Displacement without redistribution: Practicality and reproduction in the digitalization of logistics

Jess Bier*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

This article analyzes how capitalism is being reproduced through the digitalization of logistics. I examine two cases where efforts are made to digitalize container shipping workflows: a set of global standards for shipping data and a new “sustainable” platform for streamlining the movement of ships through port. In both cases, conceptions and practices of practicality shape digital infrastructures in ways that help maintain the uneven distribution of technology, goods, and capacities in times of otherwise drastic change. Shipping industry publicity tends to emphasize the newness of objects like self-driving cars, but much of the work of digitalizing occurs through the extensive, and comparatively invisible, data infrastructures that are being developed to digitalize processes for displacing goods. Through an analysis of how new digital infrastructures are being implemented, I argue that the narrow range of what is made to be practical under capitalism is reproduced through the ways in which shipping is being digitized. I seek to understand one key aspect of practicality in particular: efforts to maintain the displacement of certain forms of politics from logistics. Such efforts reproduce logistics as a technocratic science while marking, for example, labor and antiracist politics as outside the bounds of consideration. Logistical agents are thus shaping digitalization into a process that is implemented only insofar as it reproduces existing injustice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)781-788
Number of pages8
JournalAnnals of the American Association of Geographers
Volume112
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 22 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author is grateful to Kendra Strauss and two anonymous reviewers for their detailed and very helpful comments. She would also like to thank her family, especially Jayne and its newest member.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s). Published with license by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.

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