Repair and Reuse as Social Innovation

Activity: Talk or presentationTalk at conference or symposiumScience to science


One important lever in the transition to a more sustainable, socio-technical future is the reduction of waste through the increase of reuse and repair practices of technological products. To some extent, this contradicts mainstream conceptions of technological innovation understood as the fabrication of ever more material objects in an increasingly faster pace; consequently used in shorter cycles and disposed in greater volumes. Although it is evident how the reduction of material metabolism contributes to sustainability goals, it is less apparent how reuse and repair practices contribute to GDP and entrepreneurial profits. Reuse and repair practices are often perceived as economically not viable in a capitalist framework. It is therefore interesting to study alternative economies and socio-technical configurations in which reuse and repair practices can flourish. Using the bicycle as an example, I aim to explore successfully integrated reuse and repair practices.
Social innovations require institutional and cultural conditions as a framework in which they can enfold and respond to social needs. A broad network consisting of online platforms, local charity shops and upcycle studios supply the second-hand market with used bicycles. E-commerce facilitates not only reuse, but also repair practices with widely available and cheaper spare parts. With regard to the dissemination and mobilisation of knowledge, the internet has been instrumental in providing detailed technical information, video tutorials and all sorts of practical tips. In addition, bike kitchens and repair cafes allow for new forms of repair practices and learning. Such social innovations often combine a variety of economic practices, including paid and unpaid labour, primary and secondary job market. Bicycle reuse and repair cultures provide a rich and inspiring example to explore the ways in which transitions to sustainable forms of material practices look like, produce meaning and wealth beyond reductionist cost-benefit logic.
Keywords: reuse, repair, social innovation, sustainable futures, socio-technical change
Period18 Sept 2018
Event title2nd STS Austria Conference: Innovation and Societal Transformation: Science, Democracy, and Sustainable Futures
Event typeConference
LocationKlagenfurt, AustriaShow on map
Degree of RecognitionNational

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Transportation

Fields of Expertise

  • Sustainable Systems