Sheila at Book Journey hosts a weekly meme in which we share what we are reading that day.  Ideally, we will get ideas from each other on some intriguing titles we hadn’t heard of before.

Shop Class

I am reading Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford.  In this book, Crawford makes a strong case that we as a society have gone in the wrong direction by steering young people away from skilled trades and into four-year colleges to become “knowledge workers.”  He believes that many office workers (what he calls “knowledge workers”) often feel a sense of meaninglessness because we have lost the connection to the material world.  Instead, he thinks more people should be encouraged to experience the intrinsic satisfactions and cognitive challenges of skilled manual labor.

He emphasizes that he is not speaking in his book about rote assembly-line work, but about skilled workers such as electricians, carpenters, and mechanics.  In fact, he point about that skilled tradespeople often experience more cognitive stimulation than many “knowledge workers,” whose work has  become more and more rote over the years.

I think Crawford makes a strong case, and I completely agree with him.  I think it is misguided to insist that everybody is better off with a four-year college degree or to believe that manual trades are somehow “less” than “white-collar work.”  I think this argument needs to be made more often, so that more people get the message.

My main critique of Shop Class as Soulcraft has to do with the style in which it is written.  Although Crawford has worked as a mechanic and electrician, he also has a Ph.D. in Political Philosophy. This book is written by a philosopher, which gives it depth and richness, but also a certain inaccessibility.   I have nothing against academics in the humanities (being one myself), but I do wish he had tried harder to remove the “academic-ese” from his book so that it could reach a larger audience.

To give you an example of what I mean, here is an example of his style:

Since the standards of craftsmanship issue from the logic of things rather than the art of persuasion, practiced submission to them perhaps gives the craftsman some psychic ground to stand on against fantastic hopes aroused by demagogues, whether commercial or political.  Plato makes a distinction between technical skill and rhetoric on the grounds that rhetoric “has no account to give of the real nature of things, and so cannot tell the cause of any of them.”  The craftsman’s habitual deference is not towards the New, but toward the objective standards of his craft.  (18)

Couldn’t he have gotten his ideas across in a more accessible style?

Despite my reservations about his academic style, I do appreciate what Crawford is doing in this book.

What are you reading?