Class 8 (English 238 – Fall 2020)

Class Business

Plan for class: Broken-world/Repair Theory  Arrow right   Waste/Trash/Garbage Theory

Epigraphs and Gallery for Class

Steven J. Jackson

What if we care about our technologies, and do so in more than a trivial way? (232)

Michelle Ty

Attending to the neglected elements of productive enterprise, as well as the infrastructural networks necessary to eliminate them, is necessary for apprehending what I refer to as the afterlife of the commodity, or, put otherwise, the fate of capitalism’s disjecta membra, and the people who tend to it. (608)

The Maintainers

Andrew Russell and Lee Vinsel, "Hail the Maintainers"
Andrew Russell and Lee Vinsel, “Hail the Maintainers”

Post-earthquake Christchurch

Post-earthquake building façade buttressed with shipping containers in Christchurch, NZ, Nov. 11, 2015. (Photo by Alan Liu)
Post-earthquake building façade buttressed with shipping containers in Christchurch, NZ, Nov. 11, 2015. (Photo by Alan Liu)
Re:START Mall, Christchurch, NZ, Oct. 25, 2015 (photo by Alan Liu)
Re:START Mall in Christchurch, NZ, Oct. 25, 2015 (photo by Alan Liu)

Broken World Thinking

Word "broken" with shattered glass background

Steven J. Jackson, “Rethinking Repair”

What world does contemporary information technology inhabit? Is it the imaginary nineteenth-century world of progress and advance, novelty and invention, open frontiers and endless development? Or the twenty-first century world of risk and uncertainty, growth and decay, and fragmentation, dissolution, and breakdown?

This chapter is an exercise in broken world thinking. It asks what happens when we take erosion, breakdown, and decay, rather than novelty, growth, and progress, as our starting points in thinking…. (221)

To repurpose Tolstoy, “All working technologies are alike. All broken technologies are broken in their own way.” (228)

Whiteboard

Word "repaired" with shattered glass background

Steven J. Jackson, “Rethinking Repair”

Attached to this, however, comes a second and more hopeful approach: namely, a deep wonder and appreciation for the ongoing activities by which stability (such as it is) is maintained, the subtle arts of repair by which rich and robust lives are sustained against the weight of centrifugal odds, and how sociotechnical forms and infrastructures, large and small, get not only broken but restored, one not-so-metaphoric brick at a time. On this road we travel the path from despair to admiration, even reverence, and are confronted above all by the remarkable resilience, creativity, and sheer magnitude of the work represented in the ongoing maintenance and reproduction of established order. (222)

Repair is about space and function–the extension or safeguarding of capabilities in danger of decay. But it is also an inescapably timely phenomenon, bridging past and future in distinctive and sometimes surprising ways. Repair inherits an old and layered world, making history but not in the circumstances of its choosing. It accounts for the durability of the old, but also the appearance of the new. . . . Above all, repair occupies and constitutes an aftermath, growing at the margins, breakpoints, and interstices of complex sociotechnical systems as they creak, flex, and bend their way through time. (223)

Following on the claims of Hegelian, Marxian, and feminist theorists, can we identify anything like a standpoint epistemology of repair? (229)

What if we care about our technologies, and do so in more than a trivial way? (232)

The tricky proposition for media and technology studies posed by broken world thinking and other posthumanist approaches is this: is it possible to love, and love deeply, a world of things? (232)


By the same token, repair is not always heroic or directed toward noble ends, and may function as much in defense as in resistance to antidemocratic and antihumanist projects. (233)

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Jérôme Denis and David Pontille, “Material Ordering and the Care of Things”

An important aspect of maintenance as a care of things is that, since it draws on watchfulness, it cannot be normalized. (355)

Accompanying the subway signs maintenance workers, we progressively learned to see and treat the signs the way they did: fragile and mutating entities, the boundaries of which were sometimes blurred; things that have to be taken care of, despite their standardized design and despite their ordering aims. Maintenance practices and concerns enact objects as vulnerable entities. As a care of things, it also performs order in a very particular manner, where flaws and breakdowns are not a series of breaches in a preexisting higher order, but basis for a ceaselessly enacted order. (360)

