The Contestation Café (2022)

The Contestation Manifesto and its associated paraphernalia are artefacts from a speculative, near-future community action known as the Contestation Café. Being one in a series of research through design projects on contestation, the Contestation Café is a critical, yet also practical, design intervention rooted in how the act of repair has moved through the physical into the digital, and the shared values therein. 

Tracing the history of electronic repair – from the early valve radios, the invention of the transistor, microchips, programmable devices and through to IoT, connected devices and the “fluid assemblages” that emerge – we can see the shared values of the physical act of repair with the more intangible act of contestation in the digital world of algorithmic systems. Overlaying the values and tactics of the Right to Repair movement with the emerging concerns around data-driven systems we find ourselves examining the Repair Café as a potential model for community contestation and the construction of publics. 

The Repair Café started in Amsterdam in 2009 and has since spread to 35 countries with over 1700 instances of these cafés. The Repair Café is not intended to be a place where you bring your broken appliances for someone else to repair – rather, it is a place where you learn how to repair and recycle your own products and devices, and – more importantly – a place where you simply learn that things can be fixed rather than thrown out. 

In a similar spirit, the Contestation Café would be a place for those who feel mistreated by automated decision systems, AIs and algorithms, to bring their broken interactions and their unfair decisions to learn how to contest, push back and reclaim their agency and autonomy. 

Rather than Repairers, the Contestation Café has a panel of Fixers – people who inhabit the space between designers and users, with a particular knowledge of these systems and how to map and navigate them – who are there to share their experience and knowledge, and to guide the user in the ways of contestation and to become Fixers of their own futures.

Although the Contestation Café is a speculative concept based on research into the shared values of contestation and repair, it has developed a life of its own through the process of imagining how it would work and what it would look like. Through the act of writing a manifesto for contestation, the space has manifested itself in the present and is waiting only for the fixers and public to arrive. 

Plans are already in progress for its first real instance and all of the imagined artefacts presented here will inform this process.

Robert Collins and Johan Redström. 2022. The Contestation Café: A Manifesto for Contestation: Prototyping an agonistic place. In Nordic Human-Computer Interaction Conference (NordiCHI ’22). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, Article 77, 1.