Logistics and crisis: The supply chain system in the Po valley region

A geographical perspective

Now we try to climb down a geographical scale aiming to show – by way of a snap-shot – the concrete implementation points of some global flows of commodities and people. In other words, by rehearsing a cartographic rhapsody of the logistical supply chain in northern Italy, we will talk about logistics as a political apparatus of production with its own spatial dimensions. And furthermore, we assume logistics as a privileged observatory point to understand new geographies into a perspective that aims to work from linear to processual geographies.

So, we see the Po valley as a specific place of political spatialization that contains forms of territorialization and de-territorialization[3]. Our aim is to use the category of “region” appraising its constitutive ambivalence: a spatial unity infra and over the national borders. This fact helps us to give to the category of territory/region a measure of conceptual autonomy form the nation-state. This is very important: the spaces and scales of contemporary economic activity cannot be immediately correlated with official political boundaries.

Moreover we propose to do a sort of game to revise Henry Lefebvre’s concept of “space”: «[social] space as a [social] product that contains power relations» (Lefebvre, 1974). Into this perspective, the exercise is to see at Po valley through the lens of Po, the main Italian river. So we try to look Po valley not as a soil or a ground floor but rather as a sea, a liquid or at least a moving territory. By using this metaphor we can imagine an unstable and fluctuating map, and territory emerges as a contested spaces or, as David Harvey said, a «space as embodied of social power».

Why we decided to talk about this geographical and social region? For three main reasons:

  • the first one refers to his economic importance and its strategic position for Italian (about 80% of the Italian commodities flows circulate into this region) and European economy;
  • the second, and this is our hypothesis, is because of the new spaces that logistics is generating in the Po valley. This region gives an emblematic example in which logistics is generating new types of bordered spaces that cut-across traditional inter-state borders;
  • the last reason is the crisis that is investing and running into this region, as we can see through the lens of the struggles: in fact during last years there have been an increasing number of them in logistics sector.

Starting from these hypothesis, it is not an haphazardness to sustain that logistics plays a role as a vector that charts the redefinition of “traditional” political forms (State, cities, administrative regions and so forth).

Logistics works as a biopolitical technology: it has a central role in managing the movement of labor and commodities in “post-Fordist” labor regimes of flexibility and transnational relation. What does this concretely means? It means that the geographies of urbanization, which have long been understood in the Po valley with reference to densely concentrated populations and an older framing of city-scapes, now is shaping new territories into a widespread metropolis, conforming to the structure of capitalistic organization. Neil Brenner affirms that «urbanization has expanded on even larger regional scale, creating giant urban galaxies». Here logistics plays as a biopolitical technology[4] that is shaping new territories: from the old framing of city-scapes to a new and increasingly large scale morphologies that «perforate, cross-cut, and ultimately explode the erstwhile urban/rural divide» (Brenner, 2013). This is a territory that de-borders territoriality. A territory developed through networks and assemblages, not only with the tools and rationality of capital accumulation, but also through the processes of strikes, struggles, conflicts.

Starting and shifting to this perspective, we can see a double, overlapped and juxtapose maps. These maps are not clearly disconnected, they are a sort of poles that determine and establish a field of tensions. This shows a deep ambivalence: logistics today as a key not only for processes of capital accumulation as well as for the possibility of struggle. On one side, logistics seen as the art and science of building networked relations in ways that promote transport, communication and economic efficiencies. Stemming from military practices, it organizes capital in technical ways that aim to make efficient every step of its “turnover time”. The supply chain capitalism “dream” is to build up and create a smooth and straight up space, like a sea without wind and waves. It constantly tries to realize his dream by using its centrality in managing the movements of labor and commodities that connect the transnational level with the local; thus it transforms  the territory by breaking the traditional political borders.

On the other side, this widespread metropolitan spaces are hybrid and hybridated, they are devices that organizes the stratification of different temporalities and are organized through it[5]. Po valley widespread metropolitan space is built by the contradictory aggregation of places managed by, using foucaultian terms, difference and not reducible temporalities and forms of subjection and subjectivation. It is even setting up a space defined by various strength’s vectors of different weight, adjusted in diverse directions. Where logistics works as a political technology with its flexible adaptability, at the same time logistics struggles are playing a role as a wind force that is striating the Po valley space and in counterlight it is creating new maps. They are exceeding Po Valley. The experimentation of overturning the dense network of lines of production connecting hubs and warehouses in the Po valley is principally done by warehouses docks that seems like kinds of contemporary harbors. So we can see a non-linear geography arranged principally of road transport hubs and warehouses  conceived as contemporary harbors. These are some of the main strategic places that constitute the focus of this research. This contemporary harbor are the places where the organizational and conflictual experiences in the logistics supply chain has found their form of territorialization.

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