accountabilitybloke (old blog)

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Shoddy work in China and Belfast….

One of Sennett’s observations reflects on a visit he made to a suburban housing complex in the Soviet Union in the months before the regime’s collapse. As a case example to highlight the costs of an over bureaucratized material culture that is indifferent to the human urge for craftsmanship, he takes note of the shoddy construction of the housing units and the obvious lack of care or concern (and perhaps corruption) by those who built the units.

Two recent news stories came to mind when reading that passage in Sennett. The first involved the tragic circumstances behind collapse of schools in China when the earthquake struck. Certainly the power of the quake had much to do with the collapse, but the news stories noted that other buildings nearby — including schools attended by wealthier students — withstood the shocks. From the outset of their on-the-scene coverage, the NPR crew took note of the feeling among the locals that the high number of deaths among the children was due to the poor construction of the buildings — and immediately fingers were being pointed in the direction of local officials….

The second story emerged on the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s fateful voyage, and focuses on a recent book that raises questions about the role poor material (specifically, rivets made of substandard steel) and poor workmanship played in the sinking of the ship. The folks at the Belfast firm that built the ship (yes, they are still around) challenged the report which was co-authored by a metallurgist who has been making the rounds of TV interview shows to peddle her book. She would certainly have Sennett on her side….

May 29th, 2008 Posted by | accountabilitybloke | no comments

Another summer with Sennett….

It has been a year since I completed the last “Richard Sennett trilogy” which I found interesting as individual volmes but a bit puzzling as a trio since there was no clear thematic or stylistic thread that held the works together beyond the focus on contemporary challenges to a meaningful existence (– which I guess was the theme….).

And just in time for my shift into summer reading mode, Sennett has published another work that is supposed to initiate still another trilogy, this time with a focus on what he terms the study of “technique” as “material culture”. The first volume, The Craftsman, is a response to Hannah Arendt’s argument in The Human Condition that modernity has elevated the mundane world of Animal laborens and undermined the human capacity to reflect on and judge (and perhaps to control) what it has produced. For Arendt the exercise of that capacity requires the reestablishment of Homo faber — man-the-maker who is capable of engaging in the collective determination of how the product of our labors would be put to use. Sennett’s theme is that such a capacity does not require a distinct class of individuals, but can be — and has been — exercised by those who engage in the production itself. What he seeks is the restoration of true craftsmanship where thoughtfulness and labor are combined, and he sees exemplary forms of such in the work of those who are motivated by the need to achieve higher standards in their work lives. (Gosh, I hope that makes sense….)

The read is good thus far, and I will share my thoughts on the book as I am able. But after reading about his plans for the trilogy, I think I will approach each book as a distinct piece rather than get entangled in trying to figure out the connections. His brief overview of the planned series already signals that the links among the three (The Craftsman, Warriors and Priests, and The Foreigner) will not be that clear. The second volume will focus on the crafts of religion and aggression, while the third will supposedly address the possibility of developing a craftsman-like approach to the challenge of sustainability. My head spins already…..

May 29th, 2008 Posted by | accountabilitybloke | no comments