The purpose of this paper is propose two vastly different approaches to studying the role of commodity chains in the global economy. Both use the commodity chains framework to analyze the possibilities for industrial upgrading. The first proposes to develop an index of industrial upgrading in individual countries, and then use the index as the dependent variable in causal models incorporating various predictors of industrial upgrading. The second, somewhat more adventurous strategy, proposes a commodity chains-based decision approach that would attempt to model the complex interactions between the commodity chain and its regional environment. The first approach is developed considerably more extensively than the second (which is barely developed at all), both because it builds on former work I have done with others (including David Smith, who is part of this workshop), and because it seems reasonably possible to accomplish empirically. The second approach is developed more briefly and speculatively; suggestions would be appreciated.
Giovanni Arrighi, Sociology, Johns Hopkins University
Capitalism is the first and only historical social system that has become truly global in scale and scope. Mapping this transformation over time is a particularly challenging task. I have no disagreement with Christopher Chase Dunn’s and Thomas Hall’s contention that the world capitalist system–like other world-systems–can be described by means of four kinds of social interaction networks, each operating at a different spatial scale: bulk goods networks at the smallest scale, prestige goods and information networks at the largest scale, and political-military networks at an intermediate scale (1997: 52-55). This is a useful and illuminating proposition, and there can be little doubt that a mapping of these networks over time for the world capitalist system would provide compelling evidence of its peculiar expansionary character in comparison with all other world systems.
Jennifer Bair, Sociology, Yale
assesses the achievements and limitations of the commodity chains framework as
it has evolved over the last near-decade, and concludes by suggesting
directions for future research. First, I examine the evolution of the chain
approach by briefly discussing the differences between the two camps that
employ the commodity chain concept: the world-systems school (whose proponents
coined the phrase) and the global commodity chain (GCC) camp that has developed
around the work of Gary Gereffi and colleagues. Second, I highlight the
contributions that the GCC literature has made in the areas of methodology,
theory, and policy. Third, I discuss a recent change in nomenclature that has
occurred within the GCC camp, as some scholars have argued that the more
inclusive language of value chains should replace the more specific concept of
commodity chain. I offer a critical assessment of the value chain approach,
focusing on the concept of industrial upgrading, which figures prominently in
the value chains literature. I conclude that while the upgrading problematic is
particularly relevant and useful for policy discussions, its micro-orientation
focuses our attention too narrowly on the firm or network level, and thus fails
to inform a more sociological and comprehensive analysis of the social
processes and spatial dynamics of uneven development in the global capitalist
economy. In the fourth section, I briefly identify fruitful directions for
commodity chains research that might address some of the weaknesses inherent in
the value chain literature. Future research should expand the scope of analysis
to include the various factors external to the chain, including the regulatory,
institutional, and systemic contexts in which they operate, which affect the
organization of these chains as well as the developmental outcomes associated
While this next generation of commodity chain research should build on the impressive achievements of the first, the value of the GCC approach can be strengthened by paying greater attention to these factors, and how they mediate the implications of participation in commodity chains for firms and workers in the global economy. This will advance our understanding not only of how commodity chain dynamics might be leveraged to advance the goal of firm-level industrial upgrading, but also how these chains, and the political and social relations in which they are embedded, contribute to the process of uneven development characterizing contemporary global capitalism.
Labor and the Global Logistics Revolution (1/2/04)
I am working on a book that focuses on the ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach as a critical node in the global production and distribution system. Each of these ports is the largest container port in the US. Together they are the third largest container port in the world. They serve as a major gateway for the importing of manufactured goods from Asia, especially China. Most of the imported goods are distributed to the rest of the United States intermodally—by a combination of truck and rail.
The book is divided into three sections. Part I examines the logistics revolution, involving a shift from push to pull production, and the development of logistics as a “science” of supply chain management. A concomitant of this revolution has been the increased power of retailers (commercial capital), who now dominate the importing of manufactured goods. This shift in power has implications both for producers/
manufacturers, who are being forced to move offshore in the pressure to lower prices, and for logistics (transportation and warehousing) providers, who have also been forced to rationalize and cut costs. Wal-Mart is a leader in these changes. As the world’s largest corporation in terms of sales, it is also the US’s largest importer, and exercises considerable muscle over processes of production and distribution.
