[Humanist] 32.36 events: workshop on maintenance & repair, reuse & disposal

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon May 21 08:38:23 CEST 2018

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 36.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Sun, 20 May 2018 13:47:08 +0200
        From: Stefan Krebs <stefan.krebs at RWTH-AACHEN.DE>
        Subject: CfP Workshop: Histories of Technology’s Persistence: Repair, Reuse and Disposal
        In-Reply-To: <AM5PR03MB3043672B5ABDDE4070E3AA88DF900 at AM5PR03MB3043.eurprd03.prod.outlook.com>

Call for papers
Histories of Technology's Persistence: Repair, Reuse and Disposal

Workshop at the Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digital History
(C2DH), University of Luxembourg
7-8 December 2018
Submission deadline: 2 July 2018

The everyday use of technology involves practices of maintenance and repair
but also raises questions of reuse and removal, dismantling and disposal.
According to Stephen Graham and Nigel Thrift (2007: 19), repair and
maintenance constitute "the engine room of modern economies and societies".
The current "maintainers network" (Russell/Vinsel 2018) argues for an
emphasis on maintenance instead of the traditional focus on invention and
innovation in the field of history of technology. Indeed, we still know
surprisingly little about the history of repair, reuse and disposal
practices. In his plea for a history of "technology-in-use", David Edgerton
(2008: 81) summarised: "Unfortunately we are not in a position to give an
overview of the main trends in the history of maintenance and repair. Has
maintenance as a proportion of output gone up or down? Where there has been
a trade-off between initial cost and maintenance, what have producers and
consumers gone for?" We still lack answers to these questions, which is why
we are organising a workshop to bring together historians of maintenance and

Furthermore, we want to combine our focus on maintenance and repair with
issues of reuse, dismantling and disposal. Repair, reuse and removal are
closely interlinked phenomena related to the lives and persistence of
technologies, and they go beyond the question of innovation: When technical
artefacts become old and outworn, decisions have to be taken as to whether
it is necessary, worthwhile or possible to maintain and repair them, to
reuse or dismantle them for different purposes, or to get rid of them. And
these decisions depend among other factors on the availability of
second-hand markets, repair infrastructures and dismantling or disposal
facilities. This is why cultures of repair should be studied with regard to
the life span of technical artefacts and their possible "second" or "third
lives" and "afterlives" (Krebs/Schabacher/Weber 2018). 

Steve Jackson recently argued for "broken world thinking": Historians of
technology should take "erosion, breakdown, and decay, rather than novelty,
growth, and progress, as (...) starting points" for their research and
narratives (Jackson 2014: 221). In a similar vein, but with an emphasis on
technology's persistence, we would like to stress the long lives of old
technologies whose form and duration has been shaped by maintenance, repair,
reuse and disposal infrastructures, by their availability or absence, and by
the related economies of waste, recycling and reuse. It is generally assumed
that practices of repair and reuse have gradually declined along with the
rise of 20th-century mass production, mass consumption and throw-away
societies. However, it is safe to argue that maintenance and repair have not
become obsolete in modern consumer societies. For one, production and
infrastructure facilities are in constant need of maintenance to keep them
running. And even the spread of new consumer technologies such as
automobiles, television sets and household appliances has greatly depended
on maintenance and repair services as well as second-hand markets and
refurbishment shops (Krebs/Schabacher/Weber 2018). Moreover, while cultures
of repair have declined in certain areas, they have thrived in others, as
can be seen by the post-war "do-it-yourself" and the current "iFixit"
movements. Seen from a global perspective, repair and reuse markets have not
disappeared, but have been outsourced -- along with toxic waste disposal and
recycling practices -- to regions far away from the places of technologies'
first-time usage.

In short, the aim of our international workshop is to bring together the
growing scholarship in the history of repair, reuse, dismantling and
disposal. Some of the questions we would like to address are:

-- What can we learn from microhistories of repair, reuse and waste disposal? And from a macro-historical perspective: How have the economies
of repair, reuse and removal changed over time?
-- What links can be identified between the rise and decline of
maintenance and disposal systems and societal developments? For
instance, how has the governance of maintenance and disposal changed (or
not) between pre-industrial, industrial and post-industrial societies?
-- What role has maintenance played in the development and momentum of
technical infrastructures and large technological systems?
-- Who are the agents and experts of maintenance, reuse and disposal,
and what socio-technical positions do they hold?
-- How have the supply and pricing of spare parts, the repairability
of technical designs, legal questions of maintenance and warranty, as
well as disposal requirements changed over time? What role have
standards and regulations played in shaping maintenance and disposal
-- What is the role of a historiography of maintenance, repair, reuse
and waste disposal? Should historians contribute to the current repair
movement and in what ways might they contribute to a more sustainable world?

Travel and accommodation costs of invited workshop participants will be
covered by the C2DH.

The workshop will be based on pre-circulated papers (approx. 4,000
words; deadline 16 November 2018). Workshop contributions will be
published in an edited volume (print and open access ebook).

Please send proposals (350 words) to stefan.krebs at uni.lu; deadline 2
July 2018.

Organisers: Stefan Krebs (Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digital
History), Heike Weber (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology)

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