Lara Houston is a sociologist and ethnographer interested in the politics and poetics of information technology infrastructures. One strand of her work explores practices of maintenance and repair. Beginning at the point where artefacts or systems are unravelling invites different insights about the work of living with and sustaining technologies (or choosing not to).
Her ethnography of mobile phone repair in downtown Kampala, Uganda began as a dissertation at Lancaster University, UK (funded by a Microsoft Research PhD Scholarship) and was extended through a Postdoctoral position at Cornell University, USA (see Reclaiming Repair). Though repair is often framed as a highly localised activity, this study moves outwards from the workbench to explore trans-local aspects of repair practice, including the exchange of tools, techniques and software files on online forums, and the trans-national reimagining of device origins as they are categorised by technicians as “original” and “Chinese.” Repair practices depend on proprietary resources that are often unavailable to technicians in downtown Kampala, and Lara’s study articulates how repair work becomes infrastructural, as technicians identify, locate and bring together knowledges, tools, parts and software files, to create working ecologies of repair.
Building on these themes, Lara has also traced infrastructural politics by following repair activism in the policy and legislative realms. Her Postdoctoral work includes an investigation of two emerging Right to Repair movements in the USA relating to cars and digital technologies. She tracks aftermarket and pressure groups as they fight to introduce legislation to compel manufacturers to open up proprietary information and resources in support of repair.
(for a full list of Citizen Sense publications, see Publications)
- Houston, Lara and Steven J. Jackson. “Caring for the ‘Next Billion’ Mobile Handsets: Opening Proprietary Closures through the Work of Repair,” in Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development, 2016.
- Houston, Lara, Steven J. Jackson, Daniela K. Rosner, Syed Ishtiaque Ahmed, Meg Young and Laewoo Kang. “Values in Repair,” in Proceedings of the 2016 SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp 1403-1414.
- Rosner, Daniela K., Steven J. Jackson, Garnet Hertz, Lara Houston and Nimmi Rangaswamy. “Reclaiming Repair: Maintenance and Mending as Methods for Design,” in Proceedings of the 2013 SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp 3311-3314.