Most frequent words in Steven J. Jackson, "Rethinking Repair" (2014). (Analyzed in AntConc with Buckley-Salton stopword list applied)
Most frequent words in Steven J. Jackson, “Rethinking Repair” (2014). (Analyzed in AntConc with Buckley-Salton stopword list applied)
"Broken" (left) 3-grams in Steven J. Jackson, "Rethinking Repair" (2014). (Analyzed in AntConc with Buckley-Salton stopword list applied)
“Broken” (left) 3-grams in Steven J. Jackson, “Rethinking Repair” (2014). (Analyzed in AntConc with Buckley-Salton stopword list applied)
“Repair” (right) 3-grams in Steven J. Jackson, “Rethinking Repair” (2014). (Analyzed in AntConc with Buckley-Salton stopword list applied)
"Repair" (right) 3-grams in Steven J. Jackson, "Rethinking Repair" (2014). (Analyzed in AntConc with Buckley-Salton stopword list applied)
“Repair” (right) 3-grams in Steven J. Jackson, “Rethinking Repair” (2014). (Analyzed in AntConc with Buckley-Salton stopword list applied)
"Care" (left) 3-grams in Steven J. Jackson, "Rethinking Repair" (2014). (Analyzed in AntConc with Buckley-Salton stopword list applied)
“Care” (left) 3-grams in Steven J. Jackson, “Rethinking Repair” (2014). (Analyzed in AntConc with Buckley-Salton stopword list applied)
"Care" (right) 3-grams in Steven J. Jackson, "Rethinking Repair" (2014). (Analyzed in AntConc with Buckley-Salton stopword list applied)
“Care” (right) 3-grams in Steven J. Jackson, “Rethinking Repair” (2014). (Analyzed in AntConc with Buckley-Salton stopword list applied)
Parts of speech tagged in Steven J. Jackson, "Rethinking Repair" (2014). (Using CLAWS, Buckley-Salton stopword list previously applied)
Parts of speech tagged in Steven J. Jackson, “Rethinking Repair” (2014). (Using CLAWS, Buckley-Salton stopword list previously applied)

Infrastructure Theory & Repair Theory

Steven J. Jackson, “Rethinking Repair”

What world does contemporary information technology inhabit? Is it the imaginary nineteenth-century world of progress and advance, novelty and invention, open frontiers and endless development? Or the twenty-first century world of risk and uncertainty, growth and decay, and fragmentation, dissolution, and breakdown?
This chapter is an exercise in broken world thinking. It asks what happens when we take erosion, breakdown, and decay, rather than novelty, growth, and progress, as our starting points in thinking through the nature, use, and effects of information technology and new media. (227)

Susan Leigh Star, “The Ethnography of Infrastructure”

The normally invisible quality of working infrastructure becomes visible when it breaks: the server is down, the bridge washes out, there is a power blackout. (382)

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Thomas P. Hughes, Networks of Power

The method of growth analysis used in this study involves reverse salients and critical problems. Because the study unit is a system, the historian finds reverse salients arising in the dynamics of the system during the uneven growth of its components and hence of the overall network…. In the case of a technological system, inventors, engineers, and other professionals dedicate their creative and constructive powers to correcting reverse salients so that the system can function optimally and fulfill system goals.. (14)

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Bruno Latour, “On Technical Mediation”

Bruno Latour, Fig. 1 in "On Technical Mediation". Latour's caption is: "First Meaning of Mediation: Translation"

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Stacks

Internet Stack (Diagram by Alan Liu synthesizing and adapting many other available visualizations)
Internet Stack (Diagram by Alan Liu synthesizing and adapting many other available visualizations)

Steven J. Jackson

Broken world thinking is both normative and ontological…. (221)

Burtynsky’s photos . . . tell us important things about the themes of breakdown, maintenance, and repair raised here…. [T]hese activities are entirely routine, a normal and inevitable feature of technology’s course in the world. Things are made, and things fall apart. Objects are produced, and objects are discarded…. If we are to understand maintenance, repair, and technology more broadly, scenes such as Burtynsky’s must be made empirically and conceptually familiar, even normal. (226)

Edward Burtynsky, Shipbreaking #4
Edward Burtynsky, Shipbreaking #4
(other works from Burtynsky’s photography books and his works in the CIstudies.org bibliography under “Photography”)

More Burtynsky (images from his books of photography)

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Waste Management System (diagram from A. Maalouf and M. El-Fadel, 2018)

Waste, Trash, or Garbage Theory
(See CIstudies.org Bibliography: Waste, Garbage, Sewage)

Michael Ezban, “The Trash Heap of History”

Rome's Monte Testaccio, from Michael Ezban, The Trash Heap of History]
Rome’s Monte Testaccio, from Michael Ezban, The Trash Heap of History

In the contemporary globalized wasteshed — just as in ancient Rome — consumption alters topography; physical material from one location is deposited in another, filling in shorelines and flood zones and resulting in mountains and islands. Waste management is a tightly orchestrated logistical operation. Garbage flows along particular routes in accordance with efficiency calculations that weigh disposal fees against distances traveled; it is trucked across state and national borders, exchanged between public and corporate entities, and conveyed from urban to rural zones. Shifts in the volume and rate of garbage flows are triggered by environmental regulations, political action, population densities and economic dynamics.

