Fixing development: breakdown, repair and disposal in Kenya's off-grid solar market
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date06/08/2021
Murray, Declan Robert
The development project is a repair project. Schemes and initiatives to improve the human condition are borne from the belief that there is something broken in the status quo that we must fix. Small solar-powered products are one such fix. Portable lanterns and multilight home systems are being distributed across sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in rural areas, as part of efforts to reach universal energy access - a long-standing challenge of development. Yet these products themselves, like all things, break down. This thesis follows off-grid solar products in Kenya from moments of breakdown through sites of use, repair and disposal. The first half of the thesis looks at the historical development of the technology and the market that has grown up with and around it. Assemblage thinking shows that breakdown is more than a material process but is shaped by wider influences such as business and product design as well. The second half of the thesis describes what happens to the broken down solar product as it moves and is moved through Kenya. Despite differences in appearance and process in three different settings – the home, the repair clinic and the company - the thesis finds consistencies in people’s responses to breakdown. These consistencies appear as a form of bricolage as people draw on previous experience and make use of resources at-hand to reach an acceptable, if at times limited, functionality for their products. Disposal of that which is not repaired is found to always be prefaced by an indefinite period of waiting. The thesis is based on 16 months of fieldwork across the country which included observation of independent and company repair practices and rural and urban waste management processes. 44 interviews were conducted with independent repairmen, company representatives and other relevant individuals. Further information is drawn from a telephone survey of 262 users of solar products. If the macro project of international development is to fix the broken world, then this thesis argues it may benefit from closer examination of micro repair practices. By embracing the inevitability of future breakdown and adopting the principles of bricolage development might get closer to the improved world it aims for.