Working with neglected things: Repair work as care work

Authors: Julia Corwin*, London School of Economics and Political Science
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Anthropocene
Keywords: repair, care, electronics, waste, value
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM
Room: Virtual 31
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Researchers on maintenance and repair regularly lament the inattention to this “humble but vital” everyday work (Graham and Thrift 2007: 2); as broadly conceived, repair and maintenance keep infrastructure working, houses livable, our relationships amiable, and our planet thriving. If the work of repair and maintenance is invisible, it is not because everything is working perfectly but because someone, somewhere, is doing invisible and often undervalued labor. Making this work visible means recognizing the care work involved in enabling systems and people to continue to function, as well as reflecting on the unequal and harmful ways in which this labor is distributed.

Drawing from my ethnographic research on electronics repair in India, I conceive of repair work as illustrating the depth of relationships that go into work with others – human and non-human. Repair work demonstrates the close, engaged and attentive interactions that enable things to work within relationships, as this work takes the functioning of entities and systems as neither permanent nor stable but instead in regular need of attention and care. I argue that centering maintenance and repair work as care work – and vice versa – draws attention to the significance of care work to everyday functioning and offers a view of an ethics of care that entails living care-fully within the density of relationships in which we all exist.

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