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Locative Media as Logistical Media: Situating Infrastructure and the Governance of Labor in Supply-Chain Capitalism

The German based company SAP is one of the largest developers of software that drives global economies, offering leading enterprise software solutions – specifically logistics software – that makes possible movements of people, finance and things that coalesce as global trade. In its 2012 Annual Report with the not especially modest title, Helping the World Run Better, SAP declares that “63% of the world’s transaction revenue touches an SAP system.”1 SAP specializes in software development and web-based services associated with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) in the logistics industries among many others, including mining, health, finance, medical, insurance, oil and gas, retail and higher education. This means companies can integrate and automate the majority of their business practices in real-time environments that share common data. So goes the sales pitch.

But how come so little is known about SAP in the fields of media studies, software studies and network cultures? In part the answer to this question can be explained with reference to the objects of study that tend to define these fields, especially those of software studies and network cultures which more often valorize open source initiatives, tactical media interventions and experimental media culture in general. Less clear is the case of media studies. Broad as the field is, one might expect research into the political economy of media industries to pay some attention to the technology and infrastructure that underpins the global exchange of finance and commodities.2 Yet this is not the case. Why such an omission looms so large in critical studies of media culture and industries may also have something to do with the fact that logistical software is an aesthetically unattractive and closed proprietary system, even if the logistical infrastructures special to transport and communication hold a particular aesthetic allure, which occasionally tips over to the sublime.3

The opportunity to begin unraveling the mystery of SAP and its software began to take shape during a recent period of research in Germany during the first half of 2013. Standing around chatting late one evening in the renovated villa accommodating the Medienkulturen der Computersimulation (MECS) program at Leuphana University, Lüneburg, Christoph Engemann offered an intriguing story to my puzzlement over SAP’s supply chain software. He suggested the origins of SAP’s global domination might best be found in the modern rise of double-entry book keeping. I sensed a Kittlerian moment in action and found it somewhat unnerving. How was I to possibly trace the media archive of SAP – one that I barely knew beyond a Wikipedia entry – back to a pre-digital, indeed mediaeval, accounting technology? I was struck by the possibility of an accounting class able to install double entry book-keeping as a worldwide institutional standard with the advent of neoliberal capitalism. Thatcher was presented as the catalyst. But it was the technical capacity of an accounting tool able to filter through corporate and government systems that I found more intriguing.

The rise of the card catalogue as a technology of information management could be placed as another reference to the prehistory of SAP software, which drives the world’s economies yet remains largely neglected by theorists working in software studies and network cultures.4 Nowadays double-entry book-keeping and file cards seem decidedly quaint when set against the vast array of ERP modules available from logistical software developers such as SAP. Though it is worth noting that SAP does not stand alone here – IBM, Microsoft and Oracle are other key players in ERP systems, while companies such as Amazon and, up until 2010, Wal-Mart develop their own in-house versions to manage logistical operations. The enormous scope of SAP in terms of organizational culture, product variation, technical systems, economic impact and the division and multiplication of labor presents numerous challenges in terms of analysis. My interest is to situate SAP within the field of media theory. More ambitiously, I wish to set out a basis for a theory of logistical media.

The larger research of which this chapter forms a part will investigate the material dimensions of software systems operative within global logistics industries. That project identifies how software driven systems generate protocols and standards that shape social, economic and cross-institutional relations within the global logistics industries. Such operations result in the production of new regimes of knowledge and associated modes of “soft control” within organizational paradigms. The emergent “algorithmic architectures” are computational systems of governance that hold a variable relation between the mathematical execution of code and an “external” environment defined through arrangements of data.5 The capacity of algorithmic architectures to organize and analyze data on labor productivity in real-time, for instance, means they operate as key technologies for governing labor within logistical industries. My claim is that this has implications for the scope of research on locative media.

This chapter recasts locative media as logistical media. It is interested in how logistical infrastructure is made soft through ERP systems designed to govern the global movement of people, finance and things. Questions of securitization, control, coordination, algorithmic architectures, protocols and parameters are among those relevant to a theory of logistical media. The chapter brings logistics, software and infrastructure together in order to elaborate the conceptual and empirical qualities of what John Durham Peters elusively terms “logistical media.”6 For Peters, the concept of logistical media “stresses the infrastructural role of media.”7 In addition to storage, transmission and processing systems, I would suggest the study of logistical media might also include attention to the aesthetic qualities peculiar to the banality of spreadsheets, ERP systems and the software applications of locational technologies more broadly. The combinatory force of logistical media has a substantive effect on the composition of labor and production of subjectivity. The flexibility of global supply chains and just-in-time modes of production shape who gets employed, where they work and what sort of work they do. Logistical systems, in other words, govern labor. Logistical labor emerges at the interface between infrastructure, software protocols and design, and labor situated across global supply chains. The chapter therefore requires an analysis of how labor is organized and governed through software interfaces and media technologies that manage what anthropologist Anna Tsing identifies as “supply chain capitalism.”8

