February 19, 2010

Nonrequired Reading: 012: Shop Class As Soul Craft

The satisfactions of manifesting oneself concretely in the world through manual competence have been known to make a man quiet and easy. They seem to relieve him of the felt need to offer chattering interpretations of himself to vindicate his worth. He can simply point: the building stands, the car now runs, the lights are on. Boasting is what a boy does, who has no real effect in the world. But craftsmanship must reckon with the infallible judgment of reality, where one’s failures or shortcomings cannot be interpreted away.

-- Matthew Crawford, Shop Class As Soulcraft


While at times tedious and extremely heady, Crawford's work moved and challenged me to rethink "knowledge work" vs. "manual work" or white collar vs blue collar. He makes a strong case for manual labor, runs through it's history and weaves his own story as a motorcycle mechanic into the book. I wouldn't necessarily recommend the book, which I doubt I would have made it through if I wasn't listening to it in the car, but I would highly recommend his essay that preceded the book. You can check it out here and it's definitely worth thirty minutes of your time.


Dwayne said...

I read most of the article a few weeks ago, and I think that he romanticized manual labor too much. I thought that it was spoken from the perspective of someone who has the privilege of working with their hands because they like to not because they have to. This is a HUGE difference. True, there is something therapeutic about working with your hands, but it can also be miserable as our bodies break down. At the end of the day it was hard to look past my annoyance with him, but it was interesting to think about.

Josh Jackson said...


I completely agree with your assessment. There is a difference between the privelegde of manual labor and the I-have-no-other-choice kind of manual labor. No doubt about it.

I think what I found most appealing about his story is the idea of being master of your own stuff. I know this isn't a new idea, more of a reinvention of an idea that has been around forever, but it definitely wielded some influence on me. It's part of the reason Kari sits in a construction class tonight and why I had my mechanic teach me how to install break pads a few weeks back. :)

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