Richard Sennett: The Craftsman

Sennet, Richard. The Craftsman.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.

Richard Sennett, from Richard Sennett dot com

Richard Sennett, from Richard Sennett dot com

Richard Sennett’s website

About the author, from his Brief Biography

“Richard Sennett has explored how individuals and groups make social and cultural sense of material facts — about the cities in which they live and about the labour they do. He focuses on how people can become competent interpreters of their own experience, despite the obstacles society may put in their way. His research entails ethnography, history, and social theory.  As a social analyst, Mr. Sennett continues the pragmatist tradition begun by William James and John Dewey.”

Describes his works as “cultural studies“, but is using the phrase in an unusual manner to capture looking at how individuals and groups of people “make sense of material facts about where they live and the work they do”.

  • Works from interview and ethnography
  • Centennial Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics and University Professor of the Humanities at New York University
  • Pragmatist/m: the function of thought is not to represent reality; instead, thought is a tool for prediction, taking action, and solving problems. Knowledge, language, science, and like philosophical topics are viewed in terms of practical uses and successes in action.

The Craftsman

From The Craftsman Magazine archives

From The Craftsman Magazine archives

“History has drawn fault lines dividing practice and theory, technique and expression, craftsman and artist, maker and user; modern society suffers from the historical inheritance. But the past life of craft and craftsmen also suggests ways of using tools, organizing work, and thinking about materials that remain alternative, viable proposals about how to conduct life with skill.”

Summary

“The craftsman represents the special human condition of being engaged” (20) in collective, tangible, material reality. But craftsmanship is poorly understood as a reduction to manual skill in a singular being without recognition of value in joining skill and community. Sennett sets out to examine the concrete practices of craft as investigatable – expanding notions of what counts as craft to technology, science, medical and like domains of craftsmen as craftsmanship has become institutionalized. His aims (as we continue reading) are to “explore what happens when hand an head, technique and science, art and craft are separated” (20) through larger issues presently and historically.

Main Argument (thus far)

Craftsmanship, dedicated,  skilled, good work for its own sake (20) that focuses on achieving quality to standards set by a community (25) is now organized in three troubled ways (52):

  • attempts of institutions to motivate people to work well (issues of individual competition, charades of cooperation)
  • developing skill, a trained practice, in environments that deprive people of repetitive, hands on training (a separation of head and hand)
  • conflicting measures of quality in products – one based on correctness and the other on practical experience (pulled between tacit and explicit knowledge)

Questions

In a time and global economy of automation and mass production, what is an available means of production that reorients itself as craft – making with a connected head and hand – beyond small enclaves of artisinal and craft counter-movements? (Sennett cites Japanese factories as more successful than Western production based on the collective way of doing, despite the scale and range of production.)

Does Byron Hawk’s post-techne – “the use of techniques for situating bodies within ecological contexts in ways that reveal models for enacting that open up the potential for invention, especially the invention of new techniques” ( “Toward a Post-Techne” 384) in combining technique, the technical, technology, and techne – provide illumination as a means toward solving the problems that Sennett is setting up to work through? What might this look like in action?

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