Logistical Worlds: Infrastructure, Software, Labour (2013-2016) moves between Athens, Kolkata and Valparáiso, investigating regimes of circulation and containment that connect China’s manufacturing industries to different corners of the world. This is particularly evident in processes of global production where the assembly of goods across distant sites means that objects and knowledge must continually travel between locations. Logistics has thus contributed to the production of an increasingly heterogeneous arrangement of global space and time. One sign of this is the proliferation of special economic zones, concessions, industrial parks, transport hubs and other dedicated spaces, which have provided a new geography for organizing production, attracting investment and regulating the supply of labour. But logistics is something more than a system for searching out and connecting diverse firms and labour forces on the basis of cost or other parameters. Logistics also actively produces environments and subjectivities, including those of workers and labour forces, through techniques of measure, coordination and optimization. Logistics must be seen as a set of practices that make worlds.
The focus of this research is on how infrastructure and software combine as technologies of governance that coordinate and control logistical operations and labour practices situated in select sites. Recalling the historical Silk Road of trade and cultural transmission that connected Asia to Europe, the geostrategic concept of the New Silk Road has emerged to register the logistical measures already being put in place by commercial entities and policy makers to meet the expected changes as Asia overtakes Europe as the world’s largest trading region. At stake is the forging of new trade corridors that connect East Asia to Latin America and extend across the Indian subcontinent to southern Europe, where China’s state owned shipping company, Cosco, has undertaken a major infrastructural investment in Piraeus.
How to study this China-led globalisation through infrastructural interventions? This question prompts the investigation of logistical operations that fabricate the emerging trade network known as the New Silk Road. Moving between software studies and geocultural analysis of labour regimes, the project tracks algorithmic arrangements of power across the tri-continental sites of Piraeus, Valparaíso and Kolkata. These are spaces of docking and interface, material flow and restriction, in which logistics antagonizes labour. The extraction of time and social life from populations underscores economies of measure. Whether understood through the techniques of supply chain management or the architecture of real-time computation, logistics materializes the abstractions of capital. Subjectivity and labour expose the power and vulnerability of logistical worlds.
The project is part of ARC Discovery project, 'Logistics as Global Governance: Labour, Software and Infrastructure along the New Silk Road' led by Institute for Culture and Society, University of Western Sydney with partner researchers from Greece, India, Chile, Italy, Canada and the UK. Calcutta Research Group collaborated as the partner in India to help develop these concepts:
The part of the project studied by CRG will revolve around the idea of shifts in logistical infrastructure of the Calcutta port in the context of development of new trade routes and implementation of the Look East policy of the Indian government. The specifics of development of a port system in Calcutta and uniqueness of its strategic location (intertwined with the port system at Haldia) will also come under scrutiny. Apart from that, the town of Siliguri, a nerve centre of military logistics, located in the northern part of West Bengal and connecting trade routes with several neighbouring states and countries will also appear in this study in the context of logistical development and generation of various forms of informality and illegality. Study the strategic position of the port of Calcutta, to look into the vision of forming of a port system taking into consideration both Calcutta and Haldia.
The first question relevant for a genealogical analysis was pointed out, namely: What made Calcutta such a major port in the past, despite its being a river port? It was suggested that here we need to explore the key question whether Calcutta being the capital of the British empire helped the port thrive or was it the other way round insofar as the port gave British power, entrenched in Bengal, a huge leverage in empire building? Following that trail the other question that was raised was: Does the old factors that made the Kolkata port such an important entrepot for trade and commerce still hold good -- if not wholly, at least partially? Or else what explains Calcutta port's survival? Is it only it is a public sector undertaking, or has it much to do with Calcutta's geo-strategic and geo-economic location?
The objective would be to underscore the linkages between calculations governed by spatial considerations and speculations insisting on space making exercises so that the material foundations of infrastructure, software and labour come to the surface. What is even more interesting in this context is the fact that KPT is still a public sector enterprise with thousands of permanent staff and millions of dollars in built-in assets – a typical case in many Asian countries. The connections between various forms of calculation about the details of pilotage and drafting, revenue and expenditure of the port system, valuation and depreciation of human and non-human assets, risk assessment and insurance technologies, etc., and modalities of financialization of space by reforms in rent structure and revaluation of land holdings with a strong emphasis on investments in creating special ‘economic’ and ‘aesthetic’ zones as part of the urbanization drives in neoliberal capitalism cannot be addressed if we do not consider the governmental apparatuses that are in operation here.
Similarly there is a need to rethink the geo-imagination of north Bengal at a time when its ideational remit is being expanded by statist defence neurosis as well as everyday practices of mobile peoples. Conjointly, is it possible to think of this reimagined north Bengal as more integrally a part of the northeast, with its border economy and its “travelling actors”, so to speak? At another level, through its rhizomic entanglement of control, crime, communication and capital, Siliguri shows us that a border economy does not remain confined to the border and borderlands but seeps and segues into the so-called mainland to bring about powerful transformations in the economies of the mainland and cities therein. Going a step forward, it may be said that the metro-polarities of Siliguri present before us the idea of what may be paradoxically called a “futuristic archetype” of a border-city. It is archetypical in the Jungian sense of being a mental image— a dream project— that is already-always present in the collective unconscious and yet, insofar as it is a mental image, it is an abstraction that is realizable only at some indeterminate and permanently deferred point in the future. In this sense, Siliguri approximates the untimely; for, as Deleuze tells usand probably fittingly for Siliguri, “there is no present which is not haunted by a past and a future, by a past which is not reducible to a former present, by a future which does not consist of a present to come."
The following points would be addressed in the study: (1) Cost of operation in the port; (2) Locating the shifts in the infrastructural network of the port, and in this context the possibilities and recent programmes of revival of the port; (3) Given that the port is considered as belonging to service sector, possibilities of introduction of fresh business areas and coming of new stakeholders which can make the port more alive; (4) Uniqueness of the geo-political location of the Calcutta port (along with Haldia port) and its hinterland; thus studying the location of Calcutta in the framework of trade routes to northern and north-eastern part of India, and the possibility of road connectivity between Calcutta and Thailand.; (5) specificity of the port in the global network of logistical connectivity, particularly in the East and the North east; and (6) pattern of crime, disaster management and security system.
Research Period and Nature
· The research will take one year and will include one conference and one planning workshop;
· The planning workshop should be held in the second month and the conference may be held around the eighth month of the research period, or at the end of the research;
· The research will be part desk based (library, archives, and news analysis) and part ethnographic involving Kolkata and Siliguri
· Desk based research should take about 8-10 months; the various ethnographic components should take about 5-6 months. In the final three months the desk and the ethnographic work can be combined.
· The work will need one full time analyst cum investigator for one year and three part time investigators for five months (four months of field work and one month for writing the reports);
· Geographers, area studies specialists, sociologists, ethnologists,
gender and indigenous peoples’ rights activists, and communications and
logistics specialists will be part of the planning meeting and the
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