Logistics’ Human Side: “Deep Hanging Out”

Janell Rothenberg may wince when she hears me refer to her as our "trucker anthropologist," but her first slide in yesterday's presentation confirms this rather unique nomenclature:

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Longtime Tangier-based researcher Janell Rothenberg of UCLA, with Fulbright Morocco (MACECE) Executive Director Dr. James Miller as discussant, presented her work to an audience of fellow academics, Legation regulars, and interested citizens on January 23 at TALIM.

Janell Rothenberg completed 18 months of dissertation research during the summers of 2008 and 2009 and March 2011-June 2012. Her doctoral research is supported by the American Institute for Maghrib Studies (AIMS, for which TALIM is the research center in Morocco), the Fulbright-Hays Program, the National Science Foundation and the UCLA Department of Anthropology (Janell's advisor is longtime Maghrib specialist Dr. Susan Slyomovics). Ms. Rothenberg is certified as a Global Logistics Specialist from the Center for International Trade and Transportation in Long Beach, California.

This is how we pitched the event:

Please join us for a presentation by PhD student Janell Rothenberg from University of California, Los Angeles about her past two years of dissertation research on the logistics and transportation industry in the Tangier region. Using qualitative methods from cultural anthropology, Janell examines the perspectives and experiences of the men and women participating in the rapid expansion of this industry and traces the local dimensions of these very global developments in Northern Morocco. Join us as Janell explains her particular methodology to the study of globalization and offers a social and cultural lens on our rapidly changing regional landscape.

Janell Rothenberg has already presented results of her Tangier research, including at the MESA conference of 2009, and at TALIM's own April Seminar of 2011, which was focused on the impact of Tangier's ambitious port development projects on the surrounding populations.

Through discussion of her dissertation – "Moving Things: The Material Mobilities of Transportation Logistics in the Tangier Region" – the audience, which contained a fair number of people at various stages of higher education, was able to gain an insight into research methodologies that normally are the subject of specialized dissertation workshops.  Not only did they get a free look into Janell's modus operandi, and the added benefit of Dr. Miller's long experience, but joined both for a fireside reception afterwards.  The civilized way to deconstruct dissertation research.


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Dr. James Miller and Janell Rothenberg at TALIM 23 January 2013

"Mobilities" – also the title of a scholary journal – provided Rothenberg the cultural anthropologist and Miller the cultural geographer a common interdisciplinary ground.  Humanities and social science, hard and soft, thin and thick research… a number of us could better visualize this qualitative approach in Janell's vivid description of her "deep hanging out" with the human subjects of her study.  The truckers, the dispatchers, the port chandlers, the shipping executives, all the human parts of the system which puts mega-ports like Tangier Med at the crux of globalization.

And Janell's choice of Tangier as the focus of her research puts her in a small group of scholars knowledgeable about one of the world's most promising transportation hubs – Tangier's two modern ports, high-speed train line under construction, and world-class free trade industrial zones.

Ever the avuncular advisor, Jim Miller challenged Janell Rothenberg, with her baseline work in Tangier in 2013, to imagine herself as a senior scholar in, say, 2050.  Would this North African logistics study be an episode in her career, or, he asked, "are you a scholar of Morocco?"  We have heard Jim before expound with great erudition on his concern about ensuring that Janell's generation provide the relief force for the baby boomer generation of American Maghrib specialists.

With her mastery of Moroccan and modern standard Arabic, French, and logistics-speak, and with years of field work in northern Morocco at this critical stage of her career, we think that in Janell Rothenberg, we have a Maghrib scholar of some duration.

Gerald Loftus

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