About this Project

Once a part of military science, logistics—that is, the management of moving people, things, and information—has transformed into a more general condition of globalized mobility politics. On the one hand, innovation in commodity chain logistics has “revolutionized” how goods are produced, distributed, and consumed as well as how labor, land, and infrastructures are organized to support an increasingly on-demand global economy. On the other hand, logistical failures or interruptions—for example, in the mismanagement of refugee processing and detention at the U.S. southern border, the malfunctioning of Amazon’s web services for businesses, or the shortage of masks and ventilators during the COVID-19 pandemic—have sparked various political, economic, and public health “crises.” Such crises bring public attention to the importance of logistics in shaping global flows and economic interdependence, as well as inequality and precarity that logistical expansion and interruption reproduce.

This research project seeks to use logistics as a lens through which to innovate new theories and methodological approaches for understanding the entangled nature of contemporary mobile worlds. The research team will do this by comparing cases for managing global circulation across three distinct kinds of flows—that is, of people, data, and things. Rather than just following “the flows” of global circulation, the project offers logistics as a means for getting at the hidden pragmatic designs and coordinating agencies that make the regional and transnational patterns of mobility and immobility intelligible in the first place. A focus on logistics demands closer attention not just to what happens when people, goods, or information arrive at their destination but how they get there via distinct yet often overlapping, hidden pathways of mediation.

By investigating the pervasive but often obscured work of logistics in the organization of various global flows in people, things, and data, this project will not only open up the black box of technopolitical knowledge and practices that constitute “logistics” for new comparative research. It will also stimulate new theoretical agendas and methodological innovations by gathering researchers of diverse expertise and regional affiliation for collaborative experiments in and beyond the academic setting. Alongside workshops, study group meetings, and collaborative art exhibitions, the research team will host several experimental “field schools” on logistics across Asia-Pacific, Europe, and the Americas to engage with cases that vary widely in terms of geographic location, scale, and formal research object. The research materials will be shared in various mediums, including an interactive online platform, "A Field Guide to Logistics," for exchanging meso-level research findings and for showcasing diverse audiovisual forms of representation.

IMAGE: Photo illustration by Philana Woo. Photos via Shutterstock.

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