For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

The Craftsman

by Sennett, Richard (2008)


Why do people work hard, and take pride in what they do? This book, a philosophically-minded enquiry into practical activity of many different kinds past and present, is about what happens when people try to do a good job. It asks us to think about the true meaning of skill in the 'skills society' and argues that pure competition is a poor way to achieve quality work. Sennett suggests, instead, that there is a craftsman in every human being, which can sometimes be enormously motivating and inspiring - and can also in other circumstances make individuals obsessive and frustrated. The Craftsman shows how history has drawn fault-lines between craftsman and artist, maker and user, technique and expression, practice and theory, and that individuals' pride in their work,

Key Passage

One of the earliest celebrations of the craftsman appears in a Homeric hymn to the master god of craftsmen, Hephaestus: -‘‘Sing clear-voiced Muse, of Hephaestus famed for skill. With bright-eyed Athena he taught men glorious crafts throughout the world—men who before used to dwell in caves in the mountains like wild beasts. But now that they have learned crafts through Hephaestus famous for his art they live a peaceful life in their own houses the whole year round.’’- The poem is contrary in spirit to the legend of Pandora, which took form at roughly the same time. Pandora presides over destruction, Hephaestus over the craftsman as a bringer of peace and a maker of civilization. The hymn to Hephaestus may seem to celebrate no more than a cliché, that of civilization commencing when human beings began to use tools. But this hymn was written thousands of years after the fabrication of such tools as knives, the wheel, and the loom. More than a technician, the civilizing craftsman has used these tools for a collective good, that of ending humanity’s wandering existence as hunter-gatherers  or  rootless  warriors.  Reflecting  on  the  Homeric  hymn  to Hephaestus, a modern historian writes that because craftwork ‘‘brought people out of the isolation, personified by the cave-dwelling Cyclopes, craft and community were, for the early Greeks, indissociable.’’The  word  the  hymn  used  for  craftsman  is  demioergos. This  is  a compound made between public (demios) and productive (ergon). The archaic craftsman occupied a social slice roughly equivalent to a middle class. The demioergoi included, in addition to skilled manual workers like potters, also doctors and lower magistrates, and professional singers and heralds who served in ancient times as news broadcasters. This slice of ordinary citizens lived in between the relatively few, leisured aristocrats and the mass of slaves who did most of the work—many  of  whom  had  great  technical  skills  but  whose  talents  earned them no political recognition or rights. It was in the middle of this archaic  society  that  the  hymn  honored  as  civilizers  those  who  combined head and hand. (p.21)


Craft, Craftsmanship, Skill, Art, Pride, Technique, Heidegger, Work Quality, Meaningful Work, Artist, Communication



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