Fixing the telephone

Repairing and Maintaining a Large Technological System in Luxemburg

photo project

One of the three REPAIR sub-projects examines the repair and maintenance of the Luxembourg telephone system. The telephone is a special case: for most users the large technical system behind the telephone is a huge black box. They dial a number and talk on the phone without any thought to the complex equipment and organisational infrastructures required to operate the system. Multiple maintenance and repair activities remain well hidden within this black box – as long as the system works! They only come to the surface when telephone communication fails.

The telephone project will open up the black box to make maintenance and repair processes visible. It will investigate the language, knowledge, technical objects, instruments, practices and players that help to keep the telephone system running and how they have changed over time.

Graham and N. Thrift (2007) have shown that repair and maintenance work and the people who perform these tasks are structurally invisible, and that this is not only the case from the outside (the customer view) but also inside large technical systems (the management view). This is why the project will examine how the role of maintenance has been conceptualised and managed in the Luxembourg telephone system.

The aim is to show that maintenance and repair of cables, switches and devices have always been and continue to be crucial practices that keep our phones ringing.

So let’s get started by calling some telephone engineers and technicians.

*image: Rapport de Gestion P&T 1986, p.25