Part II turns to the question of how the freight is moved. I examine the rise of the Southern California ports, as a product of the development of intermodal transportation, so that ships from Asia can discharge cargo on the West Coast, and need not sail to the East, although it is the major center of economic activity in the US. I consider the major steamship lines which transport containers, and the role they play in intermodal freight transportation. I also look at ground transportation, including the port trucking companies, which dray containers to rail heads and warehouses, the railroads, which transport goods to the rest of the country, and TL trucking companies, which increasingly combine with the railroads for national transportation purposes. These transportation industries have all experienced deregulation since the late 1970s, and have undergone major restructuring and consolidation. Finally, I turn to warehousing and distribution centers (DCs) in Southern California, which has become a major center for the transloading of cargo into domestic containers and trailers. The West End of the Inland Empire has developing into a DC powerhouse for many of the US’s largest corporations, including the giant retailers. Some corporations have outsourced their logistics functions to third parties, known as 3PLs, a sector that has grown in recent years. The development of this giant importing complex has created serious problems in terms of congestion and pollution, leading to community rebellions of various kinds.
In Part III we turn to the implications for labor. The logistics revolution has led to a definite decline in logistics costs, in part by increasing efficiency and turn around time. Principles of just-in-time (JIT) are now being applied throughout the system and up to the retailer level. The goal is to have goods constantly in motion. Our question is: how much of the cut in logistics can be accounted for by cutting labor costs, and how much have logistics workers been hurt by these changes? Various groups of workers are considered: seafarers on the container vessels, longshore workers, railroad workers, port truckers, long haul truckers, and warehouse and DC workers. While there is considerable variation among them, with each group facing its own unique circumstances, there has been a tendency to increase the use of contingent workers, and to weaken the transportation unions. The West Coast longshore workers and their union, the ILWU, remain a stark exception, but efforts have been underway for a period to break their hold on a strategic node in the distribution system.
Finally, we end with the political implications of the study. As a critical gateway for Asian production, the ports of LA/LB (and other Western hemisphere container ports) serve as a bottleneck in the system. Given the need for the timely and continual flow of goods, a vulnerability has become evident. This West Coast ten-day lockout of the ILWU in late 2003 demonstrated the weakness, as it was estimated that the country’s businesses lost at least $1 billion a day. This weakness could be used by labor to develop coalitions between Asian production workers and local distribution workers to place demands for change of the current corporate-dominated system of global production and distribution. A question arises: if we were in a position to rewrite the rules of the game, what would we ask for?
Implications for GIS and Network Analysis
The logistics system is a highly networked phenomenon. Let us take a company like Wal-Mart as an example. They employ hundreds, perhaps thousands of suppliers around the world. These companies produce the goods that Wal-Mart sells, often to Wal-Mart’s specifications. Wal-Mart also employs numerous service providers, including transportation and warehousing companies. For example, while they use almost every steamship line, they have a special relationship with Maersk, the largest steamship company in the world which operates Terminal 400 at the Port of LA. They also use the BNSF railroad (as opposed to Union Pacific), and, though they have their own trucking fleet, they have a strong relationship with J.B. Hunt trucking company, and use Schneider. They employ Exel as the 3PL that runs their giant (2.7 million square feet) DC in the Inland Empire. And so on. All of these relationships are contingent. Hardly any involve long-term contracts, so they shift, depending on cost and availability. Any network that one could map would have to be considered as short-term or even momentary. Yet there are undoubtedly some stabler patterns among the shifting sands.
In principle, each container could be tracked, from its origins in Asia to its destination in the U.S. Moreover, if the container is transloaded in the LA basin, as is becoming more common, the goods that are in it could all be tracked. Since every parcel is bar-coded, and since now more companies are instituting RFID (radio frequency identification) under compulsion from Wal-Mart, the entire supply chain is increasingly transparent to the shipper (importer). The shippers are getting to the point where they are able to track everything, and to locate exactly where it is at each moment. Getting access to these kinds of data might well be a GIS expert’s dream come true, although the volume of information is overwhelming. The problem is that the information is all proprietary, and the companies are exceedingly secretive. They don’t want others to know who their Asian contractors are, let alone what they are producing and how it is being moved. Some information is forced out of them by Customs, and increasingly in the name of national security, but there is still plenty of obfuscation. For example, PIERS, the subsidiary of the Journal of Commerce that collects detailed information on Bills of Lading, and analyzes and sells it for exorbitant fees, is notoriously inaccurate at the firm level because the companies hide their identity behind 3PLs or find other ways not to reveal who is the real shipper. Every year the Journal of Commerce puts out a list of the top 100 importers (and exporters) by number of TEUs, and this requires extensive additional research to come up with even ball-park estimates.
Even the mapping of what comes through the ports is made difficult by the fact that the Customs District is not confined to the ports of LA/LB themselves, but includes all the airports in the district as well as a couple of nearby smaller ports. The ports themselves collect data, but it is not clear to me whether it is any better than the PIERS data, and again it is proprietary, so they are generally unwilling to share it.
