This essay is a minor classic and more evocative than argumentative. I’ve also read it half a dozen times, so my notes will be brief.

  • “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. Broken world thinking is both normative and ontological, in the sense that it makes claims about the nature of technology and its relationship to broader social worlds, some of which may differ from deep-rooted cultural assumptions. But it is also empirical and methodological, an argument and provocation toward doing new and different kinds of research, and new and different kinds of politics, in media and technology studies today” (221).
  • Two components to this approach: “The first is an appreciation of the real limits and fragility of the worlds we inhabit—natural, social, and technological—and a recognition that many of the stories and orders of modernity (or whatever else we choose to call the past two-hundred-odd years of euro-centered human history) are in process of coming apart, perhaps to be replaced by new and better stories and orders, but perhaps not” (221); “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” (222).
  • “The fulcrum of these two worlds is repair: the subtle acts of care by which order and meaning in complex sociotechnical systems are maintained and transformed, human value is preserved and extended, and the complicated work of fitting to the varied circumstances of organizations, systems, and lives is accomplished” (222).
  • Repair as “articulation work” in the vein of Star.
  • “This chapter argues that breakdown, maintenance, and repair constitute crucial but vastly understudied sites or moments within the worlds of new media and technology today. It argues that much of what we care about as media and technology scholars is implicated or enacted in exactly such moments, and that the productivist bias of the field obscures this fact. It asks how we might begin to think differently around the phenomena of breakdown, maintenance, and repair, and how we might use this difference to launch other and more hopeful programs of research. And it argues for the contributions that broken world thinking and a repair-centered ethics might make to the project of defining an appropriate moral and practical stance vis-à-vis the world of media and technology today” (226).
  • “For the same basic reasons, repair—perhaps especially under conditions of modern industrial production—may constitute one of our most significant sites and sources of sociotechnical difference” (228).
  • Re: visibility: “But a second set of links among visibility, power, and knowledge in the context of maintenance and repair needs to be considered, one with perhaps special relevance to the analytic and methodological interests that frame this volume. The question is this: can repair sites and repair actors claim special insight or knowledge, by virtue of their positioning vis-à-vis the worlds of technology they engage?” (229).
  • Infrastructure w/i visibility: “The same broad principle has been taken up in more recent work in new media and technology studies, for example, Bowker and Star’s (1999) observation that technologies and practices which rise (or sink) to the level of infrastructure are frequently invisible until breakdown, and that special acts and moments of “infrastructural inversion” may be required to call these phenomena and their associated politics back to the center of thought and action” (230).
  • “Finally, foregrounding maintenance and repair as an aspect of technological work invites not only new functional but also moral relations to the world of technology. It references what is in fact a very old but routinely forgotten relationship of humans to things in the world: namely, an ethics of mutual care and responsibility” (231). This moral/ethical questions are some of the most urgent crosshatching of digital and ecological critique.
  • “These three themes—innovation, knowledge/power, and the ethics of care—constitute missing elements or dimensions of the way we in new media and technology studies typically think about breakdown, maintenance, and repair (when we think about it at all)” (233).