Research And Writing in Repair

Extensive and substantive work about Repair and Maintenance has been underway for some time in academia. The below references are the tip of the iceberg, most with extensive bibliographies reaching far into the field.

While the dominant discourse outside the academy is about driving consumption, a groundswell has been rising to challenge the buy - break - trash - repurchase paradigm.

The below list is haphazard, decidedly incomplete, and very much still in progress, but is nevertheless offered to help people new to thinking about Repair begin to find material meaningful to their lines of inquiry.

Notable Sources:

Discard Studies - "Critical Discard Studies is an emerging interdisciplinary sub-field that takes waste and wasting, broadly defined, as its topic of study. We use the “discard studies” instead of “waste studies” to ensure that the categories of what is systematically left out, devalued, left behind, and externalized are left open." -

Daniela K. Rosner — University of Washington, Human-Centered Design and Engineering —

Steven J. Jackson — Cornell University, Department of Information Science —

Lara Houston — Goldsmiths, University of London, Sociology Department —

The Maintainers — "The Maintainers, a global research network interested in the concepts of maintenance, infrastructure, repair, and the myriad forms of labor and expertise that sustain our human-built world. Our members come from a variety of backgrounds, including engineers and business leaders, academic historians and social scientists, government and non-profit agencies, artists, activists, coders, and more." —

Maker Assembly — “Maker Assembly is a one-day gathering of makers. We aim to make a home for critical discussion about maker culture: its meaning, politics, history and future." See posting recapping the September 2019 Festival of Maintenance.

Notable Publications

“R3pair Volume” continent., Issue 6.1 / 2017: 1-3, Editors: Lara Houston, Daniela K Rosner, Steven J. Jackson, Jamie Allen. Letter from the editors and nineteen papers. continent.

”Here are questionings of the oppositional forces of newness and continuation, replacement and restoration, garbage and treasure through ethnographic writings, philosophical deliberation, artwork, film making and cross-linked online projects.”

“This collection affirms there is life beyond design.”

“Rethinking Repair” an essay by Stephen J. Jackson in Tarleton Gillespie, Pablo Boczkowski, and Kirsten Foot, eds. Media Technologies: Essays on Communication, Materiality and Society. MIT Press: Cambridge MA, 2014. Rethinking Repair

“Above all, repair occupies and constitutes an aftermath, growing at the margins, breakpoints, and interstices of complex sociotechnical systems as they creak, flex, and bend their way through time. It fills in the moment of hope and fear in which bridges from old worlds to new worlds are built, and the continuity of order, value, and meaning gets woven, one tenuous thread at a time. And it does all this quietly, humbly, and all the time.”

“…worlds of maintenance and repair and the instances of breakdown that occasion them are not separate or alternative to innovation, but sites for some of its most interesting and consequential operations.”

“Values in Repair” a paper by Lara Houston, Steven Jackson, Daniela K. Rosner, Syed Ishtiaque Ahmed, Meg Young, and Laewoo Kang, ACM New York, NY 2016, Values in Repair

"...acts of repair may extend but also enliven the landscape of things, building forms of meaning and attachment that help thicken human relationships to technology.  Generic manufactured objects may be deepened or ennobled through repair, adding affective and social valences.  Within an industrial and consumption-centered economy, new forms of durability can be achieved, and things meant to be discarded can be turned into things to be cared for and saved.  At the same time, repair can change its human participants, transforming 'mere users' into something slightly more, better versed and engaged with the object worlds around them... Our arguments draw on the recognition that breakdown is everyday rather than exceptional, and that the recuperative processes of repair are central to the maintenance of social and material orders across time."

“Breakdown, Obsolescence and Reuse: HCI and the Art of Repair” an essay by Steven J. Jackson, Laewoo Kang, Breakdown

“Values get built into technology, but they still take work to maintain –and additional, sometimes alternative values may be introduced through ongoing acts of repurposing and reuse that humans routinely perform vis-à-vis the world of objects around them.”

“‘Broken’ things push back on human action and possibility in ways that ex-nihilo conceptions of creativity and design may miss. And activities of repurposing and repair may call out forms of long-run relationships between humans and objects that tend to disappear under the up-front design orientations of the HCI field.”

"The role of design and designer may be less about building “new”thingsin the world, and more about inflecting and remixing the human and object -10-worlds that exist, bringing oldforces into newcombinations. As workwith broken and repurposed materials makes clear, such workmay involve formsof communication with material objects and forces with idiosyncrasies, challenges, and inclinations all their own."

“Maintenance and Care” A working guide to the repair of rust, dust, cracks, and corrupted code in our cities, our homes, and our social relations. Shannon Mattern, November 2018 Maintenance and Care

“We care for things not because they produce value, but because they already have value.”

Repair Matters, call for papers, ephemera, Issue editors: Valeria Graziano and Kim Trogal, expected 2019. Repair Matters

“If repair brings its own (heterogeneous) ethos and logic, it could also do more than simply shift the focus of specific areas of expertise, such as design. It could become a significant component of alternative processes of organizing for socially and ecologically just cycles of production and consumption.”

"Out of Order: Understanding Repair and Maintenance," Stephen Graham and Nigel Thrift, Theory Culture Society 2007 24: 1, available at

Abstract: "This article seeks to demonstrate the centrality of maintenance and repair to an understanding of modern societies and, particularly, cities. Arguing that repair and maintenance activities present a kind of 'missing link' in social theory, which is usually overlooked or forgotten, the article begins by recalling Heidegger's concept of material things as being 'ready to hand'. The main elements of practices of repair and maintenance are then elaborated on so as to help establish the argument that, by focusing on failure and breakdown in technical artefacts and systems, their vital contribution can be brought to the fore. The article then moves on to suggest that prevailing cultural constructions, and imaginations, of the 'infrastructure' that sustains modern societies, actively work to push repair and maintenance activities beyond the attention of social science. To exemplify these arguments, the article explores in detail some of the repair and maintenance activities that sustain, first, the nexus between computer communications and electricity and, second, the system of automobility. The article concludes by excavating a politics of repair and maintenance in modern cities and societies."

"Beyond breakdown: Exploring Regimes of Maintenance", Jérôme Denis, David Pontille, continent Issue 6.1 / 2017,