Making Citizens, Reassembling Devices: On Gender and the Development of Contemporary Public Sites of Repair in Northern California – Daniela K. Rosner
by Emma Lindén and Tobias Lenggenhager
As we all know from our childhood, our pants still could be used even if there was more than one patch on it. If we think about maintenance in today’s throw-away-society it is obvious that there could be prevented so much waste by caring a little bit more about our stuff and surrounding. Many people are too lazy, have ‘no time’ or think they have not the ability to repair their broken things. It is true that with the computerification of our everyday gadgets the things getting really difficult to repair because not even the salesman of these products know how they could be fixed. Out of this problem public groups have emerged trying to repair other peoples stuff. About these groups and the transportation of the gendered division of their repair work in public Daniela K. Rosner, an assistant professor of Human Centered Design and Engineering and co-direct TAT Lab at the University of Washington, wrote a Text in 2013.
Before Rosner get there she was a postdoctoral fellow in the Program in Science, Technology and Society (STS) at Stanford University where she examined the role repair practices play in generating changes in design and engineering. Her research combines design, computing and fieldwork to reveal the social conditions and cultural values that shape and are shaped by digital technology. She has worked in design research at Microsoft Research, Adobe Systems, Nokia Research and as an exhibit designer at several museums, including the Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum. She holds a Ph.D from UC Berkeley’s School of Information, a M.S. in Computer Science from the University of Chicago, and a B.F.A. from the Rhode Island School of Design in Graphic Design.
In her Text Making Citizens, Reassembling Devices: On Gender and the Development of Contemporary Public Sites of Repair in Northern California, published in Public Culture 2013, Daniela K. Rosner write about different community-supported events that is designed to help local residents fix their broken consumer products such as vacuum cleaners, iPods or sewing machines. In her own words, ‘(i)n turning to local repair movements, I sought to explore this interplay between gender, technology, and craft competencies amid a different set of practices.’ (Daniela K. Rosner 2013, 54). The financial crisis of 2007-08 have been a major catalyst for these initiatives and since then nearly one hundred public sites of repair have emerged globally (most part in Europe and North America). In her text she compares two different Workshops for public repair work; the Fix-It Clinic and the Repair Café. They were launched at the same time (2009) but after her research (2012-2013) she points out some differences between the two.
The aim of Peter Mui, founder of the Fix-It Clinic based in Chicago, is to enable people to fix their broken electronic stuff themselves supported by engaged geeks (mostly men). This will enable technological learning. During the meetings, the introduction – modeled after the twelve-step AA-meetings, have become a signature for Mui. He said to Rosner: ‘[We] have an orientation toward this educational focus, and this ideal of personal empowerment. […] We’re demystifying technology so that when technology comes up as a societal issue, people can participate in that dialogue more coherently than they’re able to now.’ (Daniela K. Rosner 2013, 62)
The founder of the Repair Café, Martine Postma, built up a more service oriented support. Her first Repair Café was founded in Amsterdam. Now her organization, founded by the Dutch Ministry for the Environment, grew into a global network who provide information and guidance to local groups setting up repair Cafés in their own neighborhoods. With her nongovernmental organization she want to make people aware of the environmental consequences if they throw away their broken stuff, even if it could have been fixed. In terms of gendered division Postma says: ‘The tradition that men like electricity or men like technique and women, well, like smaller chores like mending clothes―that’s more the traditional aspect that I refer to. . . . I think that is just the fact. Not my idea.’ (Daniela K. Rosner 2013, 67)
Members of the Fixit Clinic, promote technical innovation and educational reform, while members of the Repair Café advertise services for environmental care as a global network. Another different that Rosner points out is the distinction between their participants. Mui work for his community and especially for those who need the repair. Postma on the other hand think repair is for everyone and not only for those who cannot afford new things. ‘Repair, in this sense, reveals an apparent gap between US and Dutch national character, raising questions about what civic identity and “citizenship” as a common theme might mean.’ (Daniela K. Rosner 2013, 71)
Rosner presents the topic in an ethnographic methodology. By giving the voice to the participants and interweaving the description of their different workplaces she uses this method to generate a dialogue with a theoretical framework to ask what happened with today’s society. By showing the parallels between contemporary public repair groups and the suburban do-it-yourself repairmen, Rosner underlines how domestic repair work, also in the public context, holds its gender-specific role. Even though she obviously carves out the gender division in her observations she has the attempt to theorize which we can read in the final sentence: “Repair becomes an active agent, changing the costs of performing gender relations in relation to technical skill sets.” (Daniela K. Rosner 2013, 73) but she hardly comes to a satisfying conclusion. Some questions remain unanswered but there is a lot to be explored within this topic where the text inspire you to learn more.
Daniela K. Rosner 2013 – “Making Citizens, Reassembling Devices: On Gender and the Development of Contemporary Public Sites of Repair in Northern California” Public Culture, vol 26, no.1: 51-77