Mending is a multifaceted practice. It has long-established roots spanning centuries of human productive effort. Today it is experiencing a revival as a result of grassroots innovation movements and initiatives which seek to foster repair, re-use, upcycling and other creative forms of waste prevention.
Whilst it may be argued that mending practices never went away for some (Bond et al. 2013; Hackney 2013), in recent decades they have largely been marginalised by more spectacular and conspicuous forms of contemporary consumption, leisure and/or domestic practice, as well as the widespread acceptance of product ‘disposability’ (Cooper 2005; van Nes 2010). Yet – and partly as a direct response to the phenomena of premature product obsolescence – an enthusiastic minority has remained committed to the political potential of mending as a critique of capitalist society (e.g. Fickey 2011; Maycroft 2009). Further, the persistence of austerity for many in the UK and beyond has necessitated for some households a return to ‘making do’ practices associated with historic periods of war and recession (Hall 2011; De Silvey 2012).
Mending is therefore a rich field of enquiry for both academics and activists, and one that deserves further investigation in relation to contemporary trends and socio-technical systems. MEND*RS seeks to contribute to the discussion through a workshop at the forthcoming conference on Product Lifetimes and the Environment (PLATE). The PLATE conference aims to review current research on how and why increased product lifetimes have become an important element in resource efficiency, waste reduction and low carbon strategies for sustainability. The need to prolong the usable lives of material objects as a means of reducing waste and conserving resources has been made explicit (Bulkeley and Gregson 2009; DEFRA 2011), and mending is a clear ally of this drive. This is not only because it employs human agency and ingenuity to divert objects back into the realm of use and value (Gregson et al. 2009; Parsons 2008; Lepawsky and Mather 2011), but because it simultaneously negates the need for further resource use in the production of a replacement.
The focus of this collaborative workshop is the production of mending cultures by individual and collective human and non-human agencies; in other words, shared practices oriented around prolonging the usable lives of material things, recognising the durability of both the object and the value(s) and meaning(s) associated with it. In conjunction with practitioners, activists, and thinkers from diverse disciplinary background we seek to explore the practices and knowledges at the heart of mending culture(s); the meanings created and drawn upon; how such a culture is – or could be – produced; and the most significant barriers to its long-term sustainability.
We are interested in discussion that touches on any of the following:
- The role of ‘deep’ engagement with material objects, as facilitated by mending, in awakening human sensitivity to the situatedness of consumption in environments which necessarily must absorb its impacts (e.g. Brook 2012);
- Repair as a mechanism for achieving novelty through production rather than consumption, i.e. that idea that what is needed is effort to make new relationships with things rather than making new things (Gill and Lopes 2011);
- Maintenance and repair as a vital source of improvement, variation, customization, improvisation and innovation (Graham & Thrift, 2007)
- Cultures and socialities of repair as facilitators of increased human wellbeing, self-esteem and self-efficacy associated with the pleasure of competence (Crawford 2010; Gauntlett 2011; Hackney 2013);
- The human/non-human/material configurations and spatial locations/arrangements conducive to the emergence and sustainability of mending culture;
- Conceptualisations of waste vis-à-vis repair: how do we conceptualise waste and our role in its production; and how might this be mobilised in support of mending culture(s)?
- How different ways of engaging with mending as ‘alternative’ consumption speak to the interests of different population segments, such as anti-capitalist disengagement from the market, or a means of achieving distinction in style and practices in a homogenised material culture.
- The temporalities of a sustainable mending culture: how to contest the anachronism associated with some kinds of mending practice and, instead, draw positively from historic practices.
- The new DIY trend: how mending can be considered a focus for distributed production systems (e.g. FabLab, Techshop) and the wider impact of these systems on the environmental implications of production (Troxler 2013).
- Grassroots innovation for mending and repair: what kinds of windows of opportunities are there for scaling-up and what barriers may be encountered?
In order to facilitate close collaboration, a limited number of applicants will be selected for participation in the workshop. Candidates are invited to apply via the submission of a 1,000 to 1,500 word position statement outlining their vision, ideas or experiences in relation to one topic from the above list.
Please email your position statement to firstname.lastname@example.org by 17th December 2014. Accepted submissions will be confirmed by 19th January 2015. The proposal for this workshop will be submitted to the PLATE conference organisers by 16th February 2015, including the list of participants and topics of discussions.
Jonnet Middleton, Lancaster University
Giuseppe Salvia, Nottingham Trent University
Rebecca Collins, University of Chester
Blanca Callén, Open University of Catalonia