When Things Break Down. Revisiting Repair, Relocating Materiality

Conference, Roma

International Workshop



International Workshop

Airplanes and artwork, bicycles and buildings, cars and computers, photocopiers and printers, the list could be indefinitely extended. Its items might be arbitrarily assembled and reassembled. Yet what they all have in common, as with virtually any commodity, infrastructure or technical artifact, is their occasional breakdown, if not inbuilt obsolescence. To problems of the latter kind, sustainable development in and beyond product design, a renewed emphasis on craft, as well as various ‘do it yourself’ initiatives, have become key responses – in short, a genuine Kultur der Reparatur (Heckl 2013). These responses, upon closer inspection, may of course not prove as reliable, revolutionary or self-reliant as their promising formulation suggests. Yet they do hint at the direction of ecological alternatives to hitherto dominant modes of production and consumption. After a first exploratory workshop at ETH Zurich in May 2014, this second workshop involves an extended international group of repair work ethnographers. It revisits the set of papers that were gathered in the first workshop and discusses new contributions. It marks a key step towards a joint publication in a renowned book series. The planned publication has a particular focus on the technical expertise and practical reasoning, lay or professional, displayed in repair work. Repair work, when investigated ethnographically, discloses an entangled background of material conditions, procedural knowledge and social circumstances, all of which the ordinary use of technical artifacts relies upon, ranging from the complex infrastructures of the built environment to smaller devices of customized electronics. Repair work ethnographies, moreover, afford us with the unique opportunity to specify ‘sustainability’, ‘ecological design’ and similar catchwords in practical terms, as contingent achievements of localized care and repair, through distinctive methods, makeshifts and maintenance work.

Participation upon invitation.
Write before 14th of May at scienze@istitutosvizzero.it