Rethinking design for anti-repair: from obsolescence to gate keeping

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    Consumer electronics such as smart phones and laptop computers have historically been associated with aesthetic obsolescence and technological transience. Their built-in impermanence is today at the root of an insurmountable e-waste problem, with substantial social and environmental sustainability impacts (Forti et al., 2020). Design strategies adopted by manufacturers and brands have been a major contributor to this (Jackson, 2014). In design literature, such strategies have been considered a form of planned obsolescence (e.g. Park, 2010). From that perspective, devices that are resistant to repair have been seen as subpar designs, whose built-in shortcomings help drive sales. This paper aims to propose an alternate theoretical understanding of “design for anti-repair” in the context of consumer electronics that accounts for the role of design under the historical conditions of cognitive capitalism. For that purpose, the paper reviews major news sources, blogs and other social media on technology from the last decade in order to identify an inventory of corporate anti-repair strategies, as well as their counterparts in consumer practices of repairers and maker communities. The findings are mapped in the form of a material-semiotic assemblage that encompasses legal, technological and aesthetic elements. Based on an analysis of the assemblage, the paper argues that design for anti-repair is best theorized as a series of gates that are put in place to limit consumers’ access to unauthorized uses and knowledges of a designed product, which are conceived as intellectual property rights and valorized as rent (Vercellone, 2013; Graziano and Trogal, 2017). These gates include, among others, a commodity aesthetics that attempts to deliver a sleek experience of high technology, tamper-proof designs, and the designed obscurity of assembly. Amateur repair and repair activisms are then conceptualized as gate crashing. The paper concludes that design for anti-repair is a complex sociomaterial issue, and tackling it requires aligning design efforts with cultural and political analysis and intervention.
    Publikationsdatosep. 2022
    StatusUdgivet - sep. 2022
    BegivenhedDesign History Society Annual Conference 2022: Design and Transience - Izmir, Tyrkiet
    Varighed: 8. sep. 202210. sep. 2022


    KonferenceDesign History Society Annual Conference 2022


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