Cuppini, Frapporti & Pirone, 2015). Consequently, we have to look at logistics as ‘a site of power and struggle’ (Neilson 2012), a site of constantly changing adaptations between life-forms and the different environmental and productive conditions they are exposed to. In other words, logistics flattens out spaces, models bodies and produces subjectivities as flexibly as the adaptations to the conditions of circulation require. Labour-force struggles and organisation reveal themselves as central view-points for the understanding of this logistics mode of production and distribution based on new global infrastructures, regional systems and new rationalities of production. Or, to put it differently: subjectivities are erupting from algorithms and networks as irreducible elements (Dyer-Witheford, 2015).
We identify five vectors for an analysis of logistics as global dimension of digital-oriented production:
- Logistics politics and new global geographies (e.g. The ‘New Silk Road’ or the many pipelines currently under construction worldwide).
- Work and conflicts in the logistics sector (especially in ports and warehouses, for example in Germany and Italy).
- The logistical mode of urban production (e.g. smart city policies).
- The logistical logic of platform capitalism (e.g. Amazon, Uber) and the counter-logistics of protests (e.g. strikes of food delivery riders).
- Process and outcomes of the emergent systems of labour measurement and performance management regimes (KPIs).
We propose a special Issue of Work organisation, labour & globalisation in order to stimulate innovative and multidisciplinary analysis that can inquire, connect and elaborate the features and consequences of these different levels of a variegated capitalism with a subjective-based approach.
Call out: 20 November 2017
Abstract proposals: by 15 January 2018
Acceptance notification: beginning of February 2017
First drafts for review process: by 29 June 2018
Comments and reviews notification: beginning of September 2018
Final manuscripts submission: by 21 December 2018
Publication: Spring 2019
Abstracts should be written in English and must be a maximum of 1000 words. Each abstract should clearly explain the aim of the paper, its articulation and methodology. Keywords and basic references should also be included.
Biographiess should be 200 words (author(s) description: job title/s, institution/s, interests).
Format admitted: doc, docx, rtf.
Final article length: maximum 6000 words excluding footnotes and bibliography.
Into the Black Box is a project of multidisciplinary and collective research that adopts logistics as a point of view on contemporary political, economic and social transformations. It started with a research project by some PhD scholars of the University of Bologna on supply chain development and conflicts in North Italy; the output of this work has been presented during the Berlin summer school “Teaching the Crisis” in September 2013. We conceive logistics not simply as commodities circulation, but rather as a whole biopolitical apparatus that performs spaces, subjects and powers. “Assemblage”, “connection”, “disruption”, “hub” are becoming central categories for a critical theory that aims to understand globalization processes, labour transformations, dynamics of territorialisation and de-territorialisation, processes of subjectivation. The black box is the symbol of contemporary management techniques and devices that hide the whole logic of the system to external viewers. Similar boxes are all around us: in platform capitalism, in urban planning, in labour organisation, in State governance. A way to penetrate the opacity of the system is to analyse inputs and outputs, operations and consequences, procedures and resistances. So, a multidisciplinary approach that combines sociology and anthropology of labour, political theory, ethnographic inquires and historical perspective could be a flexible tool to shape a logistics understanding of contemporary world. Into the Black Box is now a blog which hosts materials (events, articles, conferences) that contribute to curry this research on. The editorial&research board is composed by:
Carlotta Benvegnù is PhD Candidate in Social Sciences at the University of Padua and at the University of Paris VIII Saint-Denis (Cresppa- CSU). Her research interests include sociology of work, industrial relations, migrations and labour market segmentation. She is author of several articles in Italian, English and French.
Niccolò Cuppini is post-doc fellow in social research at University of Supsi (Swiss) and has a PhD in Politics, Institutions, History at University of Bologna. His interests concern history of political thought, city and urbanization, urban studies. He is author of several articles in Italian and English.
Mattia Frapporti has just obtained his PhD in History and Cultures at the University of Bologna with a research thesis entitled “The logistics space of the United Europe. On Jean Monnet and the rationality of integration”. His focuses are on the process of European Integration, the politics of infrastructures, logistics and the role of State.
Floriano Milesi is a PhD Candidate in History, Cultures and Civilization (University of Bologna). Previously he completed a Master Degree in Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology with a thesis in Anthropology of Work. His current research is focused on the relationship between human and machinic labour in platform economy’s corporations.
Maurilio Pirone has a PhD in Politics, Institutions, History (University of Bologna) under the supervision of Prof. Sandro Mezzadra. Previously, he completed his Master Degree in Philosophy at University of Roma Tre under the supervision of Prof. Paolo Virno. Actually, he is freelance researcher for the Haus der Kulturen der Welt of Berlin and contributes to Euronomade collective. His research looks at social and labour movements, new forms of unionism, platform capitalism and Europeanization.
Allen, W. B., (1997), “The Logistics Revolution and Transportation”, in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 553, pp. 106-116.
Bonacich, E., (2003), “Pulling the Plug: Labor and the Global Supply Chain”, in New Labor Forum 12, no. 2, pp. 41–48.
Cowen, D., (2014), The Deadly Life of Logistics: Mapping Violence in Global Trade, University of Minnesota Press.
Cuppini, N., Frapporti, M., Pirone, M., (2015), “Logistics Struggles in the Po Valley Region”, in South Atlantic Quarterly 114:1, Duke University Press.
Dyer-Witheford, N. (2015), Cyber-proletariat: Global Labour in the Digital Vortex, Pluto.
Henderson, J. et al., (2002), “Global production networks and the analysis of economic development”, in Review of International Political Economy, Volume 9, Issue 3.
Neilson, B., (2012), “Five theses on understanding logistics as power”, in Distinktion: Journal of Social Theory, Volume 13, Issue 3.
Tsing, A., (2009), “Supply Chains and the Human Condition”, in Rethinking Marxism: A Journal of Economics, Culture & Society, 21:2, 148-176.
Scholz, T., (2012), Digital Labour, Routledge
Srnicek, N., (2017), Platform Capitalism, Polity Press
Toscano, A., (2012), “Logistics and Opposition”, in Metamute.org Mute, 9 Aug. 2011.