Background or… How I was introduced to Richard Sennett
I was introduced to Richard Sennett and his literary offerings in the Spring of 2011 while attending the State University of Rutgers. To be specific I attended a class on Marxist Theory, which was taught by another contemporary day author and Professor Emeritus by the name of Stephen Eric Bronner.
Caveat2: Please do not be automatically be turned off or attempt to pigeon hole me outright due the word “Marxist” which I do not need to be told, carries way more baggage than it needs to. I am well read on contemporary free market economic systems as well as Adam Smith’s work just to name the main two protagonists of purveyors of both systems of thought.
Caveat1: To be very honest, I am a man with no Title and a man that clings to no man made belief systems in as much as I can at this point.
One thing Professor Bronner has is impeccable taste in high aesthetic literary readings, that go way beyond Marxism and Capitalism as subjects.
So… let’s dispense with all the nonsense, see clearly, and continue reading. If not… Trolls and alarmists move on, because there is nothing for you to read here.
Due to school and other personal growth endeavors, the reading of this piece took forever, but intellectually I savored every last syllable of it, and to be honest, it was a personally insightful read, that in magnitude measures off the scale. In totality, it took over two years to completely finish, and it is not a long read page wise. Although, the subject matter and content of “The Craftsman” had grabbed my attention and interested to me, what I found much more important is just Mr. Sennett’s style of writing overall. It is impeccable.
Richard Sennett has his own website, which is current and up-to-date so I don’t want to spend too much time on a micro-bio post but here are few points:
He grew in the North Side of Chi Town in a public housing project nameed “Cabrini Green”, this place was indeed NO picnic for anyone living there and it was a tough place. He was also very talented musically, but then an accident with one of his hands put an abrubtly curtailed to his musical career and instead he became a world renowned author and Sociologist. He is also married to another world renowned Sociologist, Saskia Sasken who writes extensively about the topic of Globalization amongst other things.
Now, my dear readership let us delve right headfirst right into my review of Mr. Sennett’s book “The Craftsman”.
In general one of the things that I must state outright at the onset now is that Mr. Sennett’s writing is just above reproach. I have never read an Author who can write so eloquently and simply in terms such heady subjects, that almost anyone of any level of reading can glean such outstanding insights in almost every facet of one’s personal and professional life. He is an author that can distill amazingly lofty topics into a concise yet complete journey of awesome literary enjoyment.
The “Craftsman”… broadly speaking is mainly about two overarching themes.
When I read this book one thing that I find to be quite refreshing is that Mr. Sennett, used many examples from architectural, as well as Software Development Lifecycle/Linux Dev Teams, Playground Designers work and then also contrasted these professionals with those of musicians, and the arts, then continuing on to plumbers and chefs. Throughout all of this the reader will observe his use of the term Tacit Knowledge.
“Embedding stands for a process essential to all skills, the conversion of information and practices into tacit knowledge.”
– page 50 CIT2001
“In learning a skill, we develop a complicated repertoire of such procedures. In the higher stages of skill, there is a constant interplay between tacit knowledge and self-conscious awareness, the tacit knowledge serving as an anchor, the explicit awareness serving as critique and corrective. Craft quality emerges from this higher stage, in judgments made on tacit habits and suppositions. When an institution like the NHS, in churning reform, doesn’t allow the tacit anchor to develop, then the motor of judgment stalls. People have no experience to judge, just a set of abstract propositions about good-quality work.”
– page 50 CIT2001
“in a workshop where the master’s individuality and distinctiveness dominates, tacit knowledge is also likely to dominate. Once the master dies, all the clues, moves, and insights he or she has gathered into the totality of the work cannot be reconstructed; there’s no way to ask him or her to make the tacit explicit.”
– page 78 CIT2001
There are more but I don’t want you to not read the book, this is NOT a Cliff Notes for lazy readers.
These quotes not only point to the individual craftsman, employee, and engineer but also to the Manager, Supervisor, Officer, Senior Enlisted personnel as well.
They also provide the reader with a flawless roadmap to navigate stormy seas in order to steer and grow the Organizational “Ship”, in order to fare well on the Seas of success. This term… The application of your own Tacit Knowledge is of immense importance enriching one’s personal and professional life.
“Inarticulate does not mean stupid; indeed, what we can say in words may be more limited than what we can do with things. Craftwork establishes a realm of skill and knowledge perhaps beyond human verbal capacities to explain; it taxes the powers of the most professional writer to describe precisely how to tie a slipknot (and is certainly beyond mine). Here is a, perhaps the, fundamental human limit: language is not an adequate ‘‘mirror-tool’’ for the physical movements of the human body.”
– Page 95 CIT2001
“Some followers of Adam Smith seized on the fact that most crafts take a long time to bed in as a sign that manual workers, in any one generation, are not particularly self-conscious, that they take procedures for granted and just get on with the work as they know it.”
– Page 123 CIT2001
“The act of unpacking what’s buried in the vault of tacit knowledge can make use of these imaginative tools. By invoking the signals birds send by twittering or bees by dancing, the person rewriting software instructions can make comprehensible what hypertext does and how economically it should be used. (Hypertext calls across documents; if there’s too much calling, too much twittering, too much marking of hypertext, the procedure loses value.)”
– Page 184 CIT2001
This is an awesome observation! So… basically someone, or a team or even an organizational unit can think outside of the box, and find other methods or tools for unpacking tacit knowledge that may be otherwise very difficult to share and disseminate and therefore stifles successful growth.
Building materials and how one applies them. Mr. Sennett spends a good amount of time speaking about the making of bricks and brick making in different cultures and historical times. So, you too the reader will read this section, and I challenge you to find concrete examples of what he is discussing in your daily comings and goings. Then like myself about a year ago, at the front of Murray Hall at Rutgers, New Brunswick, I directly observed the craftsmanship and the style of the bricks used in this building, as the sun played upon the front edifice of the building in the waning mid-summer sun of New Jersey.
As I read on in “The Craftsman” I felt, as though the book itself was more about leadership, mentorship, and training. Training on a organizational level right down to the most individualized role of training, self-discipline, and attention to the most minute of details within our lives and to be mindful of them.
Another, big area of interest for me, while reading this book, was the fact that in many of Mr. Sennett’s examples and explanations the reader is introduced to many other authors and sometimes subjects that you personally may have found mundane or of no significance internally/personally to something of profound amazement. To make the ordinary… Extra-Ordinary. To work and move with grace.
Another point that Sennett drives home to the reader in “The Craftsman” is that in our endeavors regarding work, when attacking a particular problem that we must sometimes back off on our diligent efforts and leave things “unresolved” for a period. One thing that really opened my eyes is that a true “craftsman” knows the difference between healthy obsession and malignant obsession, and the distinction lies in the motive of a person, team or organization’s consciousness. You… The Empire Builder, “Knowledge Hoarder”, you have just been put on notice.
The “Craftsman” also understands the use and combining of a myriad of small tools to achieve the objectives of larger projects. From my background I see this quite clearly in the SDLC practices of public and private organizations, as well as in the open source/hacker culture at large.
Mr. Sennett also discusses the difference between urban membranes and borders and the unintended evolution of disparate yet complementary micro-cultures that give birth from both urban lines of demarcation.
As a recent graduate of Labor Studies from SMLR, what may not be readily apparent to many people that read this book is that there are strong and quite robust undercurrents throughout the book, that tie all of the above into the context of “Labor” with an uppercase “L”. Like I said, I was introduced to this book in a Political Science class, but I believe this book talks more to the overarching subject of Labor Studies.
“Material culture provides in sum a picture of what human beings are capable of making. This seemingly limitless view is bounded by self- inflicted harm whether occurring innocently, by intent, or by accident. Retreat into spiritual values is unlikely to furnish much help in coping with Pandora. Nature might be a better guide, if we understand our own labors as part of its being.”
– Page 15 CIT2001
“The carpenter, lab technician, and conductor are all craftsmen because they are dedicated to good work for its own sake. Theirs is practical activity, but their labor is not simply a means to another end.”
– Page 20 CIT2001
“Craft workers have fought technological change on three fronts: the employers, the unskilled laborers who took their jobs, and the machines.”
– Page 77 CIT2001
“Mechanical change came to the labor force rather than from within the labor movement.”
– Page 108 CIT2001
On pages (262-263) CIT2001 is where Mr. Sennett doles out the rules of the good “Craftsman” but these rules can also be applied effectively by managers, Union Organizers, as well military leaders specifically. Actually, personally I have really tried to internalize these guidelines from here on out in my professional as well as personal affairs.
“The good craftsman learns when it is time to stop. Further work is likely to degrade.”
Additionally, Sennett goes into great detail about the design and construction of two different residences by two different men. These men being Mr. Loos
and Mr. Wittgenstein
Mr. Wittgenstein was somewhat of a obsessional and perfectionist. In other words Wittgenstein took the obsession into the region of dysfunction and unhealthiness. Whereas Loos, somehow had some self-discipline to not let his passionate obsession drift into dangerous territory, as well as leaving room for growth and also a sense of things being “unresolved” in the construction and design. Sennett directs the readers attention to the idea that a good leader or manager would want his or her organization to resemble the house that Loos constructed and not the house o Wittgenstein.
Sennett goes on to explain the term “Vocation” in regards to the “Craftsman”. He first unpacks the definition by referring to Max Weber’s definition of “Vocation”
Max Weber: Bureaucratic Organizational Theory from Andrea Ange on Vimeo.
(the godfather of Sociology) and his definition of the term.
“Max Weber called the sustaining narrative a ‘‘vocation.’’ Weber’s German word for a vocation, Beruf, contains two resonances: the gradual accumulation of knowledge and skills and the ever-stronger conviction that one was meant to do this one particular thing in one’s life.”
