Repair, Maintenance and Sustainability

Repair, Maintenance and Sustainability: Enhancing sustainability by strengthening the Design—Repair Nexus

Postdoctoral Researcher


Project Info –

Led by Steven Jackson, Department of Information Science, Cornell University and Daniela Rosner, HCDE, University of Washington

Project funded by the National Science Foundation

Workshops and Continent. publication funded by the Sloan Foundation


Summary –

The Repair, Maintenance and Sustainability project aimed to better understand the practices of consumer technology repair in North American and global contexts, to strengthen connections between technology repair and design (supporting more fixable devices and systems) and thereby to contribute to more robust, equitable and sustainable technology infrastructures.


The four researchers involved in the project drew on existing ethnographic fieldwork from across three continents to undertake a comparative analysis of consumer technology repair outside of corporate organisational contexts. Analysing the social organisation of independent repair shops in Uganda and Bangladesh and public repair events in North America and Europe, we identified the remarkable forms of technical skill and innovation that characterise work in this space, and the barriers in design and industrial organisation that limit and challenge this work (undermining or limiting the sustainability of emerging computing and communication infrastructures).


As part of this project I investigated opportunities to enhance sustainability by supporting repair labourers and lengthening product lifetimes. This involved reviewing repair policy in technology design and manufacturing corporations, and in US legislation.



Networking and Dissemination—

April 2016

‘Critical Breaking and Repair’ workshop in New York that brought together repair activists, trade associations, academic researchers, and community repairers to use visual and inventive methods to engage with the idea of ‘critical breaking’.


October 2015

‘Maintenance, Repair and Beyond’ workshop in Denver, Colorando, with Daniela Rosner and Steven Jackson. Nineteen invited participants from sociology, STS, design and history submitted thought pieces which were developed during the workshop and afterwards into the Continent. Experimental open access publication.



Publications –

Houston, L., Jackson, S. J., Rosner, D. K and the Continent Collective (eds.) (2017) ‘R3PAIR VOLUME,’ Continent, 6 (1) [Open Access]

Houston, L. (2017) ‘The Timeliness of Repair’ in Houston, L., Jackson, S. J., Rosner, D. K and the Continent Collective (eds.) Continent. 6 (1) pp. 51-55. [Open Access]

Houston, L. and Jackson, S. J. (2017) ‘Caring for the “next billion” mobile handsets: Proprietary closures and the work of repair,’ Information Technologies and International Development, 13 pp. 200-214. [Open Access]

Houston, L. and Jackson, S. J. (2016) ‘Caring for the “next billion” mobile handsets: opening proprietary closures through the work of repair,’ Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development. [PDF]

Houston, L., Jackson, S. J., Rosner, D. K., Ahmed, S. I., Young, M. and Kang, L. (2016) ‘Values in Repair’ Proceedings of the 2016 SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems, pp. 1403-1414. [PDF]