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Helping people to help themselves? Care and repair in DIY initiatives
Over the last decade policymakers, funders and academics increasingly are interested in discussing the potentials of DIY initiatives to contribute towards sustainability transformations. A growing number of people fix and make their own products through small-scale, decentralised workshops (e.g. Repair Cafés and Makerspaces). Initiatives are said to promote citizen empowerment and collaborative practices and therefore strengthening social transformation processes. Some of the initiatives’ narratives connect readily to policy agendas for neighborhood regeneration and inclusive innovation. Other narratives derive from civic activism, expressing that initiatives ‘help people to help themselves’ to develop a countermovement against the increasing throwaway society. As yet, there is little social scientific research that looks closely at the processes of repairing and making things together and how the narratives manifest on the ground: whether the empowerment of citizens through DIY activities is inclusive and enable more sustainable consumption patterns. The proposed paper draws on recent conceptual work on ‘care’ and ‘repair’ (e.g. Houston & Jackson, Graham & Thrift, Mol et al.) that considers caring both to be a practical and ethical matter taking into account human and object relations. The notions of ‘care’ draws attention to moments of learning and of politics where a range of normative and emotional activities are enacted through collaborative repair and making that can be empowering but also are inherently fragile and vulnerable. A mixed-method approach based on participant observations in eight repair cafés in Germany and citizen science research (e.g. Haklay) has been conducted to investigate processes of ‘helping people to help themselves’. A set of so called ‘cultural probes’ (e.g. Gaver), a creative method coming from design research to explore people’s daily lives, has been drawn upon and adapted for citizen science. Our cultural probes comprised of fifteen activities co-developed with and sent to the citizen scientists who engaged with the probes by taking photos, drawing pictures and telling stories whilst collecting data through self-observations. The data collected through ‘cultural probes’ was analysed together in participatory workshops. Preliminary results show that narratives of ‘helping people help themselves’ are perceived, interpreted and experienced very differently in DIY initiatives. The coming together of humans and object to provide ‘care’ and in turn depend on ‘care’ i.e. fixing things together is not always straightforward. Repairing things together is often linked to a strong sense of caring for one’s objects. Nevertheless, this is not the complete story. For most of the citizen scientists, the experience of engaging in repairing and making cognitively, physically and sensually as well as doing things together, are manifold from fear of failing to ‘care’ for human and object to delight of sustaining and remaking ties between human and object. These experiences play a key role whether repair work is started (or not) and can be seen as an important driver to appropriate the relevant know-how and invest time to be able to further engage in these practices together. The proposed paper will elaborate our empirical findings and relate them to a broader debate on social transformation towards sustainable consumption.