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The banality of failure: disturbances, fragilities and resilience of digital infrastructures, media and technologies 
Irina Zakharova (Leibniz University Hannover)
Christian Schwarzenegger (University of Bremen)
Erik Koenen
Sigrid Kannengießer
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Irina Zakharova (Leibniz University Hannover)
Traditional Open Panel

Short Abstract:

How can societies productively engage with technological fragilities? What is the role of failure in our relations with technologies? How to develop practices of resilience? As big and small breakdowns challenge everyday activities, this panel explores the banality of failure and maintenance work.

Long Abstract:

This open panel takes as a starting point studies of infrastructures, their breakdowns, and the often invisible maintenance work supporting digital technologies. How can societies productively engage with technological fragilities? What is the role of failure in our relations with technologies and what practices of resilience develop from these relations? How can everyday maintenance work be acknowledged and integrated into technopolitics?

Breakdowns such as an internet connection not working during an important video call or an electricity outage following an ecological or human-made crisis are no rare occurrences. As such small and big breakdowns challenge everyday activities, they render visible the inherent fragility of our digitally mediated existence. There is, however, an inclination in both public discourse and academic scrutiny to focus on the extraordinary rather than the commonplace. Taking a step back from such attention to the transformative power of breakdown, this paper aims to explore the banality of failure and everyday maintenance work.

Dealing with ‚small’ everyday technical malfunctions, failures, and glitches, caring for or fixing technological breakdowns has become as invisible and taken for granted as the digital infrastructures themselves. Noticeably, these practices of everyday maintenance are often overlooked when advertising new technologies, but present integral components of the economic revenue models, digital design and user experience. Lastly, we need to recognize the environmental impact stemming from intentional design of digital technologies that seem destined to fail, pushing consumers towards more frequent replacements rather than fixes.

This panel invites to explore such disturbances, fragilities and resilience in our relations with digital infrastructures. Topics can include empirical cases of common or exceptional, deliberate or unintentional technological failures and their fixes, reflections on existing failure-free technopolitics, material obsolesce and the intentionally limited lifecycles of digital technologies, and conceptual inquiries into the nature of failure, disturbance, and resilience.

Accepted papers: