Accepted Paper:

Holding on and letting go - temporal regimes of infrastructure care work   


Marisa Cohn (IT University of Copenhagen)

Paper short abstract:

The time of long-term maintenance comes to stand for stasis. Systems that persist exceed the purity of design, associating repair with pathos. Yet the lived experience of infrastructure care work disrupts this opposition, revealing the mutually configured temporalities of design and repair.

Paper long abstract:

The troubling thing about legacy systems is that they are not only old and obsolescent but that they continue to evolve despite their age. A new bug can crop up in code that has been around for 40 years and an aging machine is made new through its material decay. Particularly within the current regime of fast, cheap, small, iterative technological development, the time of long-term maintenance comes to stand in for stasis and the enduring. Software systems which persist are seen to show signs of excess (non-purity) in relation to their originating authorial designs, and the very fact of these systems sticking around can deem them a source of pathos for the organizations and people that work with them. The people who hold on, rather than let go, of old systems, are often deemed perverse for the pleasures that they find in the work of maintenance and repair. This perversity in the pleasures of care work speaks to the strength of the dominant temporal regime of technological production. In this paper I argue that the marginalization of infrastructure maintenance work arises not only from its invisibility but through the gendering of material and temporal relations to infrastructure over time. Old systems reveal a materiality that is always in excess of the purity and immateriality of design, a materiality that becomes associated with pathos, mess, and complexity. Maintenance work reveals a temporal regime which does not oppose design, but rather exposes the mutually configured times of design and maintenance.

Panel T007
Before/after/beyond breakdown: exploring regimes of maintenance