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Power through the flow: practices, knowledge, and territories of the logistics industry 
Jeanne Oui (IFRIS - Paris-Dauphine University)
Victor-Manuel Afonso Marques (Université de Bordeaux)
Mathieu Quet (IRD)
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Traditional Open Panel

Short Abstract:

This panel examines how logistics -defined both as an industry and as the sociotechnical conditions that enable the global circulation of human and non-human entities- can be understood as “politics by other means” through a special attention to the material infrastructures that govern global flows.

Long Abstract:

This panel seeks to examine how logistics can be understood as “politics by other means”. STS scholars showed that logistics - understood as an industrial sector, a material infrastructure and a set of knowledge and practices devoted to build, maintain and secure flows of humans and non-humans (people, food, drugs, energy, animals, digital data, etc.) - historically contributed to shape urban/rural divisions (Cronon, 2009), markets (McKenzie, 2021), political regimes (Mitchell, 2011), and capitalist domination (Mezzadra and Neilson, 2019). Nowadays, this industry is facing challenges (traceability, safety, fluidity and digitization) which transform the political entanglements of logistical flows with populations, environment, and markets.

We invite participants to elaborate on these changing entanglements, firstly considering logistics as a chain of multi-scaled and intertwined work: the daily practices of dockers, warehouse and delivery workers, sailors, traders, and supply chain managers aim at building, maintaining, and securing logistical flows. Secondly, the panel emphasizes the role of knowledge and technologies in the governance of flows: containers (Levinson, 2006), megaships, maps, operational research, and algorithms were historically essential to the expansion and massification of global industries post WWII (Cowen, 2014), but also appropriated or strategically targeted by social movements or pirates in order to hijack logistical flows. Finally, the panel will study how transport systems, storage capacities, and hubs reshape geographical spaces and local politics according to global industries’ strategies. Presentations could explore the following topics in relation to various industries and activities (drug, energy, agricultural markets, science production, etc.): the role of new technologies and emerging fields of knowledge in the reorganization of logistical activities, the tension between so-called “immaterial” sectors (finance, digital) and the human and environmental costs of their material logistics, etc. We invite presentations in sociology, history, anthropology, and geography to explore power dynamics conveyed by logistical flows, through empirical case studies.

Accepted papers: