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

The  workshop  is  the  craftsman’s  home.  Traditionally  this was literally so. In the Middle Ages craftsmen slept, ate, and raised their children in the places where they worked. The workshop, as well as a home for families, was small in  scale,  each  containing  at  most  a  few  dozen  people;  the  medieval workshop looked nothing like the modern factory containing hundreds or  thousands  of  people.  It’s  easy  to  see  the  romantic  appeal  of  the workshop-home to socialists who first confronted the industrial land-scape  of  the  nineteenth  century.  Karl  Marx,  Charles  Fourier,  and Claude  Saint-Simon  all  viewed  the  workshop  as  a  space  of  humane labor. Here they, too, seemed to find a good home, a place where labor and life mixed face-to-face. Yet  this  beguiling  image  is  misleading.  The  medieval  workshop-home did not follow the rules of a modern family guided by love. Organized into a system of guilds, the workshop provided other, more impersonal emotional rewards, most notably, honor in the city. ‘‘Home’’ suggests established stability; this the medieval workshops had to struggle for, since they could not assume they would survive. The workshop as home may also obscure this living scene of labor today. Most scientific laboratories  are  organized  as  workshops  in  the  sense  that  they  are small, face-to-face places of work. So, too, can workshop conditions be carved out of giant enterprises: modern auto plants combine the assembly line with spaces reserved for small, specialist teams; the auto factory has become an archipelago of workshops. A more satisfying definition of the workshop is: a productive space in which people deal face-to-face with issues of authority. This austere definition focuses not only on who commands and who obeys in work but  also  on  skills  as  a  source  of  the  legitimacy  of  command  or  the dignity of obedience. In a workshop, the skills of the master can earn him  or  her  the  right  to  command,  and  learning  from  and  absorbing those skills can dignify the apprentice or journeyman’s obedience. In principle. (p.53)


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



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