Repair as Practice and Knowledge. An Ethnography of Two Repair Cafés

Current repair initiatives, from networks of repair cafés run by local volunteers to community-turned-company iFixit, have been very successful at putting questions of repair and maintenance at the forefront of public debate. However, they have done so in a way that frames repair practices as profoundly political—picturing repair either as a consumer reaction against the planned obsolescence strategies of companies (Slade 2007), as an ecological and civic engagement for sustainable development and consumption, or as a countercultural “theater of alternative industry” (Rosner & Turner 2014). In the process, important themes tend to be overlooked: for example, the specific gestures, skills and knowledge of repair; the technological literacy and culture of the public; the separation between the “intellectual” (engineering design) and the “manual” (the actual life of the object)—themes that speak not only to sociologists but also to historians of technology interested in the longue durée of repair and maintenance. In this talk, I present my ongoing ethnographic study of two repair cafés in France (Paris and Annecy), based on participant observation, interviews and questionnaires. Because the goal of repair cafés is less to fix objects that would have been otherwise discarded than to create a social space where gestures, skills and knowledge of repair can circulate freely, they make public practices that have long been concealed from the eyes of sociologists (for exceptions, see Harper 1987 and Orr 1990) and especially historians. Building on the intermediary results of my ethnographic study of current repair practices, I focus on repair understood as a specific kind of epistemic practice.


Presented at:
"Technical Cultures of Repair" Conference, Paris, France, 26-28 June 2019
Year:
Jun 28 2019
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 Record created 2019-10-01, last modified 2019-12-05

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