Shipping containers redux

Regular readers will know of my interest in shipping containers. It pre-dated Marc Levinson’s excellent The Box.In fact it must date back a long way – one of my favourite TV series when young was The Onedin Line.

Recently I’ve been following these Postcards from a Supply Chain, and also read Rose George’s Deep Sea and Foreign Going (which I reviewed here). The latest in this genre is┬áThe Container Principle: How a Box Changes the Way We Think by Alexander Klose.

The Container Principle: How a Box Changes the Way We Think (Infrastructures)

A collection of essays, this touches on the history of the industry and the economics of transportation and trade. But it is more concerned with the wider question of the cultural impact of containerisation. “Containers play as decisive a role in the organization of people, programs, and information as they do in that of goods,” writes Klose. “They not only physically appear in every imaginable place in the city (such as subway stops and airports) and in rural areas, they also appear in such cultural domains as architecture and urban planning, psychology, philosophy, pedagogy, business administration, communications and information, film, television, theatre and art.”

And cliches. Thinking outside the box, anyone?

There are chapters that riff on various aspects of containers, of which my favourite was the one about logistics, which is largely historical. Klose argues that modernity has a logistical logical structure, making the shipping container its “most successful material object to date…. Containerization is a prevailing cultural technology of the 20th and early 21st century.” I think I buy that argument. The book has lots of fantastic illustrations. It suffers a little from critical/media studies-speak but only a little, and more than makes up for it by bringing a different lens to this very familiar object.

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2 thoughts on “Shipping containers redux

  1. Pingback: Shipping containers redux | Homines Economici

  2. In the history of shipping there was the time when firstly compound steam arrived and then oil fired turbines. What is intriguing is why then it took so long for the introduction of big boxes to carry the freight. One is that railway companies failed to do so another is the problems in the ports with the organisation of labour and investment needed. There were two world wars in which rail and sea logistics were critical yet still it did not happen. In hindsight containers are obvious but why so long? Is it economic, cultural or political and industrial inertia?

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