Thursday, February 14, 2008

With these hands

This book sounds pretty interesting:
Craft, as Sennett sees it, belongs to the category of “social capital”: knowledge and skill that are accumulated and passed on through social interaction, and which are easily lost when social customs change. He gives the illuminating example of the Stradivari and Guarneri violin workshops, whose secrets have not survived the death of those who exploited them – not because the secrets were known to the few, hidden from the many, and then carelessly lost, but because, in an important sense, they were not explicitly known. Social capital of this kind is an example of what the scientist and philosopher Michael Polanyi called “tacit knowledge”: knowledge that exists in a social practice, but is not detachable from it, like the knowledge of the human heart that is contained in the practice of good manners. Such knowledge confers authority on the one who possesses it, and, as Sennett illuminatingly argues, craft traditions have been as much under threat from the modern suspicion of authority in all its forms, as from the industrialisation of the productive process. Originality and “doing your own thing” have replaced obedience and perfection as the standards to live up to, and this is everywhere to be observed in the deskilling of modern societies and in the marginalisation of those who truly know their job, and know it as something more interesting than themselves.

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