Endangered practices - maintenance and repair

Sustainability is often framed in terms of innovation and change. Arguably, what's more important is the preservation of endangered practices: sustainable everyday activities, such as mending clothes, which are in danger of being replaced by more resource-intensive alternatives.

Repair Cafe logo and a man repairing something

‘Endangered Practices’ was a pilot project funded by the SCI that focused on endangered everyday practices of mending and recent grassroots initiatives to preserve and revitalise such skills such as Repair Café movement.

The project built on Dan Welch’s research interest in sustainable practices, research by Helen Holmes on ‘thrift’ in households and third-sector organisations and by Wouter Spekkink on Repair Cafes. Research from the project has been used as the basis for the development of funding proposals.

Repair and maintenance draw attention to the increasing displacement of know-how from people to technologies, with significant implications for sustainability, as embodied practices are increasingly replaced by energy-using technologies. Technology and design increasingly preclude repair outside of an economic circuit determined by producers. For example, whereas car engines were once commonly amenable to amateur maintenance, modern models are ‘black boxes’ requiring increasingly sophisticated technology to maintain. Furthermore, amateur repair sometimes infringes guarantee terms, regulations or even intellectual property laws. Recently this situation has become politically contested by those calling for a “right to repair” pushing against the phenomena of planned obsolescence. The project will bring the perspective of sustainable consumption to the sociology of repair.

Whilst previous studies have recognised the significance of domestic-based repair and maintenance practices, particularly through activities such as DIY little research has explored how these practices diffuse through grassroots movements and the implications of this for reinvigorating these endangered practices. For example, Repair Cafés have grown from one café in 2009 to a movement of more than 1500 cafés around the world today. More research is required in the forms of organisation that make such a development possible.

Project activities

Between November 2018 and February 2019 observation visits and interviews were conducted with 10 UK DIY mending and repair initiatives by Ulrike Ehgartner. Interviews were coded by Steffen Hirth, additional desk research was conducted by Harald Wieser.

Outputs

Ehgartner, U. (2019) “Endangered Practices: Skill Sharing Initiatives in the UK” Invited presentation, The International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics, Lund University, Sweden.

Ehgartner, U. and Hirth, S. (2019) “The Right to Repair and Endangered Practices” Discover Society. Issue75

Ehgartner, U., Hirth, S., Welch, D. (2019) “International Repair Day, the Right to Repair and the Politics of Practice” Sustainable Consumption Institute Blog

Research team

Co-investigators: Helen HolmesWouter Spekkink and Dan Welch

Research assistants: Ulrike EhgartnerSteffen Hirth and Harald Wieser.