Locating Logistical Media
Locative media are media of logistics. Logistical media consist of various locational devices such as Voice Picking technology, GPS tracking and RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags. The spatial and temporal properties of these information and communication technologies have shaping affects on the production of subjectivity. Their primary function is to optimize the productivity of living labor and supply chain operations. Logistical media, as both technologies and software, are very much about locational devices and algorithms that coordinate and control the movement of people, finance and things. Yet at the conceptual and empirical levels, research on locative media has next to nothing to say about logistical media and supply chain operations whose spatial-temporal operations are frequently enough overseen by locative media – GPS, RFID, voice picking technology, ERP systems, social media software, etc.

The deployment of these technologies across logistical supply chains produces what Anja Kanngieser calls “microtechnologies of surveillance” designed “to track and trace workers by constantly tying them to territorial and temporal location[s].”9 From the embedding of RFID microchips under the skin of employees to the automated instructions on picking lists for workers in warehouses and distribution centers, the use of locational devices within logistical industries results in the extraction and relay of data that holds high commercial value.10 While geodata may be used in positive ways in the case of managing delivery fleets aimed at fuel efficiency and “ecorouting,” locative media also generate data that affects how workers are monitored in workplace settings. Along with privacy issues that arise with the tracking of consignments in transport industries via GPS and cell phones that make visible in real-time the location of workers, there is also concern by unions over how the software parameters of Voice Picking technologies and the generation of data by RFID can also result in the profiling and categorization of workers along lines of race and class that may have deleterious effects on employment conditions and prospects in industries that are frequently characterized by insecure modes of work.

Logistical media are also very different from location-based media characterized by the capacity of users to “control and personalize” the borders between public and private spaces.11 The agency afforded to users of locative media is much less clear in the case of logistical media, which as an instrumentalization of location-aware mobile technologies are designed to exert control over the mobility of labor, data and commodities as they traverse urban, rural, atmospheric and oceanic spaces and traffic through the circuits of databases, mobile devices and algorithmic architectures. A further distinction between locative and logistical media is marked by the tendency of users of locative media to search urban spaces for services related to consumption, while logistical media provide the very conditions for urban settings to function in such a way.

Before moving on to a discussion of logistical media theory as it relates to SAP, some overview of the rise of logistical regimes is required. To date the study of logistics has largely been undertaken by researchers working in the fields of business and management studies,12 military history13 and economic geography.14 With military origins, logistics emerged during the Napoleonic wars (1803-1815) as a forecasting technology in the art of warfare, complementing the limits of strategy and tactics.15 Earlier, in the 17th and 18th centuries, logistical oversight of supply lines enabled military planners to overcome practices of pillage and plunder, which kept troops constantly on the move, always in search of food, water and animal fodder. Logistical operations transformed this nomadic condition, allowing battle to become entrenched around the infrastructure of fortified towns and more sedentary as provisions, troops and munitions were transported to the frontlines of conflict.16 From its outset, then, “logistical rationality” approached the management of labor through systems of command and control. However, this chapter’s point of departure is not focused on the military-industrial complex so much as the interface between infrastructure, software protocols and design, and labor situated across global supply chains (shipping, rail and road transport, procurement, warehousing, IT R&D).

Modern logistics turns around the battle of standards that accompanied containerization in the maritime industries. The standardization of shipping containers from the 1950s was accompanied by disputes between engineers, corporations and governments over competing economic and geopolitical interests in the transport industries.17 As geographer Deborah Cowen notes, “Containerization radically reduced the time required to load and unload ships, reducing port labor costs and enabling tremendous savings for manufactures who could reduce inventories to a bare minimum.”18 By the 1970s a global standard in containerization had been established, around the same time economic globalization came into full swing following the end of the Bretton Woods Accord in 1971 and the oil crisis of 1973.19 Sociologists Edna Bonacich and Jake Wilson date what they call the “logistics revolution” from the 1970s, with a particular emphasis on the Reagan and Thatcher eras of market and institutional deregulation along with neoliberal international free trade agreements.20 They characterize this organizational revolution in terms of the rise of retailer power over producers and manufacturers in conjunction with changes in production (flexibility and outsourcing), logistics (“intermodalisation” and freight distribution), and labor (intensification of contingency, weakening of unions, racialisation of labor, lower labor standards).21

