unable & irresponsible

November 13, 2018

Thoughts on Valeria Graziano and Kim Trogals’ The Politics of Collective Repair: Examining Object Relations in a Postwork Society (task 6):

”The technologies that have recently been reshaping our households have been enclosing aspects of our everyday lives, restricting freedoms around (…) our ability to repair the things we thought we ‘owned’”


Technological developments have allowed companies to monopolize the entire lifespan of the products they sell by restricting our ability to understand and fix problems without turning to an authorized repairer.

Discussed in relation to the metro station, the question of ownership becomes central, as what is owned by whom in the city is not obvious. Few of us would claim to own the gates to the metro, the stores around them, the ticket booth or the elevator. The trains, as well, signal that they belong not to us but to SL, by signs, sounds, inspectors and drivers informing the customers of the rules set up by the company.

The tunnels on the other hand are present as a prerequisite, as a natural phenomenon, restricted but owned neither by the company or the travellers. Most of us, I think, would say they belong to ”the city”, an entity which has become an authority of unclear boundaries, consisting of all the people it employs as well as physical objects, spaces and land. The fact that ”the city” exists as this vague entity, at a distance from its inhabitants, has removed from us the responsibility to care for the spaces we inhabit. No one in Stockholm would empty a trash can or fix a broken railing – a few of us might file a complaint to get someone, an authorized expert, to fix it. In contrast, in a city where the authorities lack in will or ability to care for the common spaces, the inhabitants do what they can to maintain their city, entitled by their sense of ownership and responsibility.

The metro station is apt to break down when it comes to the objects placed on top of the transportation system, to direct, guide, support and structure the bodies using it: e.g. elevators, doors, trash cans, gates. Being a mixture of objects placed there to make life and usage of the spaces easier for humans, and objects designed to provide or limit access to the same spaces, these objects are not as robust as the infrastructure itself, nor as resilient. These objects make the conflict between what might be called comfortable and uncomfortable – legal and illegal – users become apparent, forcing the latter to face the decision of whether or not to go along with a structure which is forced upon them.

In the event of a breakdown of the gates, this tension is removed, which does not affect the ”legal” user but gives temporary relief to the ”illegal”. Hence what appears as a failure is, from a spatial point of view, a cause of happiness. (However, it is only a temporary relief, and possibly, in the long run, the refusal of the ”illegal” to follow the rules is more productive as it challenges restrictive norms by making them visible.)

In a similar but opposite way, the failure of the elevator or escalator also causes the division of the users of the infrastructure to become apparent, dividing the group into bodies granted and bodies refused access, hence exposing disability as diverging from the norm. In this case however, the breakdown causes only distress.


Thoughts on Virginia Held’s The Ethics of Care as Moral Theory (task 7):


Valeria Graziano and Kim Trogal cite Mario Diani, stating that a social movement can be defined as ”a process whereby several different actors (…) come to elaborate (…) a shared definition of themselves as being part of the same side in a social conflict. By doing so, they provide meaning to otherwise unconnected protest events or symbolic antagonistic practices, and make explicit the emergence of specific conflicts and issues”.

One such social conflict could be the moment where the official commercial architecture of the metro station divides the users of the infrastructure into two groups. Unconnected antagonistic practices might be the alcoholic asking for a cigarette outside Pressbyrån, the teenager jumping the gate to avoid paying, and the homeless person quietly entering the gate behind you. They are all using the spaces connected to the infrastructure in ways other than those deemed correct by the majority, or the (commercial) authorities.

Virginia Held writes:

”…the dominant theories have assumed that morality should be sought for unrelated, independent, and mutually indifferent individuals assumed to be equal.”


”The ethics of care addresses rather than neglects moral issues arising in relations among the unequal and dependent, relations that are often laden with emotion and involuntary, and then notices how often these attributes apply not only in the household but in the wider society as well. For instance, persons do not choose which gender, racial, class, ethnic, religious, national, or cultural groups to be brought up in…”

The moral indignation of the ”legal” users of the metro might subside if at some point they were made to see that the ”antagonists” causing the disturbance by their immoral behaviour do so out of necessity; users of the metro are not on equal terms.

A number of social and digital infrastructures exist to support the disobedient group, such as social media sites giving updates on the whereabouts of the ticket inspectors, websites detailing how to access the infrastructure without buying a ticket, social networks of homeless friends, etc.

Since the architectures of the metro station are not owned by its users, the care for them is taken for granted, the cleaning and the technical maintenance paid for, not noticed unless there is a problem. To care for such a space is not only unthought of – to a large extent it is prohibited. To pick up trash is allowed, but cleaning up after a stranger is going to far – punished by social awkwardness.

In streets of other cities (outside of Sweden), care can be seen in small decorations or temples placed by the inhabitants wherever they have felt the need. To leave things or put up posters in public places in Stockholm is seen as vandalism and is punishable. Hence care itself has become an antagonistic practice.

Caring architecturally for the metro station might therefore seem quite overwhelming, and yet it is performed over and over again by different users, everyday.

“…the switch is the thing that is not except at the moments of its change of setting, and the concept ‘switch’ has thus a special relation to time. It is related to the notion ‘change’ rather than to the notion ‘object.’”

The architectural care lies in claiming the spaces momentarily, every day, holding the gate open, if possible breaking it, letting anyone enter behind you.



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