. . . the process of Monte Testaccio’s formation resonates with contemporary practices. Like its modern counterparts, it resulted from the waste stream of a transnational network of food manufacture and transportation that ranged thousands of miles and served millions of citizens. Its scale and logistical complexity rivals that of contemporary food distribution and waste systems. Monte Testaccio is the physical byproduct of the flows of materials and the exchanges of goods and services that underpin the processes of urbanization.

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Michelle Ty, “Trash and the Ends of Infrastructure”

What has come into view is not a series of successive stages but moments that double back on each other. In the midst of these recursive transformations in the geopolitics of waste, Tekin intervenes with what is not a new urban novel but the urban novel’s involute. She invites a consideration of how material networks forge connections while they sever, how they link disparate areas but at the same time dissociate connected spaces from what is beyond the reach of the grid.
spacerEven more so than social and physical structures that provide services like gas, light, and digital communication, the material systems required for processing trash must include a point of exteriority. Infrastructures of waste must contain, in other words, a node of non-belonging, a place that is contiguous to the network but categorically severed from it. In short, the garbage hills set before us a task: to understand infrastructure as producing nonrelation as much as connectivity. (626-27)


If capitalism turns waste into a politico-economic problem associated with industrialization, then under neoliberalism, the municipal problem of garbage becomes global: it is subject to legislation by international bodies of governance and is a direct consequence of overurbanization, which in turn has a partial cause in patterns of migration that were set in motion by free market policies, including the Structural Adjustment Programs of the World Bank (Davis 15). Whereas at the end of the first wave, the disposal of trash was still largely a problem that could be addressed at the level of the city or the nation-state, now transnational vectors make new pathways available for waste and capital flows alike. (611)

Michelle Ty, “Trash and the Ends of Infrastructure”

Figures 1-4 in Michelle Ty,
Figures 1-4 in Michelle Ty, “Trash and the Ends of Infrastructure” (2015), p. 609

What transpired between the time when it would have been scarcely imaginable to waste a shot on piles of trash, as Atget does, and the postwar period, during which garbage gains enough cultural currency to become something of a studium, something legible, not quite as a field of knowledge, but as a nexus of interest, or what Barthes describes as a “general enthusiastic commitment” in its own right (24)? How to account for the transition whereby trash is largely excluded from the purview of the aesthetic to the point at which it constitutes artworks and becomes, as in Rauschenberg’s combines, their principal content? (614)

As urban infrastructure is developed to facilitate the circulation of commodities and refuse, garbage takes on an increasingly prominent role in the realm of the aesthetic—continuing to appear in city narratives as an unavoidable element in the fabric of urban experience or as something that interrupts the aleatory path of the flaneur. (617)

Rather, shifting approaches to waste management emerged within a broader urban milieu that proved conducive for a series of paradigm shifts, such that, over time, not only could garbage be profitably employed by artists as raw material or content, but they could produce, as evidenced by Duchamp’s urinal and the assemblages of Elsa Freytag von Loringhoven, an almost total coincidence between art-object, garbage, and commodity. (618)

Alan Liu

Where once the job of literature and the arts was creativity, now, in an age of total innovation, I think it must be history. That is to say, it must be a special, dark kind of history. The creative arts . . . must be the history not of things created—the great, auratic artifacts treasured by a conservative or curatorial history—but of things destroyed in the name of creation. (The Laws of Cool: Knowledge Work and the Culture of Information, 8)

Michelle Ty

Such a reversal of the typical priority of the (aesthetic) product over what is sloughed off to make it creates space for the appreciation of a whole range of activities, which, from the vantage of classical political economy, would appear aneconomic—not strictly productive in that they generate no new value—but are nonetheless imbricated in everyday life and have become essential to the global economy’s ever-growing informal sector. (608)

What kind of value can be extracted from something that has been deemed worthless? And how does such second-order value become legible—how does it appear in the economy if it is not strictly productive? (621)