Once the logistical problem of container standardization had been resolved, logistical operations shifted attention to the problem of data standards. While present in a rudimentary form in the 1960s with earlier incarnations in World War II, the computerization of transport industries did not take off until the 1980s following the standardization of shipping containers and the advent of just-in-time production.22 Aided by software applications and database technologies, logistics aims to maximize efficiencies at all levels. In other words, the labor control regime is programmed into the logistics chain at the level of code. Similarly, the governance of labor is informatized in such a way that the border between undertaking a task and reporting its completion has become closed or indistinct. As such, there is no longer a temporal delay between the execution of duties and their statistical measure.

In terms of labor management, the optimum state of governance arises at the moment in which the execution of a task, or Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), is registered in the real-time computation of Key Performance Indicators (or KPIs). As Katie Hepworth writes, “KPIs and the real-time measurement of labour implies a constant acceleration described in terms of improved productivity.”23 Yet logistics is not bound to the pursuit of speed. The temporal horizon of maritime industries, for example, may just as often require a slowing down of movement, or even periods of stasis.24 The capacity to calibrate time according to multiple and frequently conflicting economic interests constitutes a form of “transactional impedance [that] relates to the power-geometries within supply chains.”25 As Hepworth explains, “It describes how diverse stakeholders and individuals are placed in quite distinct relations to commodity flows and the interconnections between global sites, as well as the ways in which these relations are manipulated for the benefit of particular actors within those networks.” Logistical software, ERP systems and technologies of location play a central role in the mediation of such economies of transaction and data extraction.

“We help the world run better and improve people’s lives.” (SAP)
SAP’s ERP and logistics software generally remain a black box to most. Even those who use the software have little idea of how it works. For this reason SAP’s supply chain software can be considered a form of imaginary media.26 You choose what you want to put into that space, because if you don’t, then others certainly will. On this note, we might ask how much – or to what extent – does imagination shape protocols? One recent tech report went so far as to say SAP “poisons networks.” And then continued with this little gem: “SAP’s expensive business software, which no one knows what it does, and is so esoteric that no one ever bothers to upgrade it, could be a ticking security bomb.”27 So what is supply chain software and what does it do? Why don’t we have it installed on our PCs and laptops? Why are we so utterly unaware of it?

The digital humanities and software studies may have something to contribute by way of response to these sort of questions. But both would need to radically shift their focus away from a general mission to digitize the humanities archive and conduct exotic sorties into the fringes of network cultures. These are important enough activities, but they tell us little about how Big Power works. First of all we need to enter the imaginary world of SAP. We need to pose critical questions based not on our disciplinary predilections and intellectual whimsies, but rather on the object of inquiry – computational power, interface aesthetics (what many these days call “usability,” which is so dreary), algorithmic architectures and the politics of parameters. What is required is a truly transdisciplinary collective investigation into the increasingly mysterious centers of power in the age of big data. This would involve work between media theorists, organizational studies, computer scientists, programmers and designers to open up the black box of SAP and the products of similar software developers, identifying how their algorithmic architectures are constructed, what their business models are and how they use data extracted from the back end of mostly unwitting clients. What is the vision of SAP beyond the PR machine? According to one SAP consultant, it is 1 billion SAP users by the year 2020. What do Hasso Plattner & Co. see as the limit horizon for extracting value from the world? We need to know that, because whether we are aware of it or not, our lives are becoming increasingly subsumed by logistical nightmares.

SAP is renowned for its real-time ERP software, beginning with the R/1 financial accounting system, which was developed in the early 1970s. This was soon followed in the late seventies by the text based R/2 software – “a mainframe based business application suite” able to handle multi-currencies and multi-language requirements. Making use of relational databases such as Oracle (SAP’s main competitor), R/3 was launched in 1992 with a graphical user interface based on three tier client-server architecture able to scale and integrate multiple operating systems.28 In November 2010 the SAP HANA product was released. This was SAP’s response to the challenge of big data. As the product spiel on SAP’s site reads: “SAP HANA can help you dramatically accelerate analytics, business processes, predictive analysis, and sentiment data processing – all on a single in-memory computing platform.”29 More recently SAP are dealing with the computational (security) and market challenge of cloud computing, with ventures into the world of educational courseware such as MOOCs (massive open online courses).

One of the keys to SAP’s success has been the development of modules within the ERP systems that can handle multiple aspects of business operations. Some of these modules include human resource management, finance and accounting, sales and distribution, production planning, warehousing, procurement, supply chain management and logistics. SAP’s money is made through a combination of license fees, consultation, customized implementation of ERP packages and ongoing maintenance of modules within the operational context of its clients. The cost for companies is enormous, reaching into the hundreds of millions for large corporations and in the tens of millions for SMEs. The exact cost for companies varies considerably, with pricing made highly flexible and negotiable depending on the extent of customization required and the geographic and national location of the organization wishing to adopt SAP’s ERP system. Ten years ago SAP education and training was another profitable line of revenue, but since the global financial crisis hotels have been empty for SAP education sessions.30

Through its widespread application in a variety of industries with around 29 million users worldwide, SAP software shapes not only business practice but profoundly affects people and the planet. Along with providing the dominant interface for managing our global economies engaged in planetary obliteration, SAP scrutinizes the experience and conditions of labor in the fairly unforgiving regime of real-time performance measures. It would seem obvious, then, for SAP software to constitute an important object of inquiry not only for business and management or computing, but equally for social, political and cultural analysis. My interest in this chapter, however, is a bit more specific: what does SAP have to contribute to a theory of logistical media?

A theory of logistical media might begin with a critical analysis of software, focusing specifically on how SAP logistics software is designed in ways that govern both labor and global supply chains. Beyond the need for some quite sophisticated programming knowledge, a key obstacle to such an undertaking concerns the prohibitive pricing of SAP software (which runs into the millions to install and maintain), its corporate secrecy and the commercial value of the data it collects. Despite these very real constraints for software critique, one notable intervention into SAP’s prison house of code occurred in 1996 in Dortmund, Germany when anarchist programmers affiliated with LabourNet – a network of labor unions – cracked SAP software.31 The motivation, according to LabourNet’s Helmut Weiss, was to identify specific lines of code within SAP software that would affect workplace activity in detrimental ways.32 Algorithmic parameters became the basis for union negotiations.

Yet despite this quite exceptional feat of code-breaking, Weiss notes that “Not a single union accepted our proposal (as the media-workers union)” to develop this further as a topic of political research.33 Weiss went on to explain two key reasons for this disinterest on the part of unions in addressing the technical parameters of labor control that impact upon their constituencies: “First the traditional approach of German unionism towards technology – always in favor of new technologies, despite not knowing anything about them. (A position widely shared even by the left wing unionists).” Second: “They all (at that time it was, practically speaking, mainly the metalworkers union IG Metall and public services union ÖTV who had to deal with SAP) were afraid of “illegal action” so they distanced themselves from our initiative.” Even though the media-workers union had a collective agreement in 1990 on “life long learning,” where one of the goals was “to enable a critical analysis of all tools we use while working,” the everyday practice according to Weiss never matched up with such a principle, especially as employer associations went on the attack in the early nineties. Over two decades have passed since this earlier attempt to bring a political knowledge of code to address labor conditions for those working in supply chain capitalism. A media theory of logistics, including an account of how infrastructure is made soft, provides one index for reconstituting a political knowledge of what might be termed logistics in the age of algorithmic capitalism.

Soft Infrastructure
The primary task of the global logistics industry is to manage the movement of people and things in the interests of global trade and the optimization of efficiency. Logistics infrastructure manifests as roads, railways, shipping ports, intermodal terminals, airports, and communications facilities and technologies. Logistics infrastructure enables the movement of labor, commodities and data across global supply chains. Increasingly, logistics infrastructure is managed through computational systems of code and software. As such, algorithms play a vital role in arranging the material properties and organizational capacities of infrastructure. Algorithms thus register a form of infrastructural power.

One consequence of such computational power can be seen in the way logistical infrastructure not only manifests in particular locations and material forms, but has the capacity to scale across geographic registers, technological systems and social, political, economic and cultural settings. Scale is calibrated according to real-time systems of measure and performance special to just-in-time regimes of labor productivity and commodity assemblages. Software management systems that oversee transport and communications infrastructure may be located in remote settings at considerable distance from the metropolitan scene of activity, registering a shift from Saskia Sassen’s concept of the “global city” of finance centers to one predicated on peripheral operations of the “logistical city.”34 It is in this sense that infrastructure takes on a quality of “liquid modernity,” making possible organization at a distance.35 Algorithmic architectures are thus central to logistical operations and indeed global service-based markets and value-adding systems.

