Infrastructure and Logistics

Patchwork: Repair labor and the logic of infrastructure adaptation in Mexico City

This article introduces the concept of patchwork to understand how repair practices are carried out in Mexico City’s networked hydraulic infrastructure. Drawing on data gathered through a one-year participatory ethnography, patchwork follows the Mexico City Water System (SACMEX) workers’ descriptions of their own labor and how it relates to infrastructure in a context of structural austerity and rapid socio-material change. To do so, the article separates the analysis of repair practices from the logic of maintenance, challenging widely shared conceptions of how they relate to each other. Two distinct contributions are made possible by this move. On the one hand, it allows for a more detailed conceptualization of the work that repair labor does in relation to infrastructure and to other socio-material processes that are constantly shaping it. On the other, it enables an exploration of what I call the logic of adaptation, a form of infrastructure repair that is based not on returning objects and relations to a previously officially sanctioned order, but instead on fashioning normality as an ongoing process made possible through improvisational and incremental work. Exploring this logic, I argue that the endurance of urban infrastructure and of urban modernity requires the ad-hoc work of patchwork and of adaptive repair labor.

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Volume 39 Issue 2

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