Counter-cartographies of the global supply chain

Counter-cartographies of the global supply chain: An insurgent mapping workshop

Supply chains justify their increasing reach into our daily lives by claiming that they provide us with critical necessities when we most need them. But do they? What are the unseen forms of violence, dispossession and exploitation that are concealed in the objects we buy with a simple click of the check-out button? Is there ethical consumption under capitalism? Does an ethical purchase at one site travel through multiple other sites of violence? How have logistical systems grown, developed, and shaped our spaces? Who funds them? Whose lives are considered expendable in their construction? This workshop will map the global supply chain through tracing the passage of everyday commodities from their point of production to your doorstep. In doing so, we will examine the infrastructure and ‘externalized costs’—human, economic, social and environmental—of the international flow of things. We will explore the potential for our own insurgent mapping projects, seeking to understand how supply chains are resilient yet vulnerable and fragile—and to identify where working-class solidarity has the greatest possibility to spread up and down the chain, across sectors, borders–and even oceans.

Charmaine Chua is a member of the Empire Logistics collective and Assistant Professor of Politics at Oberlin College. Her work examines the rise of logistics and containerized shipping in the context of the transPacific supply chain, and seeks to uncover how supply chains that claim to provision life actually distribute inequality, containment, and ‘vulnerability to premature death’.

Laurel Mei-Singh
serves as a Postdoctoral Research Associate in American Studies at Princeton University. Her research interests include land and militarization, the relationship of race and indigeneity to histories of war, and the Pacific. She is writing a book on military fences and grassroots struggles for land and livelihood in Hawai’i.

Tickets are sliding scale: no one turned away for inability to pay.

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Day 3, Session 4—Logistics, Capitalist Circulation, Chokepoints with Charmaine Chua

Since the 1970s, capital’s encounters with the crisis of profitability has led it to seek out new strategies of accumulation, notably, in shifting its focus from sites of production to the conduits of circulation. No longer able to generate substantial profit from the mechanized and labor-saving technologies of factory manufacturing, firms began to experiment with increasing the speed and efficiency through which commodities could circulate across the globe. Thus the rise of business logistics: the management of complex networks that coordinate the stocking, distribution, and transportation of services and commodities in international space. In the process, logistics has led to a profound reorganization of the global working class, fragmenting sites of production far from their sites of consumption, and stretching the industrial working class far across the globe. Yet, in anti-capitalist and anti-colonial struggle across the deindustrialized North, activists and organizers have repeatedly found ways to interrupt these intensifying circuits of distribution, responding to the rapid spatial expansion of logistics with their own strategic seizures of the chokepoints of capital flow. Chokepoints – the concentration of the circulation of commodities at certain key sites along the supply chain – might thus present the possibility for resistance to be waged not only symbolically but also materially, by literally grounding capitalist circulation to a halt. Can we understand the highway takeover, the port blockade, and the storefront die-in as connected instances of disruption, revealing an arena of struggle that capital’s turn to accumulation through logistical circulation has made available? What do they teach us about the possibilities of disrupting capital’s circuits as a whole? In short, why occupy chokepoints, and why now?

Charmaine Chua is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the University of Minnesota and visiting instructor at Macalester College. She works on the rise of logistics capitalism in the context of labor along the U.S.-China supply chain, and is part of the Empire Logistics collective.

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