Producing Delivery: Gender, Labor Control, and the (re)Construction of retail markets

Authors: Kyle Loewen*,
Topics: Economic Geography, Political Geography
Keywords: Logistics, Gender, Labor
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Astor Ballroom III, Astor, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Point, click, and two days later it is at your doorstep. In the last fifteen years e-commerce has exploded from selling relatively specialized commodities like books to everyday necessities like groceries, toilet paper, and dogfood. But what political and economic conditions underlie this growth? What labor practices do they rely on? What are the political implications of this development? In this paper I begin to address these questions by framing the growth of e-commerce within the retail sector’s potential crises of value realization resulting from slow market growth. As a response to these looming crises, I argue that e-commerce is commoditizing delivery and re-organizing the social reproductive labor of shopping. This means that online shopping sells the delivery of a good as much as the good delivered. To make profit from this commoditization, retailers have had to restructure their warehousing and delivery work. I draw on nine months of fieldwork in central New Jersey to demonstrates that this restructuring depends on a feminization of warehouse labor based in degrading those performing this work and utilizing hyper-taylorist modes of repressive labor control. In contrast, delivery work has remained largely masculinized and controls labor much more through the generation of consent rather than repression. I conclude by arguing that a gendered production of flexible labor is constitutive to retail market (re)construction and that this is significant because it creates avenues for labor to make political claims on markets themselves in addition to the profits of retailers.

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