Capitalism and Working with Your Hands

30 12 2009

I have been reading such an amazing article that I cannot help quoting pieces of it.

Let me start with one of those quotations, one that summarizes Mr. Sennet’s work:

“It is an “enduring, basic human impulse, the desire to do a job well for its own sake,” he writes. It’s also an impulse that contemporary culture, with its obsessive embrace of efficiency, financial reward, and the bottom line, has devalued—to its own detriment. Since the 1990s, Sennett has worked to dissect and illuminate how capitalism affects us. His latest book, The Craftsman (Yale University Press), explores how “making is thinking,” and what is lost in a society that fails to recognize craftsmanship and what is learned through using our hands.”

Do you see why this article has me so excited?

My Sennet finds that craftsmanship strengthens critical thinking and imagination. He talks about “situated cognition” which is the way people develop their capacities by attempting to do work well for its own sake. Humans innately want to see tangible results from their work and have their own sense of when those results are satisfactory or not.

Another quotiation:

“People who are competent in verbal symbols are thought to be more gifted than those whose development occurs through physical or manual experience.”…”There is a terrible blindness in modern society to people who work with their hands, and this leads to class differentiation and even contempt for manual work.”

I have talents in both these areas, and it has always been a source of frustration that the first are so much more valued than the latter when I really think it took more work to develop my skills of the latter type to the degree they are developed.

He talks about the reward of physical production, the pride of having something in the world that would not be there, had you not made it so.

More quotations:

“When people are forced to do things quickly it becomes a type of triage. In the process of working very fast, we don’t have the time for reflection and being self-critical.”…”The capitalist economy sacrifices the logic of craft, which results in poorly made objects and a degraded physical environment.”

This also results in a decrease in the ability of the public to recognize and appreciate quality in handwork.

Is there hope? Maybe so! In 2005, he wrote The Culture of the New Capitalism,  about his belief that craftsmanship represents the most radical challenge to the new capitalism.

One more quotation:

“The most radical thing that could happen in the modern workplace is for workers to say, ‘Let us do a better job. This is not good enough, we could do better.’ “… “This would be profoundly destabilizing to the way most work is organized. So, in that sense, it is a very powerful proposal. We are beginning to see this in companies that are committed to employee enrichment and developing the craft powers of their employees, like Toyota and BMW.”

When asked what he would do to encourage this development, Mr. Sennet says he’d ban multiple choice questions, encourage small-scale businesses (YAY!), particularly small production businesses (Double Yay!), and increase mentoring (apprenticeships) (Triple Yay!)

This article really encourages me in what I want to do with the incubator. I AM headed in the right direction. I think I’ll print it out and post it in our space. I’ve already favorited it and passed it on.