– Page 263 CIT2001
As a retired United States Air Force Master Sergeant, I find this definition very interesting and thought provoking in regards to my military career. There are two differing cultural memes within this bare bones definition provided by Herr Weber. The first being borne out of a Christian theological framework and the second being borne out of the illumination of intellectual or scientific inquiry, which springs from within the scientist.
Sennett also in 1-2 lines contrasts the difference between one having a “career” vs. job" on page 276 CIT2001.
“In old English a ‘‘career’’ meant a well-laid road, whereas a ‘‘job’’ meant simply a lump of coal or pile of wood that could be moved around at will.”
– Page 265 CIT2001
On page 266 is where Mr. Sennett unpacks a profound paragraph of truth regarding, human nature, leading people, and the running of any and all types of organizations. Rutgers SMLR faculty should distill this one paragraph and dwell upon the academic impact that it can have, it is an especially potent of ending to the “Perspectives” class.
This continues on into page 267 CIT2001
This is all about optimizing the organizational culture for robust and resilient growth. Leaders or those who would like to call themselves effective leaders, capitalists or managers take heed! Mr. Sennett is challenging you to grow the craftsman in all of your people!
“Perhaps in each of us there is a Japanese engineer who wants to do things well consistently and to be distinguished for doing so, but this is only the beginning of the story. Institutions have to socialize that worker; he or she has to come to terms with blind competitiveness. The worker will have to learn how to manage obsession in the very process of working, interrogating and tempering it. The drive to do good work can give people a sense of a vocation; poorly made institutions will ignore their denizens’ desire that life add up, while well-crafted organizations will profit from it.”
– Page 267 CIT2001
What is one of the most telling elements of what makes up a good “craftsman” and also for cultivating the stillness for attention to detail is walking away from the obsession and taking time to play as well as to be still. But we are literally programmed by the fabric of reality formulated by predatory capitalism to be increasingly more productive for the sake of production only, even though now I have a handheld device that has the power of a desktop in the late 1990s early 21st century.
And out of this idle, down-time to relax or play, boredom can and undoubtedly will naturally arise from time to time. However, if you look at the way Sennett see’s it, boredom leads to hackery which leads to one thinking of repurposing or differing applications of tools and technology.
As Sennett starts to roll out his literary magic carpet up and wrap things up for the reader, he explains how these ideas and memes he put forward in this work can help to simply achieve harmonious workplace dynamics as well.
In a paragraph on page 289 CIT2001 “Both the difficulties and the possibilities of making things well apply to making human relationships. Material challenges like working with resistance or managing ambiguity are instructive in understanding the resistances people harbor to one another or the uncertain boundaries between people. I’ve stressed the positive, open role routine and practicing play in the work of crafting physical things; so too do people need to practice their relations with one another, learn the skills of anticipation and revision in order to improve these relations.”
The first opening lines of page 290 hit the reader like a ton of bricks! CIT2001
“I recognize that the reader may balk at thinking of experience in terms of technique. But who we are arises directly from what our bodies can do. Social consequences are built into the structure and the functioning of the human body, as in the workings of the human hand.”
Now my readership can laugh all they want at this line… “Who we are arises directly from what our bodies can do.” You think about that for a while.
But let it sink in for a few hours or mull it over for a day. Pretty simple right? Then do the same with the second sentence.
Get the point?
Now we finish it off
Both the difficulties and the possibilities of making things well apply to making human relationships. Material challenges like working with resistance or managing ambiguity are instructive in understanding the resistances people harbor to one another or the uncertain boundaries between people. I’ve stressed the positive, open role routine and practicing play in the work of crafting physical things; so too do people need to practice their relations with one another, learn the skills of anticipation and revision in order to improve these relations
This morning as I was proofing and editing this post for it’s final time, I took a quick break and it dawned on me that one of Open Source’s most formidable spokeman, Richard Stallman was the creator of the Emacs text editor, but as I was browsing I came across a very important piece regarding the creation of the Emacs editor itself.
The last line of the piece, which is an excerpt from “Free As in Freedom” posted on ycombinator news, clearly demonstrates the ethos of craftsmanship and collaboration even at the smallest force multiplier level of two people.
“EMACS could not have been reached by a process of careful design, because such processes arrive only at goals which are visible at the outset, and whose desirability is established on the bottom line at the outset. Neither I nor anyone else visualized an extensible editor until I had made one, nor appreciated its value until he had experienced it. EMACS exists because I felt free to make individually useful small improvements on a path whose end was not in sight.”
Honestly, I think this is somewhat more than a mere review, but you are the readership. You be the judge. I sincerely hope that at least this sparked off some thoughts for you, continue to be well and to strive for the “Higher”
Another book and another spot…
CIT2001 Sennett, Richard. Yale University Press; 1 edition (March 31, 2009), 0300151195, 978-0300151190.
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