Repair Work Ethnographies: An International Workshop


Airplanes and artwork, bicycles and buildings, cars and computers, photocopy machines and dishwashers, 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. These responses, upon closer inspection, may 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.

This workshop gathers ethnographic studies of repair work in various domains, with a particular focus on the technical expertise, lay or professional, displayed in such 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, then, 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.

Organisation: Ignaz Strebel (ETH Zurich) und Philippe Sormani (University of Vienna)

Finanzierung: SNF International Exploratory Workshops

Mittwoch, 7. Mai 2014 bis Samstag, 10. Mai 2014

ETH Zürich