Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of WorkShop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I would recommend this book to any student pursuing a liberal arts degree, and to any who might be working toward an MA or PhD. The importance of the issues this book raises can’t be downplayed. Crawford presents here a serious, elegantly written apologia for the trades as a choice for those about to enter the working world bringing with them little but a knowledge of what is arcane, obscure, and perhaps even morally suspect. (This last, my interpretation though not far-fetched.) It is an unfortunate belief in today’s society that the trades and, in particular, those trades that fix the world around us – think mechanic, electrician, carpenter, plumber etc. – are held in low esteem by those who imagine a better life for their children and even for themselves. Yet it is these very occupations that offer much that is cognitively rewarding as well as a measure of independence, and the true material possibility of effecting positively the world in which we live. The trades offer us the chance to experience both unambiguous success and failure – it is the possibility that we might fail before ourselves and our peers upon which Crawford lays the basis for a moral soundness, a kind of humility that he finds lacking in much of the work that we are asked to do in our so-called information society. The office work place, and the work done there, is harshly exposed. For anyone who has performed mind-numbingly dull, deeply unsatisfying and clearly pointless office work, this critique will sound a clear bell. As a former employee of a conservative think-tank whose job consisted in writing reports possessing only the sheen of objectivity but nothing else, Crawford learned a great deal about the dispiriting forces that curl like wood lice in the modern office. So Crawford saves money. He opens a motorcycle repair shop, and while working as a mechanic begins to meditate on work, the nature of work and why some work is sustaining and why other work weakens the soul and body, causes the upright man to wilt, the good woman to surrender herself to pettiness. It is those parts of the book where Crawford writes about motorcycle repair that he attains a pure lyricism. A work of idealism, SHOP CLASS is nevertheless rooted in the pragmatic and material; it is a work that is democratic yet does not shy away from admitting our desire for the rewards that accrue from our personal merits, to know and feel ourselves in possession of human agency, to be given the chance to express an excellence in our daily lives.

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