If someone were to get serious about trying to map and develop a network analysis of even a small portion of these data, I think what would be required would be either a close relationship with Customs so that they would be willing to share the data (though it is hard to imagine that they would provide confidential and proprietary information), or a close relationship with a particular company such that it would allow one to look at its data, or cozying up to a logistics consulting firm that might be willing to share data on one of its clients (again, very unlikely), or spending suitcases of money analyzing PIERS data with the full knowledge that it is flawed, or hacking into some company’s logistics system. Short of this, I think we can get some bigger picture connections, based on piecing together various sources of information. In following Wal-Mart around a bit, I did discover some information about their logistics providers. But this is a broad brush investigation. They are secretive to the point of paranoia, and I have found it impossible to get a direct interview with one of their logistics people.
William K. Carroll, Sociology Department, University of Victoria, firstname.lastname@example.org
Since the 1980s a good part of my research effort has tried to map structures of corporate power, using interlocking directorates as the key indicator. The literature on interlocking directorates is vast, and theoretical interpretations range from organizational models of exchange and resource dependence (Pennings 1980; Pfeffer 1992) through radical elite formulations of C. Wright Mills (1956) and William Domhoff (1998). In my research program I have drawn primarily upon two streams of Marxist theory. One, beginning with Hilferding (1981), situates corporate interlocking within the circuitry of capital accumulation under conditions monopoly capital; the other, beginning with Gramsci (1971), sensitizes us to the importance of corporate networks as vehicles for class hegemony. These formulations enable us to grasp two complementary forms of corporate power, the first residing within the actual practices of surplus value appropriation and capital circulation that fall under the strategic control of corporate directors, the second entailing the formation of business communities whose shared world view underwrites an ongoing bid for hegemony in civil society and the state (Carroll 2004, chapter 1).
Miguel Angel Centeno, Department of Sociology, Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies (PIIRS), Princeton University
Globalization is everywhere. States, economies, and societies are increasingly integrated; flows of goods, capital, humans, and cultural objects now link us in a global web. There is little doubt that we are undergoing a process of compression of international time and space. Globalization is also nowhere. Lacking a coherent empirical or theoretical underpinning, the concept is in danger of becoming an academic “one-hit-wonder” with little to show for the attention[i]. What does globalization mean? Does it represent a revolutionary change in human history? What can we learn from similar historical phenomena and epochs?
Christopher Chase-Dunn, Dan Pasciuti and Alexis Alvarez, Institute for Research on World-Systems, University of California-Riverside, John R. Weeks, Geography, San Diego State University
The problem of sustainable urbanization is crucial for the human encounter with the consequences of our ballooning environmental footprint. Over half of the human population of the Earth now lives in very large cities, and these have spread rapidly over the land as population densities within cities have decreased and cities have spread into huge city-regions. Our research project is developing a methodology for measuring the rates and the nature of the areal expansion of world cities and the patterns of decreasing population density in order to know whether or not urban sprawl is accelerating or slowing down. We are also studying changes in the world city-size distribution over the past three decades. The system of world cities has been flattening as megacities in the non-core countries have caught up in terms of overall population size with the global cities of the core. We are examining this trend closely to see if it has leveled off or accelerated. And we are studying differences among the cities of the core and the non-core with respect to the rates and nature of urban sprawl and the changing structure of the built environment.
Peter J. Hugill, Department of Geography, Texas A&M University
In 1913 the anthropologist Goldenweiser proposed his “principle of limited possibilities,” noting that once a line of cultural development has begun it develops increasingly massive inertia and becomes very hard to reverse. Despite claims by such scholars as Wallerstein and Taylor that a reversal is on the horizon what we have come to call, on the basis of Wallerstein’s pioneering work, the Modern World-System, a form of societal self-organization based initially on capitalist agriculture, now possesses massive, probably irreversible inertia. In the late 1930s the economist Schumpeter, analyzing Marx’s failure to predict the demise of capitalism, suggested that capitalism periodically renewed itself by “the process of creative destruction.” In 1988 the geographer Hägerstrand proposed the idea of de-novation as a logical corollary to the idea of innovation, suggesting that innovation was only possible in the presence of de-novation. I have argued that innovatory technologies, especially in transportation and communication, have driven successive waves of economic and political development for the past several hundred years of the World-System. If we are to successfully analyze, not just describe, the World-System, two core questions that must be answered by historical macro-social science are where, how, and why de-novation and innovation occur and along what pathways and with what success such forces diffuse. Significant elements of these questions are inherently subject to geographic analysis.
