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Becoming a repair entrepreneur

an ethnography of skills training in Brazil



Electronics repair, Entrepreneurship, Gender, Inequality, Information and Communication Technologies, Qualitative research, Critical Development Studies, ICT4D


Santa Efigênia in São Paulo is an important Latin American hub for buying and selling electronics. This article draws on long-term fieldwork to discuss repair training in the neighbourhood. While scholars have looked at formal and informal educational spaces, this article looks at a new kind of institution that creatively combines aspects of street repair and high-end information technology services. Individuals from all over Brazil seek out this popular private school with the expectation of becoming self-employed cellphone technicians. The article starts with a description of repair practices in Santa Efigênia and an analysis of the barriers to and accessibility of repair knowledge, including for the female ethnographer. It then centres on the school’s training sessions, examining how students are prepared to become repair entrepreneurs through a mix of technical skills and para-technical concerns with ­aesthetics, logistical speed and networking. I show that this school redraws communities of practice, bringing new actors into repair while excluding others along social divisions of race, class, and gender. Engaging with critiques of the neoliberal push for entrepreneurship in development, I consider the contradictions of this institution, concluding with a discussion of how this case offers insights into the democratisation and dissemination of repair knowledge.


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