A GPE of maintenance and repair: analysing Australia’s ‘after-market’ automotive industry

Authors: Andrew Warren*, University of Wollongong, Australia
Topics: Economic Geography
Keywords: maintenance and repair, geographical political economy, labour, technological change
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Marriott Ballroom Salon 1, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Maintenance and repair are vital to sustaining the utility of ‘durable’ manufactured goods through the spatio-temporalities of consumption. Yet, contrasting their ubiquity and everydayness, these activities rarely draw the primary analytical focus of economic geographers who instead prioritize the spatialities and structures of commodity production. This paper turns attention to maintenance and repair work in the context of Australia’s ‘post-manufacturing’ automotive industry. After a century of continuity, 2017 marked the end of auto production nationally. In car dependent Australia, remaining auto-related employment (370,000 jobs) and earnings ($35 billion annually) are concentrated in ‘after-market’ maintenance and repair services, themselves undergoing what the peak industry association labelled ‘extreme structural change’ (MTAA 2015:15). Extending the conceptual tools of a geographical political economy (GPE) beyond production – and combining an industry dataset with ethnographic research – I examine the restructuring of auto maintenance and repair. Five analytical themes are emphasized to articulate the transformation of auto maintenance and repair among workshops: i) market idiosyncrasies ii) technological change, iii) information control, iv) workforce pressures, and v) consumer relations. The analysis illuminates the auto industry’s ‘steep’ hierarchy where market power emanates from global automakers, moves downstream, and is contested by maintenance and repair shops. Within the grounded spaces of auto maintenance and repair, technicians contend with production and consumption-sided issues, which incorporate new work intensities, technical skills and training demands. I conclude reflecting on the conceptual and political gains realized when maintenance and repair services are foregrounded in relational GPE analysis.

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