Reassembling Repair: of Maintenance Routine, Botched Jobs, and Situated Inquiry

Philippe Sormani, Ignaz Strebel, Alain Bovet


Abstract: This paper draws upon a video ethnography of building care and makes this work available to an investigation of how “non human agency” is sustained in actual cases of repair and maintenance activities. Therefore, the paper homes in on a particular situation of maintenance work, bringing together a caretaker and a couple of tenants, regarding a low water pressure problem (LWPP) at the couple’s flat. The paper examines how the participants engage in a situated, temporally unfolding, collaborative and yet distributed inquiry regarding the encountered problem and its candidate solutions. Maintenance routine, in the course of the examined situation, appears to stand in an asymmetrical relationship with repair work due to a prior ‘botched job’, and the outlined video analysis demonstrates just how the involved participants establish, elaborate and, eventually, suspend this relationship. The expression “reassembling repair” encapsulates this moment of suspension, when the caretaker, upon the tenants’ final hint, indeed repairs the LWPP (by reassembling and removing its ‘root cause’), instead of sustaining his maintenance routine (to temper only the problem’s ‘symptoms’). In describing participants’ situated inquiry, their practical deliberations and its eventual denouement, the paper offers an apt opportunity to reflect upon socio-material approaches that simplify, simply invoke, or actually “neglect the situation” in favor of renewed epistemologies or generalized ontologies in Science and Technology Studies.

Keywords: situated inquiry; respecification; building care; caretaker; maintenance routine; reassembling repair.

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