Many groups and individuals today celebrate “innovation.” The notion is influential not only in engineering and business, but also in the social sciences, arts, and humanities. For example, “innovation” has become a staple of analysis in popular histories – such as Walter Isaacson’s recent book, The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution.
The Maintainers is a global, interdisciplinary research network that takes a different approach, one whose conceptual starting point was a playful proposal for a counter-volume to Isaacson’s that could be titled The Maintainers: How a Group of Bureaucrats, Standards Engineers, and Introverts Made Technologies That Kind of Work Most of the Time. Network members come from a variety of fields, including academic historians and social scientists, as well as artists, activists, engineers, and business leaders. All share an interest in the concepts of maintenance, infrastructure, repair, and the myriad forms of labor and expertise that sustain our human-built world.
The Maintainers started as a series of online conversations in 2015 and culminated, in April 2016, in an essay, "Hail the Maintainers," on Aeon.co and our first conference. Since that time, we have taken part in a number of conversations and workshops; we have formed a partnership and helped curate a series of essays at Aeon.co; and in April 2017, we are holding our second conference, Maintainers II: Labor, Technology, and Social Orders.