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Saturday, May 14, 2016

"Shop Class as Soulcraft" by Matthew B. Crawford. A Review.

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work
"Those who belong to a certain order of society - people who make big decisions that affect all of us - don't seem to have much sense of their own fallibility. Being unacquainted with failure, the kind that can't be interpreted away, may have something to do with the lack of caution that business and political leaders often display in the actions they undertake on behalf of other people" (203-4).


Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There I was in South Florida, working on the air frame of fighter jets and the internal bulkhead of an H-3 helicopter. My nicotined hands were cut and calloused, my steel-toed boots sliced, my uniform often sweat-soaked and spotted with carbon. But the work was rich and refreshing. The high point came when my then 5 year old daughter asked me, "Daddy, what do you do?" Just at that moment an F-4 launched from the flight line, roaring it's way gloriously upward. I beamed, "Honey, I fix jets. I fixed that jet!" Her eyes widened to the size of a dinner plate, and she gasped, "wow!" There's just something special about learning a trade and working with one's hands; fixing and repairing, crafting and completing a physical project. Matthew B. Crawford, Philosopher, motorcycle mechanic and a senior fellow at the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, addresses this value in his 256 page paperback "Shop Class As Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work."

The author's aim in the book is clearly "concerned less with economics than it is with the experience of making things and fixing things" as well as "to consider what is at stake when such experiences recede from our common life" (3-4). This is the direction of the whole volume, entwined with personal stories, reflections on worth and value, and philosophizing about moral and cultural trends toward distancing and consumerism. There are moments when the line of reasoning goes flat, normally because the long illustrations would be outside my purview; but there are many instances when the material revs up. Crawford's insights burble to the surface in brilliance as he summarizes various themes, for example "Fixing things may be a cure for narcissism" (82). Or when comparing trade work to office teams, "Where no appeal to a carpenter's level is possible, sensitivity training becomes necessary" (157).

"Shop Class as Soulcraft" is an enjoyable, thought-provoking read about the value of work, and a specific type of work. The reader will be confronted with the need to think through why they work, how they achieve well-being in their vocation, and what it says about their happiness. If Crawford is correct, then "thinking is inherently bound up with doing, and it is in rational activity together with others that we find our peculiar satisfaction" (208). Even if , in the end, you don't find the book completely compelling, you will walk away pondering where you fit in the scheme of things and reflecting on how to make it better, and that's a good place to be. I recommend the book.


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