The software applications special to logistics visualize and organize these mobilities, producing knowledge about a world undergoing massive transition into a digital era. Software driven systems generate protocols and standards that shape social, economic and cross-institutional relations within the global logistics industries. Such operations result in the production of new regimes of knowledge within an organizational paradigm. The logistical industries that drive supply chain capitalism consist of different infrastructural aspects of the expanding sector of logistics: transport, communications, warehousing, procurement and ports. Such infrastructure is frequently coded and managed by computational systems. Rob Kitchin and Martin Dodge analyze contemporary urban settings as forms of “code/space” in which “software and the spatiality of everyday life become mutually constituted.”36 The digital coding of space – or the making soft of infrastructure – has impacts upon how labor is managed and how subjectivities are produced when the time of life and action of bodies is increasingly overseen and regulated by computational systems of control and regulation.

Soft infrastructure may be understood in four key ways. First, as algorithmic architectures (software platforms and code) operating transport and communications infrastructure that connect global supply chains to the managerial science of logistics. Second, as communications and transport infrastructure that materializes algorithmic agency (or the shaping power of code and software) and serves as a central “problem” for R&D and policy making in the logistics industries. Third, in terms of formal and informal labor sectors that adopt different and often conflicting algorithmic architectures operating within supply chain capitalism. And fourth, as models of governance or “protocological control” (Galloway) that draw on “big data” to organize and manage the mobility of people, finance and things within infrastructural systems on local and transnational scales.

Once combined, these features of soft infrastructure provide the basis for developing a theory of logistical media. A theory of logistical media derived from a study of SAP might be organized around the following headings: securitization, coordination, control, simulation, models, algorithmic architectures, the Internet of Things, protocols, standards and parameters. While there is no question that logistical systems can facilitate greater workplace productivity and improve supply chain management, it is also the case that the seamless interoperability sought by policy makers and technologists is often disrupted by labor struggles, software glitches, bottlenecks in transport and computer network traffic, infrastructural breakdowns, inventory blow-outs, sabotage of supply chains and the like.

Logistical Media Theory
The history of materialist approaches to the study of communication is one obvious point of departure for a media theory of logistical systems of communication, coordination and control.37 A focus on the material properties special to transport and communications infrastructure can be analytically complemented with attention to how the algorithmic architectures of communication and transport infrastructure impact upon the experience and conditions of labor operating within those industries. Drawing on the work of medium theorists such as Innis, McLuhan and Ong, communication historian and cultural critic James Carey noted that the advent of telegraphy in the nineteenth century “freed communication from the constraints of geography.”38 This meant that concepts and practices of communication could be understood beyond the dominant “transmission view” of communication in which the mobility of people, goods and information involved equivalent operations (using railway networks, for example). For Carey, symbolic and ritualistic views of communication were able to develop.

But as a number of media and communication scholars working in the tradition of Carey and medium theorists have recently observed, the history of mobile technologies demonstrates an ongoing linkage with transportation technologies.39 As Mimi Sheller explains, “the advent of mobile communication technologies and software-supported transportation networks also fundamentally changes how communication is thought about, but in this case by re-embedding it into transportation infrastructures and spaces of transit, which are also spaces of transmission.”40 Lisa Parks notes that the term infrastructure emphasizes the materiality and distribution of communication.41 It also reminds us of the territoriality and geography of communication and transport, of questions of power, and the challenge to devise new techniques and modes of visualizing these inter-relations.42

Software studies, as it has emerged from the study of network cultures and critical studies of digital media, is another key field for developing a theory of logistical media. Although much more attuned to the work of critique and an often high technical knowledge of digital media, there is a tendency in software studies to focus on open source software and investigate questions of materiality in terms of design and “cultural analytics,” “protocological control,” “media ecologies,” “memory and storage,” and “media archaeology.”43 Combining empirical study with concept development constitutes an intervention within the emergent field of software studies by shifting the analytical gaze from open source software cultures and “cultural analytics” to the vapor-ware meets hard edge of consultancy culture and global infrastructures.44 In doing so, the closed, proprietary systems of software that manage global supply chains have a substantive impact on modes and practices of work.

