Shop Class As Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford

shop class

The value of work is the recurring theme in Shop Class As Soulcraft.  This eyebrow-raising book explores the dichotomy between white collar employment, of the two considered more academic and abstract, and the milieu of the trades,  in which the work is more hands-on and direct.  Crawford discusses the effects of the industrial age, in which the role of the knowledgeable craftsman diminished in the wake of assembly lines and motion studies, and the worker was further distanced from control of a finished product.  In his view, this has continued on to the present-day office setting, where a “product” is often something not tangible and workers are valued more for collective malleability than for individual talent.  For lack of any real contact with a physical product, modern day cubicle dwellers don’t find a sense of meaning in their work.  Workers in the trades do have hands-on experience, they do see the actual fruit of their labors, and therefore, work has meaning to them.

The author has had his feet in both camps.  He slogged through the acquisition of graduate degrees, and worked in moneyed think tanks and “information worker” settings, but found far greater satisfaction (and better money, in some cases) working as an electrician between college semesters.  In the present day, he runs a motorcycle repair shop, and revels in the lessons learned through the world of machines.

Shop Class As Soulcraft is certainly timely – the manufacturing and information sectors may get whittled away to overseas operations, but things still break down, here and at the moment, and somebody has to know how to deal with these things.  I’m not sure if this book is THE manifesto to give the trades their due, but I’d vote it a high mark.  It’s written almost as a philosophical treatise, and there’s some wordiness here to go through, but keep at it – the message is essential for those considering a career path beyond the cube farm.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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