In this provocative book Richard Sennett looks at the ways todayâ€™s global, ever-mutable form of capitalism is affecting our lives. He analyzes how changes in work ethic, in our attitudes toward merit and talent, and in public and private institutions have all contributed to what he terms â€œthe specter of uselessness,â€ and he concludes with suggestions to counter this disturbing new culture.
Defining craftsmanship far more broadly than â€œskilled manual labor,â€ Richard Sennett maintains that the computer programmer, the doctor, the artist, and even the parent and citizen engage in a craftsmanâ€™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 todayâ€™s world. The Craftsman engages the many dimensions of skillâ€”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.
â€œPublicâ€ life once meant that vital part oneâ€™s life outside the circle of family and close friends. Connecting with strangers in an emotionally satisfying way and yet remaining aloof from them was seen as the means by which the human animal was transformed into the social â€“ the civilized â€“ being. And the fullest flowering of that public life was realized in the 18th Century in the great capital cities of Europe. Sennett shows how our lives today are bereft of the pleasures and reinforcements of this lost interchange with fellow citizens. He shows how, today, the stranger is a threatening figure; how silence and observation have become the only ways to experience public life, especially street life, without feeling overwhelmed ; how each person believes in the right, in public, to be left alone. And he makes clear how, because of the change in public life, private life becomes distorted as we of necessity focus more and more on ourselves, on increasingly narcissistic forms of intimacy and self-absorption. Because of this, our personalities cannot fully develop: we lack much of the ease, the spirit of play, the kind of discretion that would allow us real and pleasurable relationships with those whom we may never know intimately.
With an eye toward the architecture, the art, the literature, and the technology of urban life, Richard Sennett gives an account of the search for shelter and the fear of exposure to strangers and new experience in Western culture â€“ and how these two concerns have shaped the physical fabric of the city. â€œWhy do we avert our eyes when we encounter the unaccustomed?â€ asks Sennett. In answer, he moves between past and present from the assembly hall of Athens to the Palladium Club; from Augustineâ€™s City of God to the Turkish baths of the Lower East Side; from eighteenth-century English gardens to the housing projects of East Harlem; from Nietzscheâ€™s Birth of Tragedy to subway graffiti. The Conscience of the Eye is an exploration of the politics of vision.
Drawing on interviews with dismissed IBM executives in Westchester, New York, bakers in a high-tech Boston bakery, a barmaid turned advertising executive, and many others, Sennett explores the disorienting effects of the new capitalism. He reveals the vivid and illuminating contrast between two worlds of work: the vanished world of rigid, hierarchical organizations, where what mattered was a sense of personal character, and the brave new world of corporate re-engineering, risk, flexibility, networking, and short-term teamwork, where what matters is being able to reinvent yourself on a dime. In some ways the changes characterizing the new capitalism are positive; they make for a dynamic economy. But they can also be destructive, eroding the sense of sustained purpose, integrity of self, and trust in others that an earlier generation understood as essential to personal character.The Corrosion of Character enables us to understand the social and political context for our contemporary confusions and Sennett suggests how we need to re-imagine both community and individual character in order to confront an economy based on the principle of â€œno long term.â€
Living with people who differ – racially, ethnically, religiously, or economically – is the most urgent challenge facing civil society today. We tend socially to avoid engaging with people unlike ourselves, and modern politics encourages the politics of the tribe rather than of the city. In this thought-provoking book, Richard Sennett discusses why this has happened and what might be done about it. Sennett contends that cooperation is a craft, and the foundations for skillful cooperation lie in learning to listen well and discuss rather than debate. In Together he explores how people can cooperate online, on street corners, in schools, at work, and in local politics. He traces the evolution of cooperative rituals from medieval times to today, and in situations as diverse as slave communities, socialist groups in Paris, and workers on Wall Street. Divided into three parts, the book addresses the nature of cooperation, why it has become weak, and how it could be strengthened. The author warns that we must learn the craft of cooperation if we are to make our complex society prosper, yet he reassures us that we can do this, for the capacity for cooperation is embedded in human nature.