Into the black box: Labour and the unknown in logistical life

We invite you to join the research workshop "Into the black box: Labour and the unknown in logistical life", taking place 8.-9.9.2022.

The COVID-19 pandemic is the time most of us realized that global logistical chains are what make our lives flow as they usually do. We would simply not be what we are – more or less healthy, productive, or even just kept alive in dangerous emergencies – without toilet paper, sugar, ffp2 masks and antibiotics being steadily produced and delivered to shops and services all around us, or right to our homes. The fact that we became aware of how essential these capitalist infrastructures are only in a time of global impasse speaks to one of the main characteristics of global supply chains: how little we know about them. In fact, as Miriam Posner (2021) writes, even where large amounts of data are supposedly collected, “global supply chains work as efficiently as they do only because of strategic gaps in our knowledge about them”.

Logistics means the managing of the complex operations of moving goods and people around the globe. Logistical systems have become the drivers of globalization and are embedded in processes of accumulation, forming the invisible basis for capitalist expansion. Deborah Cowen (2014) argues that logistical chains have emerged as new form of territoriality, which cuts across the nation-states space. It is these ‘vital systems’ (Collier and Lakoff 2014) which become the object of protection, rather than the local lives and environments sustaining such spaces. Yet often companies claim (truthfully, as Posner (2021) would argue) that they know next to little about the actual conditions along their supply chains. In this regard, as Posner (2021) writes, the image of the “chain” is deeply misleading: supply “chains” are rather entangled processes where production is sustained through frictions (Tsing, 2005; see also Lisle, 2021).

In this workshop, we want to look “into the black box” of ignorance in and about logistical life. We move from the belief that lack of knowledge and shifting regimes of visibility do things – they produce spaces, position bodies, efface violence, erase histories and responsibilities. Importantly, we also reflect on ignorance and invisibility as sites of possibility – Pandora boxes of tactics and germinal unpredictability.



Thursday 8 th September, room U4078 – University of Helsinki Main Building

13.00 Welcome, Elisa Pascucci & Lotta Haikkola

13.15–14.15 Keynote lecture: Into the Box Ship: social worlds and material entanglements Associate Professor Johanna Markkula (onsite, streaming available via Zoom)

14.15–14.45 Logistics of migrant labour: to-the-point migration and new demographic knowledge production, Karin Krikfors

14.45–15.00 Break

15.00–15.30 Warehousing asylum seekers: The logistification of reception, Lorenzo Vianelli

15.30–16.00 The invisible labour of sustaining life in disasters: beyond the rise of humanitarian logistics, Elisa Pascucci

16.00– Closing discussion

18.30 Seminar Dinner, Bronda restaurant (Eteläesplanadi 20)


Friday 9 th September, room U3040, University of Helsinki Main Building

12.30-13.30 Lunch, Olivia restaurant (Aleksanterinkatu 9, at Kluuvi shopping center)

13.45-14.15 Technologies of antirelationality and the logistical life of living labour, Olivia Maury

14.15–14.45 TBA Mikko Perkiö & Arseniy Svynarenko

14.45–15.15 Keeping the rhythm. Warehouse workers managing friction in the supply chains, Lotta Haikkola

15.15-15.30 Break

15.30–16.30 Keynote lecture: Workers and Robots in the Warehouse, Associate Professor Alessandro Delfanti (via Zoom)

16.30–16.45 Closing discussion


Keynote speakers

Associate Professor Johanna Markkula, Central European University

Johanna Markkula works at the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Central European University as Assistant Professor. Johanna’s research is an anthropological study of global mobile labor in the context of the maritime industry, and of the sea as a social, political and legal space that is at the very foundation of global capitalism. Her work critically explores the transformation of labor, technology and infrastructure in shipping, such as shifts in shipbuilding, logistical technologies, mobility regulations and maritime labor politics. Johanna is presently working on a monograph, Moving Worlds: Maritime Work and Life on the Social Ocean.


Associate Professor Alessandro Delfanti

Alessandro Delfanti works at the University Toronto. He researches digital capitalism, including the evolving relation between technology and labour, digital countercultures, and the production of scientific knowledge. He is the author of The Warehouse. Workers and Robots at Amazon (Pluto Press 2021).


Please register if you want to attend the workshop:

The keynote lectures will be streamed. You can access the UPDATED LINK here: