The Packaging of Efficiency in the Development of the Intermodal Shipping Container

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This paper addresses different forms of spatio-temporal ordering in the stowage and handling of cargo on board cargo vessels, as well as docksides. Whilst the introduction of containerisation profoundly altered the urban geographies of many large port cities, as well as devastating the communities built around maritime labour, the core argument developed in this paper concerns the incremental development of spatio-temporal ordering strategies and practices. In particular, it situates the intermodal shipping container within a trajectory reaching back to earlier forms of unitisation such as crates and pallets. In doing so the paper outlines a genealogy of packaged efficiencies, arguing that the central thread linking maritime cargo handling practices in the twentieth century is the unitisation of shape. However, it concludes that the intermodal container achieved global hegemony through the packaged systemic efficiencies of standardisation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)432-451
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Shipping Container Mobilities
  • Unitisation
  • Packaged Efficiencies
  • standardisation
  • Shape-determining Systems


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