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Call for Papers Repairing Technology – Fixing Society? International conference at the Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (C²DH) 13-14 October 2022

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Failures and breakdowns constitute an important element in the fundamental relationship between users and technology, and maintenance and repair are fundamental practices in everyday life. Stephen Graham and Nigel Thrift (2007) highlighted that “repair and maintenance are not incidental activities. In many ways, they are the engine room of modern economies and societies”. However, we still know very little about the actual developments of repair practices in the past and today. In his essay “Rethinking repair”, Steven Jackson (2014) therefore called for what he coined “broken world thinking”. He argues that we should take “erosion, breakdown, and decay, rather than novelty, growth, and progress, as our starting points” when we want to study consumption and use. Broken world thinking is an exercise in “infrastructural inversion”, a reversal of fore- and background to better understand the hidden, but fundamental practices of repair that keep our modern technical world running. Despite the prevailing master narrative that the advent of the consumer society caused a decline in repair, it has not become obsolete in modern consumer societies but has remained integral to their economic functioning.

Current repair advocates emphasise the sustainability of repair. We are interested in historical and contemporary discourses and critical reflections about the assumed relationship between maintenance, repair and (more) sustainable consumption. By discussing the epistemology, sociology, politics, economics, and histories of maintenance and repair, we would like to contribute to the growing field of repair studies. We are interested in repair in all its forms: from small objects to large technical systems, from the global North to the global South. The conference is open to various interdisciplinary approaches.

Possible topics include:

  • the epistemology, sociology, and politics of repair
  • innovation through maintenance and repair practices
  • the relationship between repair and sustainability
  • the environmental impact of consumer societies
  • experimental approaches in studying repair and maintenance
  • maintenance and repair practices as forms of resistance
  • the social construction of repairability and/or obsolescence
  • philosophical, ethnographical, and historical approaches
  • the history of manuals and the transfer of repair knowledge in general
  • historical, economic, and sociological perspectives on “lifespans” of objects

The conference is part of our FNR-funded REPAIR project that investigates the maintenance practices of the Luxembourg telephone network, continuity and change in local repair opportunities for consumer objects, and the role and influence of do-it-yourself cultures on repair practices.

The C²DH will cover the travel and accommodation costs of invited participants. Please send abstracts (400-500 words) and a short CV to repair@uni.lu; the deadline is 31 July 2022. Confirmation of participation by August 15. Invited workshop participants will be expected to submit extended abstracts (1,500 words) by 30 September 2022. For further information about the project and the centre please consult: https://www.c2dh.uni.lu/

Organisers: Stefan Krebs, Rebecca Mossop and Thomas Hoppenheit (Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digital History, C²DH)

 

*picture: Archives C2DH(part of the former Post Archives).

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