Introduction to the WIRE Project.
In the emerging literature, found especially in the interdisciplinary field of science and technology studies (STS), the fundamental importance of maintenance and repair to the very possibility of social continuity is being recognized. There are literal and figurative lessons to be learned about how collective life might be more amiably and justly organized in a world "altered beyond return (though not necessarily beyond repair)" (Jackson, 2014: 221-222). In our own work, we examine the maintenance and repair of information and communication technologies (ICT) as questions of economic, ecological, and social importance. Following the action of these practices is our way in to both the more straightforward implications of ICT maintenance and repair (ICT M&R) (e.g., what sort of job prospects does the sector offer, for whom, where, and under what conditions?), but also its more figurative aspects as well (e.g., how does ICT stand in for both the dreams of technological futurity as well as the nightmares of social and environmental breakdown signified by electronic waste?).
The WIRE project is premised on a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods (e.g., surveys, oral history interviews). It also involves fieldwork in Peru, China, and elsewhere. As the WIRE project unfolds, it will:
- Map how ICT M&R supply- and customer-networks are spatially organized locally, regionally, and globally, and how they intersect with other economic sectors;
- Determine how ICT M&R contributes to a location over time in terms of economic actions they may both facilitate and impede (e.g., waged employment, mutual aid, self-employment);
- Discern how the pace of technical change of ICT products impacts the formal and informal ICT M&R sectors and how businesses in these sectors adapt to such technical change;
- Evaluate the possibilities and limits of ICT M&R for material and energy conservation by determining (a) the degree to which ICT M&R mitigates waste arising from initial production (i.e., in resource extraction and manufacturing); (b) what discards arise from the formal and informal ICT M&R sectors themselves, and how those discards are handled; and (c) what opportunities exist, or could be formulated, to handle those discards in situations that may lack infrastructure for handling their hazardous components and materials; and
- Share these empirical findings within academia to reframe the economy as a more diverse object of analysis that includes M&R, and with non-academic audiences (e.g., policy-makers, social justice advocates) to promote equitable access to resilient ICT infrastructures and to bring enhanced attention to the work of M&R as a core, rather than a peripheral, economic activity.