David Nemer and Padma Chirumamilla

Download Full EssayLiving in the Broken City

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How can we understand the means by which people come to live with infrastructural uncertainty as a persistent condition of their everyday life? Drawing from ethnographic work conducted in the favelas—urban slums—of Vitória, Brazil, we wish to think about the small-scale activities and responses that form, in their continuance, a way by which people come to terms with the precarity and instability—infrastructural and otherwise—that characterizes their daily lives. The infrastructure that shapes the transmission and production of social and technical knowledge is indisputably shaped by the precarity and unevenness of contemporary urban life. Repair can be understood as a way of living with, and enduring through, situations of uncertainty and persistent failure. Inspired by histories of technology calling for a renewed focus on maintenance, and recent writings on the act of repair, we turn to closely examine the LAN house—a blend of cybercafé and PC repair shop. In particular, we think that the LAN houses of the favela serve as exemplary illustrations of the daily encounter with failure and breakage that characterize ordinary life in this particular cityscape. Understanding the technical and social knowledge that constitutes the work of PC repair in LAN houses allows us to envision repair as a constitutive part of an uneven urban infrastructure. From this, we hope to construct a broader notion of repair as a response—always partial in addressing, always in contentious struggle with—the conditions of long-term infrastructural uncertainty that delineate and define these areas.