Since the 1970s, with the implementation of new communication- and transportation technologies, such as container shipping and logistics, a dramatic structural change has occurred in the transportation sector and the overall way we deliver, produce and consume goods. Global production and supply networks have emerged, connecting producers and retailers all around the globe via train-ship-truck chains, and establishing a physical global market that made national boarders seemingly more and more irrelevant and seemingly less and less governable by the state. In fact, under neoliberal state strategies of the 1970s, the U.S. initiated a variety of deregulatory- and privatizing- policies that introduced heavy competition into the transportation sector, both domestically and internationally, and, in combination with the technological innovations, enabled shippers and carriers to completely restructure the transportation sector around a highly competitive marked-based form of organization. As many globalists argue, the U.S. state seemingly withdrew from the transportations sector. However, while global trade flows have created an enormous increase in wealth, they are also a major contributor to wage decreases and job insecurity, bringing prosperity to those at the top and widening inequities. They are prime examples of the challenges the nation state faces in governing and regulating globalization processes.
For my research project I will analyze the role of the state in the transportation sector more closely. How did the role of the state possibly change during or in reaction to the transformations in transportation in the 1970s? Did it diminish, as globalists and neoliberals claim, or do we have to reassess its tasks and functions within a neoliberal mode of regulation? By looking at the state’s role in transportation and global supply chains I will emphasize the transformation of the state’s role within the neoliberal mode of regulation and the interdependence of state and private actors to counter simple market-state dichotomies of a declining state and instead underline the reciprocity between state, society and market developments. Additionally, I want to provide a perspective on the changes in transportation, as political historical processes and answer the question, of how to examine historical and social change within the globalization discourse without falling victim to simple, depoliticized explanations of technological determinisms.