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The Craftsman, by Richard Sennett


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The Craftsman, by Richard Sennett
Topic: Society 11:09 pm EST, Mar  8, 2008

Richard Sennett, author of The Culture of the New Capitalism, and husband of Saskia Sassen (colleague and counterpoint to Manuel Castells) has a new book.

He says:

“It’s a book about the relation between doing things physically, with your hands, and thinking,” he said. “We’re losing that connection between physical and mental skills. Even the most abstract kinds of thinking, like mathematics, draw on something physical.”

From the jacket:

Defining craftsmanship far more broadly than “skilled manual labor,” Richard Sennett maintains that the computer programmer, the doctor, the artist, and even the parent and citizen engage in a craftsman’s work. Craftsmanship names the basic human impulse to do a job well for its own sake, says the author, and good craftsmanship involves developing skills and focusing on the work rather than ourselves. In this thought-provoking book, one of our most distinguished public intellectuals explores the work of craftsmen past and present, identifies deep connections between material consciousness and ethical values, and challenges received ideas about what constitutes good work in today’s world.

The Craftsman engages the many dimensions of skill—from the technical demands to the obsessive energy required to do good work. Craftsmanship leads Sennett across time and space, from ancient Roman brickmakers to Renaissance goldsmiths to the printing presses of Enlightenment Paris and the factories of industrial London; in the modern world he explores what experiences of good work are shared by computer programmers, nurses and doctors, musicians, glassblowers, and cooks. Unique in the scope of his thinking, Sennett expands previous notions of crafts and craftsmen and apprises us of the surprising extent to which we can learn about ourselves through the labor of making physical things.

Praise from Robert Reich:

As Richard Sennett makes clear in this lucid and compelling book, craftsmanship once connected people to their work by conferring pride and meaning. The loss of craftsmanship -- and of a society that values it -- has impoverished us in ways we have long forgotten but Sennett helps us understand.

New Statesman says:

The sociologist Richard Sennett has a habit of writing the things that we end up talking about years later.

To learn more, read the prologue, or check out this Q&A with the author, or this interview.

Selections from chapter one:

It's certainly possible to get by in life without dedication. The craftsman represents the special human condition of being engaged.

You can hear from Sennett in a BBC Radio 4 Interview and a BBC Radio 3 interview.

Read a FT review:

At the heart of the book is an idea that work need not be about making money but can be about something more existential and profound.

See Fiona MacCarthy's Guardian review (h/t):

Sennett is an enchanting writer with important things to say.

"Pleasure in making comes from innate necessary rhythms, often slow ones. As we know in our own lives there is much more satisfaction in cooking a meal or caring for small children if we are not in a hurry. Doing a job properly takes the time it takes. Sennett argues in a fascinating way that, while we are working, submerged processes of thought and feeling are in progress. Almost without being aware we set ourselves the highest standard which "requires us to care about the qualities of cloth or the right way to poach fish". Doing our own work well enables us to imagine larger categories of "good" in general."

See also, Richard Sennett & the Art of Dating. And check out Shop Class as Soulcraft, which David Brooks called one of the best essays of 2006:

Because craftsmanship refers to objective standards that do not issue from the self and its desires, it poses a challenge to the ethic of consumerism, as the sociologist Richard Sennett has recently argued. The craftsman is proud of what he has made, and cherishes it, while the consumer discards things that are perfectly serviceable in his restless pursuit of the new.

The Guardian asked:

It takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a skilled carpenter or musician - but what makes a true master?

The Times Online asked:

Why does affluence generate so much day-to-day misery?

Preview some other books by Sennett:

Respect in a World of Inequality
The Conscience of the Eye: The Design and Social Life of Cities

The Telegraph reveals this is the first volume of a trilogy:

At the heart of the book is a thoughtful and lovingly detailed assessment of what goes on when a person learns a craft ...

The Independent:

For a writer so concerned about how we do better with the tools we have -- a meliorist, rather than a utopian -- there could hardly be a more urgent job. And, if Sennett keeps up the elegant craftsmanship evident on every page here, then the three-part artefact will merit that shopworn term taken from the medieval workshops he admires -- a masterpiece.

More from the Times Online:

The Craftsman continues an argument begun in the 19th century, when writers such as John Ruskin and William Morris extolled the crafts remembered in our surnames (Smith, Cartwright, Thatcher, Mason, Fletcher) while lamenting the mind-numbing and soul-destroying labour of the industrial process which was replacing them. A long line of thinkers, from Hegel and Marx to Sennett’s teacher Hannah Arendt, have sympathised with the argument. But Sennett does not think that craftsmanship has vanished from our world. On the contrary: it has merely migrated to other regions of human enterprise, so that the delicate form of skilled cooperation that once produced a cathedral now produces the Linux software system. Linux, for Sennett, is the work of a community of craftsmen “who embody some of the elements first celebrated in the (Homeric) Hymn to Hephaestus”.

The quotation illustrates the range and boldness of this book.

The Craftsman, by Richard Sennett

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