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Faculty of Biology, Chemistry & Earth Sciences

Chair of Economic Geography – Prof. Dr. Stefan Ouma

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Political ecology of global supply and commodity chains

Team: Julian Stenmanns, Stefan Ouma

Runtime/Funding: laufend

What are the ecological consequences of global logistics and the "hardware" they require (ships, containers, infrastructure)? And why can global chains of goods be thought of as a spatial redimensioning of human-environment relationships?

Recent sociological diagnoses of the world ecology of capitalism and practices of externalization all problematize the access of the Global North to the social and ecological resources of the Global South as well as the spatial and organizational outsourcing of negative effects to other societies. In this project, we take this diagnosis as the starting point and show that such externalization processes are not only based on systemic and habitual prerequisites, but also on infrastructures of modern logistics. It is precisely these "dark sides" of global logistic operations that are often neglected in the relevant literature on transport geography, global goods chains, value chains and production networks.

Logistics networks are now central, but largely unquestioned and invisible components of globalized production-consumption relationships. Only when these networks or the infrastructure on which they are based collapse does »criticality and meaning« become visible and sometimes become the subject of social debate. Using the example of the Ever Given standing athwart in the Suez Canal, reference was made above all to the economic risks of mega-ships: A single ship blocked around twelve percent of global maritime freight traffic. In addition to this, however, we should also deal with the social and ecological consequences of such logistics infrastructures and global goods traffic.

This freight transport not only transports the goods that give it its name. From a functional point of view, it is also an instrument for the geographical transfer of value, (work) risks and "environmental bads". This makes logistics not only a central transfer hinge in the political

economy of world trade, but also a constitutive element of the world ecology of externalization.

We also research global product chains as a spatial redimensioning of human-environment relationships. The metabolism underlying the production and reproduction of societies reaches planetary proportions via global commodity chains. This is not a new process per se, but is unprecedented in intensity and scale. However, due to the social, geographic and politico-ecological complexity of commodity chains and the distances between the places of production and consumption, the ecological consequences of globalized production have so far often been invisible to consumers or are simply ignored.

Selected publications:

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