Focaal Volume 2021: Issue 89: Inside Container Economies
In the theme section of the 89th issue of the Focaal Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology, edited by Johanna Markkula you can find articles by Elisabeth Schober and Johanna Markkula.
"Inside Container Economies"
This introduction proposes an anthropology of global cargo circulation by placing the maritime shipping industry at the center of global capitalism.
With “container economies” the authors refer to the maritime global circulation of cargo that is sustained by an undervalued labor force, dependent upon unstable logistics infrastructures and driven by speculative capital. Container economies, they argue, are produced by adding, moving, and destroying value through the maritime supply chain.
In this introduction, they reflect upon the implications of containerization and its wider consequences for logistics labor. They argue that maritime logistics and labor is best understood by taking into account their wider networks of dependency expressed through kinship relations, ethnicity and coexisting regimes of value.
"Building ships while breaking apart: Container economies and the limits of chaebol capitalism"
With the center of gravity of the maritime industry over recent decades progressively moving eastwards, South Korea is today a giant in both shipping and shipbuilding. Its largely family-controlled industrial enterprises are nowadays increasingly engaged in risky business experiments abroad, which on occasion fail in a spectacular manner.
By following the story of how one family-run economic actor invested unsuccessfully in the Philippines, the author combines an exploration of the political-economic factors involved in this failure with an investigation of how these larger structures are entangled with a complex family story inside a Korean conglomerate. The forced separation between family and business that ensued in this case illuminates changing and competing ideals of “waterborne” capitalism in the twenty-first century.
"Containing mobilities: Changing time and space of maritime labor"
by Johanna Markkula
This article uses ethnography from onboard container ships to show how seafarers as a workforce at the center of global capital circulation are increasingly confined inside their mobile worksites.
Drawing on theories of the transformation of time and space as internal to the logic of globalization and capitalism, the article argues that the increased mobility of goods, as facilitated by developments in maritime logistics, has decreased the mobility of the seafarers in charge of moving these goods across the world.
The article proposes “containing mobilities” as a term for thinking through the particular contradictions and inequalities of mobility that shape the everyday life of the workers at the heart of the global system of mobility and transport that constitutes the maritime supply chain.
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