Logistics

Authored by: Debora E. Cowen

The Routledge Handbook of Mobilities

Print publication date:  December  2013
Online publication date:  January  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415667715
eBook ISBN: 9781315857572
Adobe ISBN: 9781317934134

10.4324/9781315857572.ch17

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Abstract

‘Logistics’ is a word that casually enters the popular lexicon, yet few are familiar with its professional meanings or the pivotal role it has played in reorganizing the practice of warfare and global social and economic life. At its core, logistics is the seemingly banal management of the movement of stuff. Little more can be said about the field without engaging its shifting meaning and practice. Above all else, it is a series of astounding transformations that characterizes the life of logistics. Profound change has been underway in logistics’ infrastructures, technologies, landscapes, forms of labour, and expertise, but also and perhaps most importantly, in the very meaning of the term. Only a century ago, ‘logistics’ identified a military art that concerned the movement of supplies to the battlefront. Logisticians were a lowly lot who stocked specialized shelves, fuelling ‘men and machines’ for battle (Van Creveld 2004). Logistics remained firmly in the shadows of the prized art of strategy. Since that time, logistics has grown far more important for battle – it has become the driving force for strategy and tactics (Jomini 1836; DeLanda 1991). Yet, over the past four decades, logistics has made an even more stunning transformation – it has reconfigured the corporate boardroom (Allen 1997; Cowen 2010). It is now at the centre of corporate practice, both underpinning and managing the global organization of trade (Bonacich and Wilson 2008; Reifer 2004). In the early years of the twenty-first century, logistics was associated with corporate giants like Amazon and Wal-Mart and had become the profession governing the circulation of stuff across production, consumption and destruction. Logistics has taken on a whole new civilian life without shedding its military identity and authority. This chapter outlines the shifting life of logistics. It tracks transformations in the field: its long role in warfare, its rising importance in post-WWII business management, its globalized and standardized geographies, and its material and political technologies. Amidst all this change, the discussion highlights the persistence of imperial imaginaries and logics that are often hidden in plain view, as it also traces the increasing ubiquity of logistics in complex systems management beyond militaries and corporations. The discussion that follows centres explicitly on the United States, prompted by the practical need to locate the analysis of a globalized system in place, and because of the pivotal role that the US military and corporations have played in the transformation of the field, within the broad skein of US imperial power.

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