Jérôme Denis & David Pontille

Centre de sociologie de l’innovation, Mines Paristech & Département SES Laboratoire de Traitement et de Communication de l’Information, Telecom Paristech

Website:  Jérôme Denis | David Pontille

Maintenance, the Care of Things and the Ecologies of In/visible

In this paper, we investigate maintenance as a care of things. After a review of the main objects, postures and questions of maintenance and repair literature, we will show that maintenance is not a unified domain of practices. When exploring studies in their diversity, maintenance appears to be oriented toward two main horizons. On the one hand, maintenance participates in preserving social and material order; on the other hand, it is an operator of transformations and innovations. In the first scenario, maintenance practices are dedicated to bring things “back to order”. In one end of the spectrum, maintenance here takes the form of the restoration of a “natural” and visible order. It is enacted by specialists and professionals, who accomplish repair operations and consider breakdowns and overflowings as breaches in the life of objects (this is for instance the case of cars repair: Dant, 2005). In the other end, maintenance fuels the production of an ongoing order. It is accomplished virtually by everyone through tiny and
repeated ordinary actions, which generally remain invisible. In this case, failures and flaws are considered as constitutive of normal life (this is the case of caretakers in scientific laboratories: Rose, 1983; Knorr-Cetina, 1999). In the second scenario, maintenance practices participate in a transformative process that more or less dismantle things. From consumers who tinker with objects in order to extend their life (Gregson et al., 2009) to community of users, who progressively adapt an innovation to the different local contexts of its implementation (de Laet and Mol, 2000), objects here are mutating and maintenance may results in innovation. At the limits of this side of maintenance, one finds recycling operations, which completely disintegrates objects, splitting
them into disassembled materials. We will show that these differences have several implications regarding issues such as the
ecology of visible and invisible work (Star and Strauss, 1999), material ontologies (Barad, 2003; Ingold, 2007; Law 2010), and the politics of care (Mol et al, 2010; Puig de la Bellacasa, 2010).