What is the Value of Fixing? What are the social motivations and relationships which happen around fixing? Our group set out to help Fixperts conceptualise where, how and for whom fixing works best, and explore new kinds of social and cultural spaces for their work.
Work Conducted: Summer 2015
How Broken Stories Happened
When Lucy, Sarah, Xu and I met with Daniel Charny, co-founder of the repair-centered social initiative Fixperts, we were presented with the ethnographic task of uncovering “what can be fixed?” Taking this as a both a material and a social question, we set to work interviewing people in their homes across London regarding their perspectives on brokenness, uselessness, and repair. We all live with broken things, we postulated, perhaps different categories of broken things would reveal similar stories. Rather, however, we discovered that different people revealed similar stories about different broken things. Drawing from our ethnographic data, we thus developed what might be described as “user profiles” for brokenness and repair.
By analyzing our respondents’ similarities and differences with regards to perception, relationships, temporality, roadblocks, skills, and motivations, we identified 4 unique profiles. “The Reinventor” sees future potential in all broken things and likes to orchestrate this transformation. “The Removed” is either unmotivated or unable to fix the things in his/her environment due to lack of ownership of the space, household things, or the required equipment. “The Reminiscer” sees memories in now-broken, but still precious, objects. “The Recycler” is driven by thrift and social/political values.
The larger cultural question that developed was “what is brokenness?” because while “brokenness” is constant, perception is not. What is seen as broken or in need of repair varies drastically according to background, skills, age, and increasingly, we observed, whether or not you own or rent your home. Thus, repair too varies along these lines. Different expressions of social brokenness – broken relationships, lack of confidence, error, lost loved ones, etc. – underlie material brokenness at every level, further inspiring variation. People satisfy different needs with different motivations when they fix or have something fixed, because they perceive their broken things differently. Thus, these repairs too look different.
What also looks different is the kinds of relationship which develop around fixing. When you have one person who has something ‘broken’ and another who is fixing it, they may have different ideas about what fixing involves. One might be thinking of memories, another of recycling. So four different kinds of fixer profile adds up to at least 16 kinds of fixing relationship, which can be used to think about a wide territory of fixing and brokenness and the values underlying them. Any particular organisation involved in fixing might occupy different parts of this territory.
The imperative this study presents is that fixing, as a social initiative, needs to be adaptive to different types of people living in increasingly different times. As designers, the further initiative that can be inferred is that design too should be adaptive to the same different people and different times. Understanding the values and motivations behind the consumption, use – and maybe even the anticipated break and repair – of designed objects is a meaningful application of anthropology to the field of design.
Work Conducted By: Sarah Gazzaz, Lucy Adjoah Armah, Xu He, Kelsey McClellan.
Client: Daniel Charney of Fixperts