In the land of logistics

Analyzing the generalized process of logistics, Mathieu Quet shows that the circulation of people and goods is at the heart of our societies. But has logistics also taken over language and life??

If the word htrodox finds its full meaning in certain academic works, this is the case of the work of Mathieu Quet. The sociologist, known for his work on the pharmaceutical industry, gives us an original contribution, one of the virtues of which is to produce a critical analysis of the logistics fact.

Logistics that rule the world for decades, he says, placing flows and circulation at the heart of globalized markets and, more broadly, of societies immersed in the march of neo-liberalism. It is true that the covid crisis has brought logistical issues to the forefront, whether it concerns supplies of protective masks, rail and air transfers of patients between overloaded hospitals, or truck drivers who have braved the risk of contamination. by continuing to deliver to stores, drives and homes.

Mathieu Quet is not unaware of this reality, but his analysis goes much further to affirm, in seven chapters, how necessary it is to go beyond the simple vision of the transport of goods and people. On the contrary, we must think about circulation and flows by adopting a wide angle (one might say in photography), a choice assumed by the author to present a broad panorama of facts and accentuate unsuspected perspectives.

Mathieu Quet attacks managerialism head-on, but by asking good questions, by pointing out where it hurts: our dependence on logistical performance is proven and, by boomerang effect, the slightest grain of sand in logistics chains threatens to shut down economic systems. and social, as the pandemic has demonstrated.

Big angle

Mathieu Quet offers a description of the emergence of a flow world, providing the main historical elements linked to the birth of the logistics approach. We will appreciate the author's culture on the subject, with argued references on the military foundations, nourished by operational research, the project SCOOP being emblematic of the links maintained between military imperatives and logistics (the project SCOOP played a central role in the airlift organized during the Berlin blockade in 1948-1949). Even if Mathieu Quet does not emphasize the drive engineering which will result for decades, the reader senses that we find here the predominance of optimizing thinking, eliminating any behavioral vision.

In chapter 3, the author places traffic management at the center of his thinking. At first, little surprise: since the work of Jacques Colin (strangely absent from the work), a broad consensus has been established to present logistics as a technology for controlling logistics. traffic physics of the flow of materials and goods. But, looking more closely, we quickly pass a wide angle, in reference to movements in all their diversity, goods certainly, but also individuals (workers like Homeless), which reflect mobility that must be managed as best as possible according to movement optimization objectives, leading to accelerate the speed of travel and intensify control and regulation operations which relate to circulation (p. 71). Drawing on multiple examples, Mathieu Quet highlights a process of logistics of the worldtaking the title of a work coordinated by Nathalie Fabbe-Costes and Aurlien Rouquet.

The wide angle continues in chapter 5, when the logistics crisis is dealt with, based on failures in the deployment of flows, or even situations of generalized seizure (p. 108), whether it concerns the movements of products or individuals. Mathieu Quet highlights the roots of evil: the no-liberal order. There is something rotten in the logistics kingdom, he could say, and no doubt he would be partly right. The globalization of markets and their avatar, the global value chains, have opened the way for new spatially dispersed productive architectures which only exist through perfect control of circulation. The mechanism comes to a halt, and the time has come for shortages, restrictions and delays in supply. Who would doubt it since 2021?

Who kisses too much, badly hugged

Carried away by his enthusiasm, Mathieu Quet nevertheless enters, in a harangue It's all logistics (p. 47), territories that challenge. Let's move on to human logistics, relating to migration management, which easily convinces us; after all, the model hub-and-spokes does it not find a privileged application in the air transport of passengers, even if its origin remains linked to the delivery of parcels?? Let us move on to the logistics of life, when the movement of elephants from one natural park to another is mentioned (p. 55), a movement whose flow dimension is patent.

On the other hand, semiotic logistics, mobilizing the idea of ​​symbolic circulations, notably in reference to Flix Guattari and his exploitation of processes of smiosis (elaboration and processing of meaning), can plunge the reader into an abyss of perplexity. No doubt it will be necessary to delve further into such logistization of the sign to gain support, the same remark can be addressed to emotional logistics, with a disconcerting approach to energetic flows which concern the affects (p. 62).

Likewise, the author leaves us somewhat perplexed when he invokes the ts-ts fly to strengthen his thesis (logistical thinking governs the world). It is in chapter 7 that the fly is mentioned as a vehicle for serious diseases, the most famous of which is trypanosomiasis or sleeping sickness. Taking up the work of Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga, Mathieu Quet notes that the spread of the trypanosome by the ts-ts fly can be assimilated a work and processing site, a job working in the travel activity (p. 143). Is the reader convinced, through this singular case, that logistical thinking really governs the world??

A critique of managerialism

Ending his investigation with a plea for a alter-logisticsin particular the formalization ofalter-mobilities (allusion to alter-globalization approaches), Mathieu Quet becomes persuasive again when he announces a desire for decolonize our trajectoriesincluding through the use of modes of transport condemned to obsolescence (p. 149).

In the final developments of the work, we find the intuitions of the late Bernard David who, associated with his friend Alain Arnaud, intended to decolonize the logistics imagination. At the heart of many debates during the covid pandemic, the issues of industrial relocation, but also the promotion of short, less energy-intensive circuits, occupy the space of the dispute around a necessary globalization and a return to the premises.

More broadly, it is the human cost of always faster and always further which is questioned, in particular through the working conditions of the new lumpenproletariat logistics. This allows Mathieu Quet to place the question of struggles and conflicts at the center of his analysis, even if it means carrying out an ambitious intellectual project: It is the entire technocapitalist grammar of movement that encloses our movements and our understanding of movement, of moving, that we must put to rout (p. 137).

Some will consider such a project dangerous, to the extent that globalization, aided by increasingly efficient logistics, has made it possible to lift millions of people out of poverty. conversely, many observers will emphasize that the dependence on international supplies of raw materials, components and finished products, suddenly rediscovered in 2020-2021, requires a real aggiornamento of the dominant logistics paradigm.

In fact, it is the omnipotence of managerialism that is questioned, and Mathieu Quet's work constitutes an excellent contribution to the dispute previously mentioned. His words may sometimes seem excessive, but is he really that much?? In a deliberately provocative manner, we can even say that it is useful for decision-makers, private and public, by highlighting the fragility of logistical architectures which threatens the progress of commercial exchanges. Nothing worse, for demiurge decision-makers, than to imagine the limitless power of traffic technologies transforming our world into a small village without harshness.

The sociologist's view, as Jean-Pierre Durand had already done in his time in his analysis of the politics of tight flows on work management, is more essential than ever. In this respect, Mathieu Quet's work presents itself as essential reading, whether one is an admirer or a despiser of the logistics fact.