Repairs, like many of the people who carry them out, often constitute an invisible background that ensures the smooth functioning of everyday life-worlds. This extended introduction instead places them centre stage, situating the theory and practice of repair at the intersection of a number of different fields, from Science and Technology Studies to the Medical Humanities. It explores the role repair plays in the layered history of various objects and social forms, from technological devices and artworks, to post-conflict cultures. Repair, it argues, is a practice that exists in relational webs of entanglement, where its power can be multiplied if supplemented with an ethics of care. Like the examples of repair it brings to light, the introduction seeks to hold heterogeneous fragments in relation, positing repair as a ‘material metaphor’ that is invaluable for posing questions in a range of disciplinary arenas.
Human culture needs to reinvent itself in order to evolve, to adapt and survive in new environments. From an ethical point of view, there is reappropriation because there has been dispossession. African objects that have been repaired using Western leftovers, or overexpressive repairs, are kept aside in the collections of Western museums as inadequate. Since the Age of Reason, the Occident has always categorised and ordered the world, following its own cultural criteria and beliefs, which led to a misunderstanding. Western human sciences, like ethnology, were developed to analyse the non-Occidental world, in order to control it. The unexpected aesthetic of ‘antemodern’ repaired objects from non-Western cultures, which have been colonised, embodies a sign of resistance. It happens from an act of a cultural otherness, which reappropriates the cultural space that it was taken from (and taken over by a foreigner occupant and ideology), to create a new state that could be understood as resurrection. Because Reappropriation is above everything a Repair. This political and poetical gesture reveals the existence of another ethics and aesthetics of a satisfaction of the approximation, opposite to the Western search for and myth of perfection.
South Africa in 2018 finds itself at yet another crossroads with a changing of the presidential guard set against a backdrop of protests, state capture and a growing disenchantment afforded by the euphoria and promise of 1994, the year of the first democratic elections. This article considers the contemporary South African moment through the lens of the photographic archive of the racially oppressed who were subject to forced removals in Cape Town. It poses questions about the aftermath of racial oppression, representation and the nexus of history, the human and freedom.
Street cultures of make-do and reuse in contemporary India, colloquially known as ‘jugaad’, is a set of material practices that have had a long and established history in the country. This article juxtaposes such practices with ‘repair’ in order to consider the politics of ‘jugaad’ as it played out in the years following the financial crisis of 2008. As growth rates suffered massive contractions and workers were laid off in large numbers, ‘jugaad’ came to take on cultural valences in unexpected contexts, especially within business management literature, where it signalled the vibrancy of the ‘informal’ economy. Following the migration of the term into widespread English usage, alongside the parallel, growing demand for the ‘right to repair’ in the United States and Europe, this article traces how an undisciplined, subaltern practice of repurposing came to be repurposed, in turn, in the service of the failing ‘formal’ economy.
This article explores consumer practices of repair and reuse via a series of stories: the making of an iPod case, the sharing of Apple repair manuals, the development of a GI Joe computer game, the animation of a robotic dog, and the repair of a laptop computer. Together, these stories reveal how the space of consumption is shaped by a complex combination of physical design, software protection measures, restricted technical documentation and intellectual property laws. Within this highly controlled environment, consumers are forced to adopt a tactical approach as they take up the products of mass-production and remake them to match their own desires. In forging unauthorised paths through the consumer environment, practices of repair and reuse challenge established notions of ‘proper’ use and reveal the commercial forces that shape consumption.
This article explores how the body/materiality might be understood in relation to the tekhnē (the technologies, techniques and craft) of repair implicit within breast reconstruction technologies. Breast reconstruction technologies promise to repair the body following breast cancer surgery by returning the body to its previous ‘normativity’ and supposed state of corporeal ‘wholeness’, both of which rest on the ability to visually signify and embody ‘femininity’ via the materiality of the breast. Such technologies, however, delimit the possibility of realising the prosthetic promise in two senses. First, they can only achieve this supposed repair through processes of corporeal disaggregation (where parts of the body are removed and others re-arranged). Second, such repair is always contingent. ‘Return to’ or ‘repair of’ the body prior is vexed, then, raising the question: what kind of renewal – and materiality – might arise from the precarity of repair?
This article examines the six coloured etchings in the series, ‘the holes in the land’ (2015), by Australian Indigenous artist Judy Watson. The series resulted from a residency in the British Museum in 2013, where Watson had access to Aboriginal artefacts from near to her country in north-west Queensland. Watson is a Waanyi artist with maternal ties to north-west Queensland. I analyse the series as groundbreaking in a number of important ways. First, the tone of her visually seductive work departs from the norm of anger proposed as the dominant affect in urban Aboriginal art by Ian McLean. Secondly, the series has the kind of complex ambivalence so well described by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick in her account of reparative approaches to cultural material. And finally, Watson’s vibrant and engaging way of representing the land aligns her with the tenets of Walter Mignolo’s decolonial approach.
This article consists of an introductory text and visual essay based on ‘The Drift’, a fifty-one-minute film produced by Maeve Brennan in 2017. ‘The Drift’ traces the shifting economies of objects in contemporary Lebanon. The film follows three main characters: the gatekeeper of the Roman temples of Niha in the Beqaa Valley; a young mechanic from Britel, a village known for trading automobile parts; and an archaeological conservator working at the American University of Beirut. Set amongst Lebanon’s densely layered archaeological and urban sites, it focuses on the desire to reassemble and rebuild, conjuring an image of masculinity and care in a landscape often associated with conflict. These multiple perspectives offer a complex alternative to reductive media representations, providing us with a ‘thicker’ description.
This article considers how we put together stories about the (violent) past, emphasising how stories emerge through our selective attentions that are themselves necessarily dependent on the modes by which the past is sustained, whether those be traces or material supports that sign(post) the past, or through the care and words of human subjects. Taking as its focus the author’s experience of chasing stories from the Chacabuco ex-detention centre in the Atacama desert, Chile, the article argues that one’s receptivity to stories of ‘what happened’ requires both passivity to receive and creativity, since nothing – neither art, nor memorials, or even human subjects – truly ‘speaks for itself’. As researchers, we facilitate the way stories – often as in this case, shocking, horrific stories, but also humorous, wonderful stories of human kindnesses and sociality – are passed on. Like a game of cat’s cradle, we must receive that entangled crystalline past carefully, for we will turn and entwine it such that new relations and connections appear, and others may be lost from sight. Such a process reminds us of an inherent responsibility: the art of allowing related stories to acknowledge the multiple subjects and struggles for which they are told, while affirming the fragility of each unique existent.
This article brings together Sophocles’s tragedy, ‘Oedipus at Colonus’, with an account of the 2013 Lampedusa disaster in which over three hundred migrants perished off the coast of Italy. This juxtaposition conflates the ancient and the contemporary in order to draw out a decisive feature of border regimes: they not only produce legal and social ambiguity among migrants, but also attempt to instrumentalise and ‘fix’ this ambiguity in favour of the receiving state, with often tragic consequences. This article also outlines the possibility of an alternative ethics that takes place outside this unbalanced relation. By drawing on Vicki Squire’s notion of ‘mobile solidarities’ and Gillian Rose’s wider political category of ‘Ethical Life’, it proposes a more grounded and speculative ethics of repair that both affirms ambiguity and disrupts and troubles the statist framing of the migrant.
Third Text is published in print and online by Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.