- Rule of Logistics: Walmart and the Architecture of Fullfillment by Jesse LeCavalier
In Rule of Logistics, Jesse LeCavalier brings a sophisticated analysis and a facility with visual tools to help us understand the scale and scope of Walmart as a territorial and organizational system. It is a careful and precise analysis of the speed of capital at the end of the twentieth century. LeCavalier works through the details of Walmart's supply chain and business practices with clarity, organizing and re-evaluating the history of management and logistics in a way that reveals the seemingly invisible while connecting micro-phenomena to structural conditions.
Rule of Logistics joins a number of compelling texts that look to management and organization directly as a realm of knowledge and as substantive to processes of historical change. The book is indebted to Keller Easterling's deft re-assessment of infrastructure, finance capital, and political boundaries (Extrastatecraft, 2015) and to the Aggregate Architectural [End Page 995] History Collective's deployment of Foucault's governmentality as a rubric for placing architecture amidst its socio-political complexities (Governing by Design, 2015). While there is a long history to the importance of management, more recent interest in the more time-focused, deployable, and profit-driven ideas around logistics shift the ground on which such analyses have been made (Benjamin H. Bratton, The Stack, 2015; Michael Osman, Modernism's Visible Hand, 2018).
Walmart is a convenient and compelling spectacle to be dismantled by the text and its images. It is a strangely pleasant journey; narrative turns and analytic illustrations make for a compelling and almost entertaining reading experience. Walmart is an attractive subject for such a wide-reaching analysis, having obvious scope and scale, interest for a range of political affinities, and detailed information about supply chains and resource structures.
LeCavalier's diagrams, drawings, and photographs do more than enliven the narrative; they are evidence of a broad range of research tools being deployed to understand, document, and to some extent critique both supply chains and chains of effect. In a folio at the middle of the book, these images take center stage, including a pair of exploded axonometrics comparing a Walmart warehouse to a data center. These analytic forms are useful in understanding Walmart and its operational effectiveness, and also in appreciating the capacities of design research.
The images also bring to the fore any sort of political project embedded in deepening the understanding of infrastructure. This is a challenge in the scholarship on infrastructure—does the ever-presentness of it complicate its political agency? (Yaneva, Make Architecture Political 2016). How can an all-over system be both described and critiqued, illustrated and interrogated? The images seem to offer a suggestion—of tools, of the depth of research, of affiliations between what is available as evidence and what is considered as a possible future. These analytic images, "technical images" to use Vilem Flusser's term that LeCavalier repeatedly cites, also augur a possible discussion, a different realm for understanding and engaging in infrastructure as politics.
Thus, another complication: the historical nature of the subject. Wal-mart logistics seem a bit old fashioned in the era of Cambridge Analytics, of humans as processors of capital for Facebook ads and fake news, of Amazon's global empire. The Rule of Logistics is more of a history than the book itself seems to realize. Potent yet heterogeneous questions of the effects of Walmart's spatial and logistical innovations—on race and class relations, on the reconfiguration of the American political landscape, of the resilient pathways available at the scale and scope of Walmart's opera-tions—are opened up but also left for later conclusions. Rule of Logistics seems strangely nostalgic for a more straightforward relationship between people and data. [End Page 996]
It is a strong book, well-presented and -described, and Rule of Logistics has already proven itself to be an influential book in terms of its subject and its method. It is a compelling and necessary chronicle of the acceleration and...