The scalar dimension of software, for example, is dependent on the interoperability of protocols and the hegemony of standards. As David Dixon, the SAP program manager for the UK supermarket chain Asda (a subsidiary of Wal-Mart) notes, “The main rationale [behind the SAP rollout] was to have a “one version of the truth” approach, to standardize and gain a degree of control around the world.”45 Put another way, the market penetration of software is without doubt shaped by its capacity to communicate with a wide range of software applications and hardware devices. Of course this is only part of the story; nevertheless, interoperability is key to the political economy of software. Once universalized across the vertical distribution of organizations, from large corporations to SMEs, an ERP such as SAP has the power to determine who you do business with by the fact that transactions are simply easier when your trading partner is on the same platform. In other words, a monopoly effect arises from the trans-scalar integration of SAPs across organizational settings. This may seem to be overstating the fact of interoperability between competing ERP systems, but from what I’ve been told by various people working in the world of SAP the tendency is for companies to give preference to other businesses also on the SAP system. Indeed, companies are encouraged by SAP to spread the good word of SAP. I have no idea what sort of commission or negotiated adoption fees companies might attract for such advocacy work.

Enabling the communication of objects, the Internet of Things (IoT) have also become central media components to the logistical industries.46 Consisting of RFID tags, sensors, 3D printing, mobile devices, and software or robotic actuators, the IoT and expansion of communication standards offers a network effect to the silo models of Machine to Machine communication (M2M). New regimes of value and the scalability of data are key attractions the IoT brings to logistical operations, though for a company like SAP the communication of objects would not be likely to occur over a public Internet, but rather through private networks in the interests of data securitization and economies of scarcity. For advocates of a public IoT, this makes the battle over open source standards a central issue. Without them, the capacity for trans-scalar and multi-platform interoperability would be severely circumscribed. As Fenwick McKelvey, Matthew Tiessen and Luke Simcoe note:

The growing mediation of everyday life by the Internet and social media, coupled with Big Data mining and predictive analytics, is turning the Internet into a simulation machine. The collective activity of humanity provides the data that informs the decision making processes of algorithmic systems such as high-frequency trading and aggregated news services that, in turn, are owned by those who wield global power and control: banks, corporations, governments.47

At stake here is the question of accessibility to communications infrastructure, or what Sheller terms “new forms of infrastructural exclusivity,”48 once logistical firms such as SAP become the drivers of developing the Internet of Things. We might also ask what sort of simulation machine do we wish to inhabit?

In further developing a logistical media theory, I would suggest three key dimensions of the materiality of communication might serve as framing devices for ongoing research. First, the materiality of concrete things (the infrastructure of ports, IT zones, rail and road transportation, container yards, warehouses). Second, the materiality of communication itself (the spatial, temporal and aesthetic properties of digital communication technologies and software). And third, the materiality of practices that condition the possibility of communication (the labor of coding and design in developing algorithmic architectures coupled with labor experiences and conditions across sectors within the logistics industries).49

Logistical media theory understood within these analytical and material coordinates also holds relevance for research into both the conceptualization and analysis of practices special to locative media. Whether it is RFID tags, GPS devices or Voice Picking technologies, these ubiquitous media of location associated with the Internet of Things assume – like logistics – a world of seamless interoperability. But we know this to be a fantasy of technologists, policy makers and advertizing agencies. Struggles around communication protocols, infrastructural standards, mobile populations and expressions of refusal by labor comprise just some of the glitches that always accompany the operation of locative media as logistical media.

* Chapter for Gerard Goggin and Rowan Wilken, eds., Locative Media (New York: Routledge, forthcoming 2014).


