Shop Class as Soul Craft

This isn’t a book review, since I haven’t read the book yet. It’s more of a book preview. I’ve only had a chance to read the Introduction so far, but that alone already has me jittering with desire to dig in and dig deeply. It’s that good, and has that much content that speaks to me.

Shop Class as Soul Craft, by Matthew Crawford, is a book that my friend Jim recommended long ago. I’m finally getting the chance to take a look for myself. It emphasizes the deep-down satisfaction that we gain from making (or fixing) things ourselves, with our own hands. More generally, it considers the nature of work, and what constitutes a meaningful occupation.

Here are some tidbits from the Introduction that resonated with me, or that I found particularly thought-provoking:

“Following a doctorate in political philosophy at the University of Chicago, I took a job as executive director of a Washington ‘think tank.’ I was always tired, and honestly could not see the rationale for my being paid at all—what tangible goods or services was I providing to anyone? The sense of uselessness was dispiriting. That pay was good, but it truly felt like compensation, and after five months I quit to open a bike shop.”

“This book grows out of an attempt to understand the greater sense of agency and competence I have always felt doing manual work, compared to other jobs that were officially recognized as ‘knowledge work.’ Perhaps most surprisingly, I often find manual work more engaging intellectually. This book is an attempt to understand why this should be so.”

“… I hope [this book] will speak to those who may be unlikely to go into the trades professionally but strive for some measure of self-reliance—the kind that requires focused engagement with our material things.”

“Those who work in an office often feel that, despite the proliferation of contrived metrics they must meet, their job lacks objective standards of the sort provided by, for example, a carpenter’s level, and that as a result there is something arbitrary in the dispensing of credit and blame.”

I’m hooked; bring on the soul craft!

1 of 3 people learned something from this entry.

  1. Susan said,

    May 17, 2010 at 9:19 am

    (Learned something new!)

    I’m curious to know what you think of this book. I admit that I’m skeptical of people who say that phyiscal work is more valuable and/or rewarding than intellectual work. I think the truth is that if your life/career leans too far toward the physical or the intellectual, you do yourself a lot of good to develop a strong hobby in the other direction. Heck, we can hardly claim that house-hacking doesn’t make us happy :). (Happier at project completion, often, than those harrowing times in between when we discover that all all the planning, design, and measurement STILL led to some ugly error.)

  2. Scott said,

    May 17, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    (Knew it already.)

    Never heard of the book, but I absolutely agree. I get that feeling from almost all work that I do on my house.

  3. Scott said,

    May 18, 2010 at 8:55 am

    (Knew it already.)

    Also, SoulCraft sounds like a horror themed sequel to WarCraft and StarCraft. ;-)

  4. Kiri said,

    May 18, 2010 at 9:34 am

    Susan, one thing I find interesting in how the book positions itself is that it argues that physical work actually provides intellectual engagement as well. I don’t think it’s arguing that physical is better than intellectual, but instead that we may overlook the fact that manual work or crafting doesn’t mean you’re not thinking at the same time. (This is obvious if actually engage in any such activity, but our culture has this kind of weird bias about it.)

    Funnily enough (since I only just picked up this book), I received an email today from my employer stating that our company’s “population significantly consists of ‘knowledge workers’ – people who carry out their professional responsibilities by the acquisition, manipulation, communication and preservation of knowledge.” So where’s our soul craft? ;)

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