Right to repair

The Right to Repair: Struggles Over Digital Tools and Consumer Rights

Featuring: Frank Pasquale, Steven J. Jackson, and Alissa Centivany.

Webinar video | Summary | Biographies | Resources

7 October 2021, 7PM

What happens to our environment, economy, and culture when repairing our things becomes impossible? What would robust and comprehensive provisions supporting meaningful repair look like?

The fourth event in our Big Data at the Margins series examines the challenges and opportunities situated around repair and the burgeoning right to repair movement. Increasingly, technology design is guided by private interests that are antagonistic to repair; manufacturers sell products that, both, appropriate our personal data and deprive us of information about how the product works and how it can be fixed; businesses prioritize sales over repair; and intellectual property and other laws control activities of repair that previously have been commonplace. Impediments to repair affect a wide range of industries, including agriculture, health care, defence, and consumer goods, and their economic, environmental, and social consequences are dire. In the face of these developments, numerous local, consumer movements have arisen to assert our right to repair our things, arguing that an ethos of repair reduces environmental damage, supports local economies and workers, and encourages learning, problem-solving, and creativity. When we work with others to fix things, we build communities and systems of mutual support.

Back to top | Webinar video | Summary | Biographies | Resources

Panel discussion summary

Frank Pasquale discusses the scope of propertization, digitalization, and commercialization related to the larger project of repair. The right to repair movement is underlined by a fundamental clash of ideas, between the rights of users and the rights of owners, and between information anarchy and perfect control. Dr. Steve Jackson draws from his experiences doing fieldwork with repair communities and the amateur fixing movement to address the cultural, political and design considerations that make repair difficult. Dr. Alissa Centivany highlights both the human dimensions and the material impediments inherent to the practice of repair. Centivany premises her work on the basic fact of existence that “everything falls apart”, and that repair is, at its essence, an opportunity to prolong, resist, and reverse the inevitability of breakdown.

Key themes that emerged include:

  • The striking parallels to the power relations that sustain colonialism
  • The need for a multidimensional approach for achieving progress and reforming repair
  • The need for the modern repair movement to engage with the concept of repair beyond its technomasculinist ddigital and tool-based conceptualization
  • The important place that repair should have in education — especially in technology-based programs and vocations

Back to top | Webinar video | Summary | Biographies | Resources


Frank Pasquale is a professor of Law at Brooklyn College and author of The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information. He is a tireless advocate for consumer rights and education in the tech sector.

Steve Jackson is an associate professor in Information Science and Science and Technology Studies at Cornell University. He has contributed ground-breaking work on the political and economic importance of repair.

Alissa Centivany is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at The University of Western Ontario. She brings a necessary local focus to this important issue with her ethnographic work on burgeoning right to repair movements in Southwestern Ontario.

Back to top | Webinar video | Summary | Biographies | Resources


The Open Gaza Initiative (Tarek Loubani)

The Canadian Repair Coalition

Diana Cardenas Pinzon for OpenMedia: “You should have the right to repair your devices in Canada”

Tony Seskus and Paul Karchut for CBC News: “Why calls for ‘right-to-repair’ are revving up again for vehicles in Canada”, 5 October 2021

“Canada needs right-to-repair legislation”, Anthony Rosborough, 14 May 2021, Policy Options, Institute for Research in Public Policy

Paola Rosa-Aquino for the New York Times: “Fix, or Toss? The ‘Right to Repair’ Movement Gains Ground”, 23 October 2020

Almost everything you know about e-waste is wrong”, Josh Lepawsky (Memorial University of Newfoundland), The Conversation, 15 May 2018

“FTC Report to Congress: Repair Monopolies Harm the Public and the Planet”, Karl Bode, 7 May 2021, Vice via Motherboard

Repair.eu, The French repair index: challenges and opportunities (webinar), 3 February 2021

“Biden’s right-to-repair order could stop companies from blocking DIY fixes”, Tim de Chant, 7 July 2021, Ars Technica

Back to top | Webinar video | Summary | Biographies | Resources