  1. SAP, Helping the World Run Better, 2012 Annual Report, 4.
  2. An exception to these tendencies can be found in the adjacent field of science and technology studies (STS). See Neil Pollock and Robin Williams, Software and Organisations: The Biography of the Enterprise-Wide System or How SAP Conquered the World (Oxon and New York: Routledge, 2009). This book only came to my attention after writing this chapter.
  3. See the photographs and documentary films of Edward Burtynsky, for example: Manufactured Landscapes (Ottawa and New Haven: National Gallery of Canada and Yale University Press, 2003) and China: The Photographs of Edward Burtynsky (London: Steidl, 2005). See also Soenke Zehle, “Dispatches from the Depletion Zone: Edward Burtynsky and the Documentary Sublime,” Media International Australia 127 (May, 2008): 109–115.
  4. See Markus Krajewski, Paper Machines: About Cards & Catalogues, 1548-1929, trans. Peter Krapp (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011).
  5. See Luciana Parisi, “Algorithmic Architecture,” in Carolin Wiedemann and Soenke Zehle, eds., Depletion Design: A Glossary of Network Ecologies, Amsterdam: XMLab and the Institute for Network Cultures, 7–10. See also Parisi’s Contagious Architecture: Computation, Aesthetics and Space (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013).
  6. John Durham Peters with Jeremy Packer, “Becoming Mollusk: A Conversation with John Durham Peters about Media, Materiality and Matters of History,” in Jeremy Packer and Stephen B. Crofts Wiley, eds., Communication Matters: Materialist Approaches to Media, Mobility and Networks (New York: Routledge, 2012), 35–50. See also John Durham Peters, “Calendar, Clock, Tower,” in Jeremy Stolow, ed., Deus in Machina: Religion, Technology and the Things in Between (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013), 25–42.
  7. Ibid., 43.
  8. Anna Tsing, “Supply Chains and the Human Condition,” Rethinking Marxism 2 (2009): 148-176.
  9. Anja Kanngieser, “Tracking and Tracing: Geographies of Logistical Governance and Labouring Bodies,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 34, no. 4 (2013): 598. The remainder of my account of RFID, GPS and Voice Picking technologies in this paragraph draws on research in Kanngieser’s article.
  10. The question of authorship and ownership of data produced through the use of locative media is one raised in an article written around the period that saw the first wave of critical research on locational-aware technologies. See Anne Galloway and Matt Ward, “Locative Media as Socialising and Spatializing Practice: Learning from
    Archaeology,” Leonardo Electronic Almanac 14, nos. 3-4 (2006),
  11. Adriana de Souza e Silva and Jordan Frith, “Location-aware Technologies: Control and Privacy in Hybrid Spaces,” in Packer and Wiley, Communication Matters, 266.
  12. See Martin Christopher, Logistics and Supply Chain Management, 4th edition (Harlow: Pearson, 2011) and Donald Waters, ed., Global Logistics: New Directions in Supply Chain Management (London: Kogan Page, 2010).
  13. Martin van Creveld, Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977) and Paul Virilio, War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception (London: Verso, 1989).
  14. Deborah Cowen, “A Geography of Logistics: Market Authority and the Security of Supply Chains,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 100 (2010): 600–620 and Craig Martin, “Desperate Mobilities: Logistics, Security and the Extra-Logistical Knowledge of ‘Appropriation’,” Geopolitics 17, no. 2 (2012): 355–376.
  15. See Carl von Clausewitz, On War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007). See also Brett Neilson, “Five Theses on Understanding Logistics as Power,” Distinktion: Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory 13, no. 3 (2012): 323–340.
  16. See Manuel DeLanda, War in the Age of Intelligent Machines (New York: Zone Books, 1991).
  17. See Marc Levinson, The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006).
  18. Cowen, “A Geography of Logistics,” 612.
  19. See David Harvey, The New Imperialism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).
  20. Edna Bonacich and Jake B. Wilson, Getting the Goods: Ports, Labor and the Logistics Revolution (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008).
  21. Ibid., 6–22.
  22. See Brian Holmes, “Do Containers Dream of Electric People: The Social Form of Just-in-Time Production,” Open 21 (2011): 30–44. See also Brian Ashton, “Logistics and the Factory without Walls,” Mute Magazine, 14 September, 2006,
  23. Katie Hepworth, “Interventions Towards the Logistical City,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space (forthcoming).
  24. See Brett Neilson and Ned Rossiter, “Waiting, Still Moving: On Migration, Logistics and Maritime Industries,” in David Bissell and Gillian Fuller, eds., Stillness in a Mobile World (London and New York: Routledge, 2011), 51–68.
  25. Hepworth, “Interventions Towards the Logistical City.”
  26. See Erik Kluitenberg, ed., Book of Imaginary Media: Excavating the Dream of the Ultimate Communication Medium (Rotterdam: NAi, 2006).
  27. Nick Farrell, “Ancient SAP software Poisons Networks,” TechEye, 18 June 2013,
  28. Technical details taken from the “SAP R/3” entry on Wikipedia, with additional reference to the SAP Community Network thread on R/2 and R/3,