Jeffrey Kentor, Department of Sociology, University of Utah, Harvey Miller, Department of Geography, University of Utah
This research examines the changing relationships between economic space and geographic space over the past thirty years as a result of the global dispersion of production and the expansion of transnational corporations, a process commonly referred to as “globalization”. We study a hypothesized de-coupling of economic and geographic space by examining the growth of transnational interlocking corporate directorates from 1970 to 2000, utilizing a new spatial analysis technique referred to as “geographically weighted regression”. This methodology will enable us to quantify the extent to which this separation has occurred as well as its regional differences and the factors that correlate with these differences.
Beverly J. Silver, Sociology, Johns Hopkins University
In Forces of Labor, I put forward a set of theses about the time-space dynamics of world labor unrest from the late-nineteenth century to the present. They can be summed up as follows:
1) The main location of working-class formation and protest has shifted within global industries along with shifts in the geographical location of production (spatial fixes). Major waves of labor unrest are both a significant cause and a significant effect of this process.
2) The main sites of working-class formation and protest has shifted from industry to industry together with the rise/decline of leading sectors of capitalist development (product fixes).
3) Intra-industry spatial shifts (thesis #1) tend to be from core (high wage) to more peripheral (low wage) locations (consonant with the expectations of product cycle theory).
4) Technological fixes (the reorganization of the labor process and the introduction of new technologies) have tended to re-establish the competitive advantage of core locales, leading to a reconsolidation of production in the core, and a concomitant reversal of the core-periphery shift in working-class formation/protest.
5) With each spatial fix (within a product life cycle), new working-class formation and protest takes place in an increasingly competitive environment, making it more difficult to secure the resources needed to establish stable labor-capital accords and bring labor militancy under control. This thesis is consonant with the thesis that sees the semiperiphery (and increasingly the periphery) as a “zone of turbulence”.
6) Variations from the above dynamics are to be expected as a result of contingent (although not random) outcomes of political struggles that shape relations among labor, capital and states (see for example the discussion of the “Japanese anomaly” in Forces of Labor, chapter 2).
The foregoing theses focus on world-economic dynamics; however, the time-space patterning of world labor unrest is also shaped by (and shapes) world-political dynamics. As such:
7) World wars have had a strong effect on the overall pattern of labor unrest: world labor unrest rose on the eve of the world wars, declined during the initial years of the wars, and exploded in their aftermath. This pattern is characteristic not only of the belligerent countries, but also of countries not directly involved in the fighting. The above relationship is less strong in the case of wars that are not world wars.
8) Periods of world hegemonic crisis/breakdown have been periods of relatively high levels of “dysfunctional” social conflict (including dysfunctional labor-capital conflict). Periods of world hegemony have been periods of relatively stable social compacts and low levels of “dysfunctional” social conflict. The “dysfunctional” social conflict that exists tends to be localized outside the core in periods of world hegemony (consonant with thesis #5); it tends to become more spatially widespread in periods of world hegemonic crisis/breakdown.
9) World labor unrest in periods of hegemonic crisis/breakdown has shaped the institutional structures of subsequent hegemonic world orders in significant ways, transforming the social-political terrain on which world labor unrest unfolds.
10) Industrialized warfare in the twentieth century increased labor’s bargaining power. Post-industrial warfare in the early twenty-first century has weakened labor’s bargaining power.
One underlying assumption of the foregoing theses is that the outcome of waves of labor unrest depends in important ways on the nature and extent of workers’ bargaining power. Spatiality, in turn, is an important component of the conceptualization and measurement of the main forms of workers’ bargaining power. Thus: Workplace bargaining power is defined as the power that results from the ability of strategically located workers to disrupt production in an entire workplace, firm, industry, national, regional, and/or global economy (or an entire network of distribution, as can be the case with transport workers). Associational bargaining power is defined as the power that comes from the collective organization of workers, which in turn, is shaped by the location of workers within such non-workplace networks as those of kinship, neighborhood and community.
David Smith, University of California, Irvine
There are formation rules in each complex system in the nature. In this paper, two such rules are applied to analyzing how location of ancient empires is affected by technology and nature factors, such as temperature, precipitation, slope, in the agricultural Age. GIS is used to model the spatial distribution of ancient kingdoms.
David Wilkinson, Department of Political Science, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA 90024-1472
Two topics are presented as questions for technical specialists. 1. The fusion of the several world systems of the past into the solitary contemporary global world-system invites display by means of graphic software, suitable for hydrographic diagramming; does such currently exist, or could it readily be created? 2. The sequences of power structures exhibited by past world systems are not very consistent with most standard expectations; new hypotheses are needed (network analysis might provide some). Do time-series analytical techniques (e.g. Zipfian, Shannonian, volatility) have insights of value to offer?