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Repair: The Impulse to Restore in a Fragile World Hardcover – September, 2002

3.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


A new way of seeing the human experience as a constantly inventive effort [at mending] what is broken, choosing not to, or learning to live with what cannot be fixed. --Martha Minow, author of Between Vengeance and Forgiveness

"Whether the focus is a teacup, a relationship, a life or a 50-year-old face, H. reparans is charged with the responsibility of deciding when, where and how the reparative impulse is to be exercised. No one who reads this book will ever again be unaware of that responsibility."--Barbara Brown Taylor, Christian Century

"I wasn't prepared for how instantly I would be drawn into this writing. . . . An interesting and compelling discussion." --Feminist Academic Press --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Elizabeth V. Spelman is professor of philosophy at Smith College and author of Inessential Woman and Fruits of Sorrow. She lives in Northampton, Massachusetts.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 165 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press; 1st edition (September 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807020125
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807020128
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #555,764 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is a tremendously insightful and helpful view of human beings defined by their impulse to fix things: machinery, buildings, relationships, artworks, clothing, each other. The impulse to repair is examined as a distinctive stance toward our history, our present community, and our future hopes.

The writing is clear and accessible--even when Spelman is gathering comments from a broad range of sources across many topic areas. She starts from concrete everyday examples. I have selected this book as one of three to assign to an undergraduate class in ethics.

The analysis of apology in chapter five was especially gripping for me. In chapter six, I was astonished and intrigued by the suggestion that some memories cannot or should not be "healed." There are applications to be drawn from this for clinical practice in psychotherapy. The comments on the "restorative justice" movement and the deplorable American prison system, in chapter 2 and throughout the book, are quite good. The range of interests addressed and applications proposed or evoked in the book is exceptionally broad.

The argument, exposing "Homo sapiens" as "Homo reparans" (the species who fixes), is fascinating. It often runs against the tacit or explicit assumptions of popular culture. Spelman is probably right when she remarks that we haven't paid due attention to this aspect of our humanity, for several reasons including our recoil from acknowledging that we are breakable beings in a breakable world, and the taboos of our consumption-driven economy which favors replacement over repair.

I would have devoured this book even if it were twice as long, and I would recommend it highly even at twice the price.
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Format: Hardcover
This short book came off to a satisfying start: a comparison between a small-town fix-it man, a motorcycle restoration devotee, and art conservators faced with an uncommonly demanding situation. It discussed the various ideals of "whatever works", the sacred factory spec, and the professional responsibility of anyone who touches priceless works of art.
It turned out that those cases formed the first half of a set of analogies - Spelman's true interest seem to lie in the social repair of ruptured human relationships. OK, I was a bit disappointed, but I reserve the author's right to her choice of topic. I tried to shift gears to follow her.
First, Spelman proposed the home as the first line of repair for the broken spirit or body. This turned into a woman vs. man competition that I found frankly disappointing. The discussion seemed to center around a "Leave it to Beaver" household of Mom, Pop, and their children by each other. Last I heard, that described about one in six US households. Spelman completely ignored the modern piecemeal family: his, hers, theirs, and other, plus a baffling array of outliers and part-time parents. My limited experience says that there is the real need for repair - the little rifts and the interactions that never worked quite right, needing continuous soothing for any semblance of harmony.
She goes on to a chapter about restorative justice, built around context-dependent bargaining between the victim (referred to as "her") and the wrongdoer ("him"). There certainly is merit in exploring alternatives to punitive justice. I'm not sure how far this concept can be pushed, though. Context-dependent bargaining inherently favors the slicker bargainer, and inherently favors the people with sufficient power to define the social context.
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