  30. Details on these SAP operations have been gleaned from discussions in Germany in 2013 with professionals working in SAP securitization, market analysis and global project management. In order to obtain some insight into the corporate practices of SAP and its software interface for supply chain coordination, organizational culture, data economies and event processing, further discussions about the SAP Human Capital Management (HCM) Module where held with SAP consultant Michael Hellmich followed by an introduction to the SAP Supply Chain Management (SCM) Modules by Anselm Roth, a Solution Architect at SAP Germany. These formed part of an international workshop on SAP, software and Labour I organized with Götz Bachmann, Armin Beverungen and Timon Beyes at Leuphana University’s Centre for Digital Cultures: “Logistics of Soft Control: SAP, Labour, Organization,” Lüneburg, 20–21 June 2013.
  32. Many thanks to Helmut Weiss for his discussions during the Leuphana workshop on SAP, and for this account in particular of union research in IT within Germany.
  33. Helmut Weiss, email communication, 9 July 2013.
  34. Saskia Sassen, The Global City (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991). For a discussion of the concept and condition of the logistical city, see Ned Rossiter, “Logistical Worlds,” Cultural Studies Review (forthcoming 2014). See also Brett Neilson and Ned Rossiter, “The Logistical City,” Transit Labour: Circuits, Regions, Borders 3 (August 2011): 2–5.
  35. Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity (Cambridge: Polity, 2000).
  36. Rob Kitchin and Martin Dodge, Code/Space: Software and Everyday Life (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012).
  37. See Harold A. Innis, The Bias of Communication (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1951); Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1934); Manuel Castells, The Rise of the Network Society (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996); Manuel Castells, Communication Power (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009); Friedrich A. Kittler, “There is no Software,” in Literature, Media, Information Systems (Amsterdam: G+B Arts International, 1997), 147–155; Friedrich A. Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, trans. G. Withrop Young and M. Wutz (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999); Lisa Parks, Cultures in Orbit: Satellites and the Televisual (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005); John Durham Peters, “Calendar, Clock, Tower,” in Jeremy Stolow, ed., Deus in Machina: Religion and Technology in Historical Perspective (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012), 25–42.
  38. James Carey, “Technology and Ideology: The Case of the Telegraph,” in Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society (Boston: Unwin and Hyman, 1989), 204. Cited in Mimi Sheller, “Materializing US-Caribbean Borders: Airports as Technologies of Communication, Coordination and Control,” in Packer and Wiley, Communication Matters, 233.
  39. See Packer and Wiley, Communication Matters; David Morley, “For a Materialist, Non-Media-centric Media Studies,” Television & New Media 10, no. 1 (2009): 114–116; Gerard Goggin, Global Mobile Media (Oxon: Routledge, 2011); Larissa Hjorth, Mobile Media in the Asia-Pacific: Gender and The Art of Being Mobile (Oxon: Routledge, 2009); Mark Andrejevic, “Media and Mobility,” in John Nerone, ed., Media History and the Foundations of Media Studies, The International Encyclopedia of Media Studies, Vol. 1 (Cambridge and Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), 521-535.
  40. Sheller, “Materializing US-Caribbean Borders,” 233.
  41. Lisa Parks, “Infrastructural Changeovers: The US Digital TV Transition and Media Futures,” in Kelly Gates, ed., Media Studies Futures, The International Encyclopedia of Media Studies, Vol. 5 (Cambridge and Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), 296–317.
  42. Ibid.
  43. See, respectively, Lev Manovich, Software Takes Command (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013); Alexander R. Galloway, Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004); Matthew Fuller, Media Ecologies: Materialist Energies in Art and Technoculture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005); Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Programmed Visions: Software and Memory (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011); Erkki Huhtamo and Jussi Parikka, eds., Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications and Implications (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011).
  44. See Lev Manovich, “Cultural Analytics: Visualizing Cultural Patterns in the Era of ‘More Media’,” 2011, and Keller Easterling, Enduring Innocence: Global Architecture and its Political Masquerades (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005).
  45. Quoted in Anh Nguyen, “Walmart pushes ahead with SAP rollout after Asda pilot success,” Computer World UK: The Voice of IT Management, 23 August 2010.
  46. For an overview of IoT, see Rob van Kranenburg, The Internet of Things: A Critique of Ambient Technology and the All-Seeing Network of RFID, Network Notebooks no. 2 (Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2008).
  47. Fenwick McKelvey, Matthew Tiessen and Luke Simcoe, “We are what we Tweet: The Problem with a Big Data World when Everything You Say is Data,” Culture Digitally: Examining Contemporary Cultural Production, 3 June 2013.
  48. Sheller, “Materializing US-Caribbean Borders,” 238.
  49. The first two of these categories are adapted from Packer and Wiley, “Introduction: The Materiality of Communication,” in Communication Matters, 3. The third dimension to the materiality of communication is one that I see as both a precondition for and coincident with the former two.

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