Valuing Maintenance and Care

At what point do we honour the labour of maintenance on par with innovation and growth? I recently stumbled upon the article Maintenance and Care by Shannon Mattern of the New School. I love her survey of the growing interest in the work of maintaining infrastructure, information, relationships and homes.

Image: Smithsonian Institute

In a time of resource depletion, the message of sustainability implicit in the celebration of maintenance has a great deal of resonance. Mattern discusses fixing the cracks [literally] in the pavement of our roads as well as the need for the ongoing maintenance of data for our systems to function. I was reminded of the Natural Step’s funnel metaphor: a narrowing tunnel of earth’s resources that organizations must negotiate to stay in business.

Happily Mattern also credits archivists whose invisible labour in preserving collections allows researchers to feel like they have “discovered lost content”. The painstaking labour of archivists in making records available is often underestimated. I remember another article where the future of digital archivists was compared to medieval scribes: forever copying and migrating digital objects from one format to another.

I also love the value that a care and maintenance approach places on traditional women’s work. House cleaning and repair has often fallen to women. But, in the impending world of scarcity, the thrift, recycling and upcycling skills often associated with our grandmothers are going to continue to migrate from the environmental niche to the mainstream.

So let’s raise the profile of the “tenders and menders”, whatever the tools or field. There will be no planned obsolescence of these skills!

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