Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The Craftsman by Richard Sennett

At home this afternoon due to the first snow of this winter closing CPIT. Got to work just after eight through heavy snow on my side of town. Mostly wet in town but then the snow started to really thicken and settle. CPIT closed just after 9.30am so made our way very slowy home. Still snowing this afternoon and about 10 cm in the garden. Therefore, a good opportunity to do my weekly blog.

Over the long weekend, (Queen's birthday with Monday as a public holiday) and re-read Richard Sennett's book The Craftsman. I have dipped in and out of the book several times and used relevant portions in my dissertation, in particular definitions of craftsmanship and the premise that all of us are craftsman, both in our personal (as parents, homecooks, gardeners) and work (not only trade based but professions and examples in the book with computer programmers) lives.

The kindle version of the book on my ipad is now well bookmarked and had copious notes of parts that are pertinent to several projects I am currently working on. I have also highlighted about a dozen other readings/books to follow up, so the weekend reading has been fruitful.

The book moves through 3 sections, craftsmen, craft and craftmanship. In the craftsmen section, four chapters cover the historical conceptions of craftsmanship and provides examples of ancient (weaving) and modern (linux programming) of the existence of craftsmanship. The decline of respect for trades craftsmanship through the industrial revolution is also traced. In this section, the main line of argument is that we should still maintain our sense of craftmanship. Losing aspects of craftsmanship like continual working towards quality whether a plumber or a surgeon, means we lose some of our humanity. Of importance is the need to retain the craftsmanship mindset, so that we are conscious of the impact of technology,tools and machines on the way we do and conceptualise. The example provided is the advent of computer aided design (CAD) in architecture whereby architects become enamoured by the call of design but forget that their creations have to fit into a certain geographical context with weather/climate that impact on the eventual human interaction with the buildings.

The second section concentrates of the importance of the hand in how humans relate to their world. The chapter 'the hand' summarises psychological, ethnographical and sociological approaches to understanding how the had works and the hands contribution to 5 dimensions of human endeavour. 4 are identified by Raymond Tallis, as anticipation, contact, language cognition and reflection and a fifth being values developed by highly skilled hands. Learning music is used as the example in how the hand contributes to how we understand ourselves, communicate with others and form and then explain our conceptualisations. In chapter 6, 'expressive instructions', 3 versions of written recipes are used to explain how trying to explain how to debone a chicken, is about having to unpack how we use our hands. It would have been good to have these recipes in the appendices. However, the example used is apt.

The last section concludes as a call for the need to respect quality-driven work. Human drive for continual improvement needs to be nurtured through the education system. Current work organisation practice makes it difficult for craftmanship to be practiced. The book is a call for better suuport of an innate human desire. If carefully sponsored, might be a way for humankind to better meet the big challenges, many of them environmental issues that will affect all of us one way or other in the near future.