The Maintainers: A Conference, April 8, 2016, Stevens Institute of Technology

Many groups and individuals today celebrate “innovation.” The notion has influenced not only how we think about the present but also how we interpret the past. It has become a concept of historical analysis in both academic histories and popular ones. A recent example is Walter Isaacson’s book, The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution. When this book was released in 2014, the historian of technology, Andrew Russell, put forward the idea of a counter-volume, titled, The Maintainers: How a Group of Bureaucrats, Standards Engineers, and Introverts Made Technologies That Kind of Work Most of the Time. Since then, various scholars in science and technology studies have entered an on-going conversation about developing a historical research program around the study of maintenance.

There are many reasons to turn to the history of maintenance at this time, and many questions that our workshop will engage. We are not claiming that the study of maintenance is new, especially since we are inspired by formative work of historians, anthropologists, sociologists, labor activists, and many other communities. Rather, we are arguing that this is a propitious moment to turn to this theme.

In this light, we invite proposals for a conference to be held at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, on Friday, April 8, 2016.  Proposals might engage some of the following questions:

-         What is at stake if we move scholarship away from innovation and toward maintenance?

-         How do matters of innovation and maintenance in digital systems differ from earlier technological systems, such as those that provide water, electric power, rail and automobile travel, and sanitation?

-         How does labor focused on novelty and innovation differ from labor focused on maintenance and conservation?

-         How should studies of maintenance engage scholarship on race, gender, ethnicity, social justice, and economic inequality?

-         What theories, methods, and sources can we use to study maintenance, infrastructure, and myriad forms of technological labor?

-         What should policymakers do to respond to scholarship and activism around maintenance and infrastructure, such as the report cards issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers?

Instead of developing traditional conference papers, participants will be asked to write brief essays (~1,000-3,000 words), which will be due before the conference and will later be posted on a conference website for both scholarly and educational use. (Our model is partly based on the Histories of the Future conference/website: Essays that include images, sound, video, and other mixed media are welcome and encouraged (but not necessary).

Deadline for proposal submission: January 4, 2016.

To submit a proposal: Please email an abstract (~300 words and CV) to