Infrastructure is matter that moves matter (Larkin). At once mundane and monumental, infrastructure enables capital’s expansion. Infrastructure is more than groundwork. Infrastructure cuts across corridors, fibres and code with imperial force. Yet infrastructure is vulnerable. Striking against infrastructure requires not just sabotage but constitutive acts of organization. Infrastructure permeates technical and algorithmic divisions to become both concrete and soft. Infrastructure is not boring. Infrastructure aestheticizes rationality.
Labour is not simply work. Labour is the name of subjectivity under the domination of state and capital. Labour lives and is animated by energy, unrest and movement. Labour inheres in bodily and cognitive relations. Labour is subject to processes of abstraction that seek to reduce it to temporal measure. The tension between abstract and living labour is constitutive of political struggle. This tension crosses bodies and souls. It also shapes global space. Logistical labour emerges at the interface between infrastructure, software protocols and design. Labour time is real-time.
Logistics is a programmer’s game. Logistical methods of organization apply to production and patterns of mobility. The global logistics industries are key to understanding emerging configurations of the social as well as their implied technologies and labour regimes. The primary task of logistics is to manage the movement of people and things in the interests of communication, transport and economic efficiencies. Central to logistics is the question and scope of governance, both of labouring subjects and the treatment of objects or things. Logistics arranges objects in space and time according to the demands of capital. Logistics puts anything, anywhere at anytime. Logistics is magic (Lyster).
Standards are everywhere. Standards assume politics. Standards assume decision. More precisely, standards assume a political economy through which power is asserted. Their capacity to interlock with one another and adapt to change over time and circumstance are key to their power as non-state agents of governance. Standards underpin capital accumulation and political hegemony from the micro level of algorithmic apparatuses to the macro level of global infrastructures. Standards are crucial to the interoperability of protocols across software platforms and infrastructural components. The labour of creating standards never ends. Standards conflict as much as they match. The best thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from (Tanenbaum).
Protocols govern systems. Their technics and rules of organization shape the extraction and divorce of value from those engaged in logistical modes of production. The capacity for standards to hold traction depends on protocological control. But there are also standards for protocols. Protocols are the immaterial groundwork of material infrastructures. Protocols enable soft forms of power. Protocols are the invisible servants to logistical operations that mobilize people, finance and things. By reducing the world to rules, we ruin our imagination to overthrow regimes – technological, social, economic, political. Protocols demand conformity. Protocols give no truck to contingency.
Parametric rules govern time, space and the mobility of people, finance and things. Parameters set limits that define and delimit ranges of activity and action. Logistics organizes labour as an abstraction within parameters governed by software. In computer science a parameter is a function, command or ‘formal argument’ that establishes the reference for an ‘actual argument’, which then executes the command of the parameter. A change in parameters alters the operation of a program, model or simulation. Logistical operations are specific to the values that define the functions of parameters. Yet such operations are accompanied and perhaps preconditioned by the possibility of breaking and remaking rules. Therein lies the politics of parameters.
Algorithms arrange infrastructural power. Algorithms play a vital role in calculating the material properties and organizational capacities of infrastructure. Algorithms build computational systems of governance that hold a variable relation between the mathematical execution of code and external environments defined through arrangements of data. Algorithms instruct things to do things to things. Algorithms create patterns. Condensing code and sociality, algorithms generate movement through data processing, scraping and forecasting. Algorithms drive financial markets, operate transport and communications infrastructure, connect global supply chains and allocate resources. Algorithms evaluate labour productivity and capital gains in real-time. Algorithms displace experts and transform worlds.
Chains supply. Chains connect. Chains bind. Chains link multiple units into single linear systems. Chains produce value. Chains join enterprises through relations of subcontracting and outsourcing. Chains proliferate difference within structures of economic power. Chains balance robustness against agility. Chains stimulate standardization. Chains grow gaps between rich and poor. Chains generate varied forms of hierarchy and exclusion. Chains connect diverse firms and labour forces (Tsing). Chains mobilize the political fantasy of hitting at the weakest link. Workers of the world have nothing to lose but their chains.
Zones are territories for organizing logistical operations. With historical precedents in free ports, pirate enclaves and colonial concessions, zones have multiplied their presence in the contemporary global landscape. Zones are instruments of market rationality subject to irrational proliferation. Zones generate undeclared forms of polity (Easterling). Authoritarian capitalism conjures zones as spaces where anything can happen, liberal democracy presents them as hideaways for its constitutive coercions. Neither sites of transition nor development, zones are spaces where dispossession meets exploitation. Zones are not fields for your ethnography. Keep out and don’t ask questions!
Corridors connect zones. Corridors bundle infrastructure along axes to narrow space and accelerate time. Corridors establish channels or pipelines of movement that intensify logistical organization and its accompanying tensions and conflicts. Stable regulations, well-developed communications, efficient transport systems and uniform software implementations are the basic requirements for establishing corridors. Yet corridors cross borders and negotiate variegated conditions of capitalism. Corridors string governance across gaps of knowledge and topography. Power vacates the office. Decisions are made in the corridor.
All optimization is partial. Optimization modifies design to improve efficiency and performance. Optimization is the art and science of the tweak. Optimization drives labour hard. Optimization is clean. Optimization marshals mathematics to the ends of capital. Optimization generates externalities of time and dirt (Douglas). Linear or quadratic, unconstrained or bound, optimization embraces variables but shuns deviation. Optimization transcends heuristics. Optimization divides the world into levels or orders, selecting or finding possibilities within hierarchies. Optimization is not utopian. Optimization settles for the sufficiently good.
Contingency is the nightmare of logistics. Contingency is more than unpredictability or randomness. Contingency registers the force of material practices and events that disrupt logistical operations. Labour strikes, software glitches, inventory blowouts, traffic gridlocks – all interrupt the desire for a smooth world that animates logistical interventions and fantasies. Contingency produces variation and movement that prompt the invention of standards and protocols. Contingency demands ‘fault tolerance’ to make logistical worlds seamless. Once a normative state has been achieved, disruption and renewal can happen again. Contingency makes logistics.