Accepted paper:

The time of operations


Brett Neilson (Western Sydney University)

Paper short abstract:

Operations produce political orders of circulation, expand capital's frontiers, and establish rhythms of contemporary life. The paper draws on research conducted in the Greek port of Piraeus - conceded to Chinese state enterprise - to ask how logistical operations cross relations of space and time.

Paper long abstract:

Do we live in the time of operations? From high frequency trading in finance to slow steaming in container shipping, automation in copper mining to meditation apps that on-sell our data, we are compelled to speed up and slow down at the same time. Distinguishing operations from practice and labor, this paper explores their capacity to produce political orders of circulation, expand capital's extractive frontiers, and establish the rhythms of contemporary life. Operations are both temporalized and temporalizing. They have a beginning and an end but also interact with their environments to generate temporal orders. Grasping how this tension materially constitutes operations means switching between the codes that shape their internal logics and the external force of their effectivity. The metaphor of the black box, prevalent in approaches that understand politics either as performance or event, confines operations to a zone where their deployment is masked by what they accomplish. By contrast, the technical understanding of operations found in software manuals and logistics handbooks fails to recognize the social activities, geophysical properties, and infrastructural conditions that make operations possible. Drawing on research conducted on the COSCO concession in the Greek port of Piraeus - often considered a 'dragon's head' of China's Belt and Road Initiative - I ask how the Korean-made terminal operating system installed in this facility shapes both turnover time and labor time. Software and infrastructure thus meet geopolitics, providing a hinge that allows investigation of how the production of space crosses the time of operations.

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Logistics, time and environment