The Maintainers, Washington DC, Oct 6-9

field trips, research in process

By Ali Crosby

The Maintainers is 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. This October I attended the third of their series of conferences. I gave a paper about Frontyard as a collective maintenance project in a city with smart city agendas on the horizon. On the panel was Pamela Robinson, Kevin Rogan, and Carole Voulgaris.

First a few notes on the event itself, which was structured around four tracks (information, transport, software and a general track), and also included an unconference track and workshops such as the mending as protest. While there were lots of scholars there (from STS, history, engineering, information and computer sciences) it was not only an academic conference. Rather, people were talking through practice, about projects they maintain in government institutions, not-for-profits, companies and universities. The goals to bring practitioners, policy-makers, researchers, and activists together was clear.

 

Collaborative notes were set up on day 1 for each track. These are available here: General Track: http://bit.ly/miii-notes-general… Information Track: http://bit.ly/miii-notes-info Software Track: http://bit.ly/miii-notes-software… Transportation Track: http://bit.ly/miii-notes-transportation2

In terms of highlights relevant to our work on repair in Australia, the concept of stewardship and care was strong throughout the conference. This included recurring questions about responsibility and exploitation as well as an acknowledgement that maintenance covers a diverse range of practices , both preventative and reactive, which often are driven by a moral imperative. In a neoliberal context, volunteering to look after infrastructure, for example, lets corporations and governments off the hook.

The perceived tension between innovation and maintenance came up often, as participants were there to improve things, and also to look after what we’ve got. This is relevant to software (do you work on an imperfect open source project or start something different?), transport (are current public transport networks the best way to ensure mobility for all sectors of societies? I think of the variety of systems in Jakarta and the lack of real commitment to any of them), and information (archiving protocols need to be decolonised, and records need to be tended, which the work of Kirsten Thorpe has helped me understand).

And the other ‘take-away’ (that’s what they say here) is that maintenance and repair may be a global movement, we may share tools and approaches, but local applications vary. Global systems are the most difficult to maintain, so why would we do that to ourselves? The Maintainers, like no other collective project I have come across, is committed to the myriad forms of labor and expertise that sustain our human-built world. But this world is from a US perspective, which has its limitations, most noticeable as an outsider (e.g. Mel Gregg gave a great keynote, referring several times to the ‘strange’ sales culture that drives social relations and therefore work practices in California) . In the UK, activists (such as the wonderful Laura James) have worked on their own version of The Maintainers to create The Festival of Maintenance. I wrap up by asking, what are we going to do in Australia?

The Maintainers

Repair.Design Project News

We will be hanging out with The Maintainers in Washington, D.C. in October! This year’s theme is ‘Practice, Policy and Care’ and it is the third in a series of conferences that celebrates and unpacks the concepts of maintenance, infrastructure, repair, and the myriad forms of labor and expertise that sustain our human-built world.

Alexandra Crosby will be presenting on Tuesday, October 8 as part of a panel titled State of Good Repair: Does it Have a Future in the Smart City?

There are so many great panels and papers lined up including one on Impermanence and another on the Right To Repair and the Circular Economy

One we won’t be missing is No Gods, No Masters, and Instead Coalitional, Honest, Kind, Non-Abusive, Anti-Oppressive, Real-Deal, On the Ground, Radical Librarianship:

Treating our daily work as a platform for action, for creativity, for care, for radical purpose, for productive dissonance, and for resistance entrenched in history and informed by critical methodologies will allow us to reflect honestly on how we will meet the challenges of our present and future. Because ultimately, we want libraries to work: to work for the communities they are of, for the professionals that maintain them, and to work especially for those for whom they have never quite worked.  

Repair Cultures Workshop

Repair.Design Project News

cropped-Relative-Creative-LOGO-GB-02

As part of our scoping research, the team will be participating in a Repair Cultures Workshop facilitated by Tristan Schultz and Bec Barnett.

Tristan is founder and co-director of Relative Creative, an Indigenous owned and led design practice, informed by being on Yugembah Country at Jellurgal, and by Tristan’s Gamilaroi heritage.

Since Relative Creative is driven by being critically thinking and concern with ecological and social responsibilities, it is very much aligned with the goals of this research project.

As well as practicing design facilitation, strategic design, service design, policy and planning design, social design, participatory and co-design, Tristan is also a design academic and writer. In this paper, he traces a historical and conceptual terrain of cultures of repair from a decolonial and ontological design perspective. 

Schultz, T., 2017, January. Design’s Role in Transitioning to Futures of Cultures of Repair. In International Conference on Research into Design (pp. 225-234). Springer, Singapore.

 

Product Testing at CHOICE

repairability

Jesse and Ali visited the unique lab facility of CHOICE and met with CEO Alan Kirkland and Director of Reviews and Testing, Matthew Steen.

We talked about the relationship between the rights of consumers and the responsibilities of manufacturers and the role of design research within this relationship.

As the leading consumer advocacy group in Australia, CHOICE knows a thing or two about researching the design of products. From washing machines and steam mops, to coffee grinders, laptops, TVs and health insurance – there aren’t many things we use that haven’t been tested. But with the sheer quantity of new products on the market, and the thoroughness of testing required to assess products, CHOICE also faces the quantity vs quality dilemma. As such, for their ‘tear downs’ they choose the most popular appliances based on sales data.

Washing Machine Testing Lab and an adorable machine for testing sneakers.

Matthew gave us a tour of the testing labs and explained the CHOICE research methodology, which focuses on ‘products in use’ as much as on component parts. In the cooking lab, for example, the heat circulation of ovens are tested by baking multiple trays of scones. Genius! Are they evenly cooked? Did they rise properly? Since large appliances like ovens can’t be sold in Australia without being safety compliant, the job of CHOICE here is to test whether they live up to their promises.

Not all products tested can be assumed safe though. In the Toys and Baby Products Lab, we were shown a custom ‘dummy tester’ that measures whether a baby’s dummy is small enough to be swallowed.  Constant testing of products like this is important because there is no safety standard for all the millions of things people buy on ebay and through other vendors.

So what does all this have to do with repair? Choosing a product based on whether or not it can be repaired, and how long it will last (durability) is definitely a consumer right. But design for dissasembly is not a feature of most of the products CHOICE tests. Consider smart phones, for example, which we discuss in our article “Design and repair must work together to undo our legacy of waste” and CHOICE reviews here. There are huge challenges in assessing the ‘repairability’ of household products, which we will explore in this project and Alan and Matthew have begun to help us understand.