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Guest post: Hopeful Repair, Repairing Hopefully

This guest post is by maker and Hackney Fixer Bridget Harvey. She is an associate lecturer at Camberwell College of Arts and works with the Centre for Circular Design.

Hope is an expectation for something to happen and an intention to do something towards it.

Discussions of it deepen our understanding of humanness, activism and motivation; as Alexander Manu writes “hope unlocks our latencies and makes our subconscious goals manifest”.

In this post, we consider various philosophical perspectives on hope and David Pye’s writing on craft, in relation to community repair activism occurring against a backdrop of slow political and ecological crisis.

At the 2015 Climate March

In crises, according to sustainable design researcher John Ehrenfeld, dedication to problem solving “regardless of the ‘rational’ data-driven reasons to give up” means new pathways are trodden.

However Rebecca Solnit notes, hope is “not a substitute for action, only a basis for it.” Hope can help shifts in our ways of thinking and doing. Beginning in the margins, hope gives us something to aim for.

Active hope as tool

Hope is a disposition rather than an emotion, and active hope, according to eco-philosophers Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, “something we do rather than have”. It uses intention to channel action. Taking a clear view of the situation; then, identifying what is hoped for or not, helps us move in an appropriate direction.

“Hope just means an other world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed”. So when tackling big issues “gratitude is a refreshing alternative to guilt or fear as a source of motivation” and builds trust, increasing willingness to help others. Gratitude, as an act of reciprocity and regeneration, can be paid forward, if we consider ourselves part of a “larger flow of giving and receiving throughout time”.

Where hope is a commitment to the future, active hope refers to an interconnected sense of self, within community, planet and a long time frame.

It asks what the distributed knowledge within that network can contribute to the change needed, and to work towards it by envisioning, believing and acting together.

Workmanship of Risk

Risk is the point where hope as disposition meets hope in repairing.

When making or tinkering, one works with uncertainty – as David Pye observed, “the quality of the result is continually at risk during the process… the Workmanship of Risk” – hoping and caring step-by-step through the process, and as skills increase, becoming less risky and more certain.

Solnit suggests that “Hope is the story of uncertainty, of coming to terms with the risk”, both demanding and frightening, and yet “immeasurably more rewarding” than despair.

Bridget Harvey’s “blue jumper”

Being near impossible to automate, repair-work is nearly always the Workmanship of Risk – unfolding as we enter more deeply into the task, using the diversity of technique not available through Workmanship of Certainty where, according to Pye, through automatic production “the quality of the result is exactly predetermined”.

There are some repairs which could be considered Workmanship of Certainty – for example replacing a drum in a washing machine – but only once the risk has been embraced and the breakage investigated. This is what Richard Sennett refers to as “static repair”: though standardised and made easy, is might be dangerous, in that it might rule out better solutions or new possibilities – might the repairer have upgraded the bearings if they had engaged with the details rather than replacing the whole part?

Repair-making and hope

Where the Workmanship of Certainty requires a front-loading of what Pye calls “judgement, dexterity and care”, repair-making deploys these throughout. Tools and strategies might be used to limit risk, but risk is still present, made real by the human doing it.

This is where hacktivist designer Otto von Busch tells us, through repair, hope becomes “fused into the material and form. Self-reliance and trust emanates from repair”.

Repair and a hopeful attitude meet in risk and develop together. When a repair goes wrong or fails, hope may be diminished, however he suggests “other things can be repaired. Objects, of course. Traditions can be. Hope can be. Emotions eventually. But it requires cautious handling, patience and care.”

Hope contributes to a sustainable future through ongoing efforts to make our material culture more meaningful. An attempt at repair-making is always a risk, and so must be accompanied with a side order of hope, else we may not bother doing it. Through repetition and practice, repair-skills grow and spread and, through time, many small actions become bigger ones, many hopes join together, change begins in the imagination and becomes material; risk is reduced or moved by hope and by action.

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