Global Production Networks “from Below”: Geographies of Labor in Logistics
thesisposted on 2017-02-17, 00:00 authored by Beth Gutelius
Among scholars and in trade literature, there’s a tendency to reify supply chain logistics as a teleological, constant-flow circulatory system. Technology, innovation, robotics, and integration are words that embolden the “operational fantasies” (Rossiter, 2014) of supply chains coordinated by rational actors who adhere to well-trod conventions of efficiency and transaction costs. The messy reality of logistics on the ground, though, tells a different story, full of lurching attempts to resolve problems of competition, risk, and labor. If cracks in the veneer of idealized logistics appear on the shop floor, it demands attention to the perspective of front-line workers in global supply chains. The nexus of supply chain structure and the conditions shaping local labor markets is the focus of this research, animated by the desire to understand the ways in which causal forces come together to shape outcomes for workers. I draw from critical work on global supply chains and analyses of local labor markets to examine the production of work and workers in the warehousing and distribution sector in the Chicago region, in an approach I call global production networks “from below.” I examine how conditions of possibility for logistics are constructed from below, revealing the "welds" that hold together “a diverse and often contradictory set of practices [that] produce something that has the appearance of being a natural and unified entity” (Block, 2002). By investigating the social and spatial constitution of processes of development, this research aims to reveal the vulnerabilities and disrupt the normative effect of the narrative of aspirational logistics.