So to kick off… There’s a ongoing transformation in consumer products that has long bugged me and that seems to be expanding into broader concerns of ecology, history, our own capacities to think with things and to remake them, and ourselves. Increasingly, we don’t own the stuff we buy, at least not in the way we have traditionally conceived of ownership. Products come locked down with proprietary components (e.g. the obscure screw types inside a Macbook), maintenance systems (e.g. John Deere tractors or many car models that can only get checked up and fixed at authorized company locations), or subscription models (e.g. Microsoft Office 365 or Adobe Creative Cloud). Or think about how it no longer makes sense to give a CD as a gift because MP3s and streaming services have transformed our relationship to music as commodity. Licensing (“terms and conditions”) has effectively come to replace a previously dominant convention in the selling and buying of commodities (“you bought it, do whatever you want with it.”).
This transition perhaps says something more general about the condition of late capitalism, but it also has generated new communities of practice such as DIY groups, hackers, maker cultures, and tinkerers of all kinds. New consumer politics have emerged too, as with the growing Right to Repair movement lobbying for legislation to protect the right to access, modify, and care for the products people have in their possession. This politics comes tied to an ecological and anti-corporate ethics against excess waste and planned obsolescence. There is also a claim to knowledge and the spirit of design openness here as well: the notion that people want to roll up their sleeves and learn how things work from the inside, how to retroengineer them, adapt them for unintended uses, and personalize and beautify them to one’s own liking.
We ought not ignore that all of this arrives on the scene at the same historical moment as other calls for reparability: a global reckoning with racial injustice, and a strain of environmental politics that demands we repair our damaged world. Are there confluences here among these repair worlds? How might we think about reparations for slavery and abolitionist politics in the same frame as discontented tinkerers and repairfolks? What might decolonizing design and the politics of repatriation have to do with all of this? What ecologies of repair can be jerry-rigged and patched together with more-than-human worlds? What is made anew, what otherwise is made possible with the gesture to repair?
I’m excited to see what may coalesce in this thread around these questions, thinking about repair in its myriad and active senses. I’ll keep adding ideas and stories here that come to mind, and I hope to open new conversations with many of you.