the craftsman

## richard sennett ### yale university press, 20218


making is thinking


starting from arendt’s concern about technological frenzy, and her belief in letting the public have a discussion around technological development (cf. the human condition). the response to that starts with the difference between animal laborens and homo faber. the first takes work as the end in itself (thinking and feeling are constrained within the process of making), the second asks why this works happens.

fine cloth or well-cooked food enables us to image larger categories of “good”: animal laborens serves as homo faber’s guide. craftmanship is the desire to do a job well for its own sake - skill, commitment, judgment.

two claims: 1 skill develops first through the body, 2 technological understanding develops through the powers of imagination. these two claims combine in exploring how resistance and ambiguity can lead to instruction. in this sense, motivation matters more than talent, because that motivation/obsession is what will have the biggest effect on the work.

the troubled craftsman

if the place of the craftsman was essential in archaic greece, as we can tell by the myth of Hephaestus, its status changed in classical greece. aristotle saw them as inferior because they didn’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing, while plato continued to confer upon them the ability to make, poiein (he also worried that the diversity of names for craftspeople would hide their deep common aspect)

linux is a public craft (quoting the cathedral and the bazaar), and while being a resurgence of demioergoi (public-producer), it still struggles on how to reconcile quality of knowledge with openness of access.

all craftsmanship has an impersonality in their character, which at the same time turns people outward, makes them more vocal.

there are two imperatives in the modern world to do good work: - moral imperative to do work for the community - competition imperative of performing better than others

the solution he finds is cooperation (examples of Nokia, Motorola), and the sharp, mutual exchanges and mutual commitments in the “total quality control” world of japanese industry: everyone aims for the best, and that gives an excuse to speak truth to power.

the separation of head and hand: practice is the sustained exploration of problem-finding and problem-solving, which builds and expands skillsets, and then raises the bar.

“The ‘Eureka’ moments that turn the lock in a practice that has jammed are embedded in routine”. this develops embodied knowledge, but without disregarding the craftsman as a social outcast. the more practice one has, the more practical they become, and the easier it becomes to make the distinction between correct and practical

“to do good work means to be curious about, to investigate, and to learn from ambiguity

“Embedding” is making tacit, instinctive, but this experiential standard for making judgments/decisions is still seen as suspect by some.

craftsmanship is relational thinking, not settling for quick fixes, the conflict between tacit knowledge and explicit critique

the workshop

the workshop is a productive space in which people deal face-to-face with issues of authority (authority vs. autonomy)

the apprentice would learn by imitation, by copying. the journeyman had to show managerial competence, negotiating travel and stability.

the difference between arts and crafts lies in part in the difference between private/subjectivity/autonomous/dominant agent/sudden (artist) and public/objectivity/interdependent/collective agent/slow (craftsman), which also introduces the question of the original, and what kind of social foundation it could provide (spoiler: a brooding one)

originality also put a deadline on the workshop’s life, since originality is by definition hard to pass on.


the ushering of the machines started to make us ask questions about the place of the craftsman, and more broadly to make us see the limits of humans in a somewhat positive light. sennett categorizes machines in either replicants (trying to emaulate humans) and robots (trying to augment humans)

the enlightenment offered two different ways to think about the improvement of humans: - the german approach, with mendelssohn and kant, offered development through reason (kant in a pure fashion, and mendelssohn through practice (kultur, “things done and not done”)) - the french approach, with diderot (which influenced mendelssohn). this approach was focused on the highlight of craft in the Encyclopédie.

the encyclopédie offered equal footing of all activities (manual or not): the roi is next to the rôtisseur. it also offered a different conception of sympathy (not just “treat your neighbor as thyself”, but rather imagine what it could be to actually be your neighbor). this approach to sympathy led to a call to admire ordinary people at work; but in order to do that, one had to develop a deep understanding of that particular work.

the first problem was that there was a limit to language, since few artisans could actually explain out loud what they were doing: they were first and foremost dealing with embodied knowledge, and words are limited when it comes to physical practice. one way to address that limit was to use images instead of words, to depict engravings as “decisive moments”. (to do something well, silently compose the decisive moments in your head and enact them).

the second problem is that, if you can only learn by doing, then we are soon presented with another limit: not being able to do something well, and therefore not being able to understand it… so how do we make sense of failure?

the answer he proposes lies in the relationship between models and education. if education, as madame d’epinay suggests, is a matter not of telling children “be like me”, but instead of saying “this is how i lived”, it leaves some room for the children to innovate, rather than imitate. this applies to the realizations of the machine in the workshop: it suggests that the model the machine is offering is a stimulus rather than a command. through that approach, the craftsman can both celebrate and achieve individuality (getting things right, whether practically or perfectly, is not an option if it doesn’t enlighten us about ourselves).

in the uk, john ruskin advocated for yet another approach to working with machines. in the midst of concerns about this new abundance of perfectly manufactured goods, the question was to find a personal response within those artefacts/products. ruskin’s contribution crystallized into the seven lamps of architecture, aiming at making the crafstman self-conscious through self-reflection:

this was in opposition of the “virtuoso”, the person who was first an enlightened amateur, and then developed into technique for technique’s sake, creating not a skill-based hierarchy but a skill-based divide. he advocated instead that we learn the classics on our own terms. the middle ground between amateur and virtuoso is where craftsmanship lives.

(the craftsman is sometimes a poor salesman, unable to explicit the value of what they’re doing)