Network for Repair, Reuse & Maintenance (RRM) Cultures

Lead Research Organisation: University of the West of England
Department Name: Fac of Arts Creative Ind and Education


This Network proposal seeks to address the 'repair' gap in academic thinking, artistic practice and UK policy legislation by establishing an international network of practitioners to explore cultures of repair, reuse and maintenance (RRM). Situating the work within artistic practices that deal with repair, the proposal brings together a broad, interdisciplinary intersection of scholarly and entrepreneurial activity. Focusing on urban and rural repair activities three Network meetings will take place: 2x UK, 1x India. This includes a final UK Symposium at which knowledge gained during the meetings will be shared and disseminated.

Focusing on processes of reuse, upkeep, fixing, mending, extending, augmenting, hacking, tinkering, restoration, preservation and customization, each Network meeting will address these process in relation to different forms of repair: critical (relating to artistic practices and aesthetics), craft (relating to heritage and tradition), entrepreneurial (relating to new forms of capital, business and economy) and essential (borne out of immediate need).

With the aim to -

1. Map what responsible consumption and production means through cultures of repair, reuse, maintenance, with a focus on their associated value systems, modes of labour, and forms of economy and styles of production.
2. Examine practices from the fields of contemporary art on repair and bring such knowledge's together with understandings from the fields of critical urban studies, geography, consumer and material studies and sustainability.

Positioning the Network in the context of policies which call for more circular and restorative approaches to manufacturing, such as United Nations (UN) Global Sustainable Development Goals (2016) and New Urban Agenda (2016), Defra, UK reports (2013) and various EU Directives (2008, 2012). Within these policies recycling and waste management, as opposed to repair and maintenance, still remains a central narrative. Repair presents a new set of challenges, as it demands we address issues further up the manufacturing chain or process, before products, services, objects, buildings and 'stuff' come to the ends of their lives. Repair requires us to tackle strategies for planned obsolescence and its associated material flow, by demanding that we shift the conversation from the rhetoric of the 'new' as a means of progression and innovation, to realities of broken-world logics, maintenance, care and upkeep.

Artists such as Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Amy Balkin, Benjamin Gaulon, Kim Cascone and Linda Bothwell to name but a few, have for many years been working with ideas of maintenance, failure, breakdown and upkeep in their creative practice. However, within the context of academia and policy, knowledge of such artistic practices is limited. Likewise, artists and practitioners are often out of the loop of academic thinking and discourse. Within the last five year there as been an academic 'turn' towards repair, with emerging work coming from various disciplines including urban and critical geography, media studies, material and consumption studies, architecture and design. Despite this academic thinking remains scattered across various disciplines and sub-disciplines. Additional the UK lags behind other global leaders on repair legislation. It is for this reason the Network reaches out to partners in France, the US and Thailand with one of the Network meetings been held in India, which has an established and growing, informal green economy sector from which, much can be learnt. Responding to these various needs and opportunities, the RRM research network brings together an international cohort of contemporary artists, academics, practitioners, social entrepreneurs & policymakers to discuss, consolidate and explore the field and its future directions.

Planned Impact

One of the seventeen United Nations (UN) Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) calls for 'responsible consumption and production', and identifies an urgent for changes to global consumption patterns and in order to reduce pressure on resources. Similar imperatives are outlined in the UN, New Agenda (2016), Defra, UK reports (2013) and EU Directives 2008/98/EC and 2012/19/EU. In these documents, circular and restorative approaches to manufacturing are seen as key.

Despite such initiatives, cultures of repair and restoration are by and large overlooked within academic practice, with the UK seriously lagging behind other national initiatives. For example, Sweden (Guardian, 2016) has proposed to introduce tax breaks on all forms of repair, with the aim to stimulate the repair industry and reduce waste. In the US the Repair Association advocates for electronics built with the principles of easy repair, free and easy modification, and easily-available tools, parts, and repair documentation. In June 2017, the online magazine Motherboard (Vice) reported that New Jersey became the twelfth state to introduce the "Fair Repair Act" with the US. Similarly in July, Motherboard report that the EU plan to announce a similar act, which would require for example electronics manufacturers to make their products more easily repairable.

In addition to such legislation, the surge in Repair Cafes, and initiatives such as London's Restart Project and Brooklyn's Fixer's Collective, provides evidence that the repair of objects is becoming (again) a valued everyday practice. While within the field of contemporary art and design, a myriad of artists and designers have been working directly with concepts of repair, reuse, breakdown, failure, glitch and maintenance. This work is poised to make a valuable contribution in relation to the UN's, 12th sustainability goal on responsible consumption and production. Within the humanities and the social sciences there have been a steady but scattered number of studies on repair published over the last few decades.

New research is now emerging, as evident in Graziano and Trogal's recent call for papers (April 2017) on 'Repair Matters' for a special issue in the journal ephemera. The resurgence of interest in cultures of repair intersects with new discourses of degrowth, decay, and displacement (D'Alisa, Demaria and Kallis, 2015; Desilvey, 2006; 2017), which take 'seriously the seemingly banal fact that things are constantly falling out of place' (Dominguez, 2016, p. 60), and recognise that our digital worlds are as material, as any other physical artefact or object--and therefore bound to continual cycles of articulation and disarticulation.

In terms impact, the RRM network will therefore provide a forum for these conversations to take place by laying the foundation for a range of follow-on research projects, with significant potential for future impact on both policy and academic research in related fields. With the aim to specifically generate impact in the following areas:

Theory: Consolidate research in repair from the fields of material and media studies, politics, economics and legal studies, sustainability studies, urban and critical geography and the histories of art and design.

Practice: Establish an international working group on repair, reuse and maintenance, which draws together expertise from contemporary art and design, academic research and NGOs, charities and social enterprises working in the sector.

Policy and legislation: Identify the necessary steps and research needs for future development of UK repair policy and legislation


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