CFP: What Will an Anthropology of Maintenance and Repair Look Like? April 15

American Anthropological Association 2014 Annual Meetings (Washington DC in December 2014) panel proposal:

Panel: *What Will an Anthropology of Maintenance and Repair Look Like?*

Papers: Juris Milestone, Ph.D. (Dept. of Anthropology, Temple University)
Organizer: Gabriel Jderu, Ph.D. (Dept. of Sociology, University of Bucharest)
Discussant: Steven L. Jackson, Ph.D. (Department of Information Science, Cornell University)

This panel seeks to explore the possibilities for an anthropology of the “repair worlds” that are “growing at the margins, breakpoints, and interstices of complex sociotechnical systems as they creak, flex, and bend their way through time.” As information scientists like Steven L. Jackson, et al have demonstrated, the worlds of maintenance and repair share with the worlds of infrastructure, an embedded-ness in social and technical systems, a relative “tendency to remain invisible,” and “connection to membership in specific communities of practice.” This “broken world” thinking thus creates not only opportunities to understand the flows of globalization as themselves productive, but to also consider how the repair and maintenance of those flows facilitates meaning-making. With this panel we propose ethnographers turn more attention to these worlds of repair that maintain globalization, capitalization, and commoditization, as well as communities, identities, and meaning. We wish to turn an anthropological gaze toward thinking through how the world “breaks,” and to imagine the techne-scapes of repair that keep things running. And we wish to understand how repair worlds form and give meaning to the people and communities that use and support them.

When systems break or fail, we quickly become aware of our delicate dependence upon them, but often we are otherwise oblivious to their regular upkeep. Items that are forgotten or replaced by the affluent, become for the less-affluent, opportunities for differing forms of independence and meaning. Be it through cannibalized cell phones or customized motorcycles, communities of practice also explicitly use repair and maintenance as a symbolic language for negotiating identity. These sites of maintenance and
repair can be found in many forms: Infrastructures of finance capital are maintained by the technicians and engineers of policy and economic transaction in affluent centers; the growing industry of cell phone and computer repair in “developing nations” facilitates computing at the margins; reuse and recycling ecologies weigh heaviest in the poorest regions of the world, where e-waste is collected and processed; global systems of communication cabling, oil pipelines, and air traffic require constant attention to continue working; and there is uneven glorification of “dirty jobs” in popular culture. The importance of these points are generally not lost on applied, design, and business anthropologists, but mandates differ greatly from businesses to academics, to other public intellectuals. Fixing things can be both innovation and a response to the ravages of globalization – either through reuse as a counter-narrative to disposability, or resistance to the fetish of the new, or as a search for connection to a material mechanical world that is increasingly automated and remote. Through the papers on this panel and subsequent publication, we hope to bring the seemingly mundane worlds of repair and maintenance more centrally into view for anthropologists.

Submission: April 15th due date for a title and abstract (250 words). Email to:

Juris Milestone
Assistant Professor – Teaching
Temple Anthropology