In the past decade, container ships have more than doubled in size as shipping carriers have sought to capture economies of scale in transportation, fuel and crew costs. In turn, the explosion of mega ships has placed intensified demands on global shipping networks, requiring ports to make perpetual and capital-intensive adaptations to their infrastructure, placing heavy demands on logistics labor, intensifying environmental damage, and generating a global shipping crisis of massive proportions. Yet, ships keep getting bigger as ports struggle to catch up. Interrogating the interface between these two massive infrastructural projects through a case study of the ports of Singapore and Los Angeles, this paper examines the irrational rationalities of obsessions with monstrosity in the logistics industry. Situating the growth of mega-ships and ports within the broader context of the rise of logistics, I argue that the material systems of global supply should be understood not as durable infrastructure — public works that stimulate local economic development — but as durable monstrosities that imprint the colonial violence of global circulation onto the lived spaces of vulnerable urban populations.
Charmaine Chua is assistant professor of politics at Oberlin College, where she teaches courses on international security and global political economy. Her research focuses on the politics of global circulation: how things move, who moves them, and why systems that are supposed to provision life actually distribute inequality and death. Specifically, her current book project is concerned with the rise of logistics, and the economies of carceral and racialized violence that develop as demands to efficiently circulate goods increasingly displace, contain, and exploit poor and working people. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Political Geography, Historical Materialism, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, two Routledge edited volumes, and in the Journal of Narrative Politics.