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Reflecting on Matthew Crawford's "Shop class as soul craft"

Siva Swaminathan
September 26, 2020

Reflecting on Matthew Crawford's "Shop class as soul craft"

Siva Swaminathan

September 26, 2020


  1. Including nuggets of inspiration from… Bertrand Russell, Machines and emotions

    Jeff Goldschmidt, Disciplined minds Barry Schwartz, Self-determination: The tyranny of freedom Sheena Iyengar, The art of choosing Ivan Illich, Tools for conviviality David Edwards, The lab: Creativity & culture Robert Pirsig, Zen & the art of motorcycle maintenance Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, Flow Martin Heidegger, Being and time Marshall McLuhan, The medium is the message …
  2. "Rational administration" Both Soviet & Western societies are organized according

    to similar principles (1950s sociological analysis; Herb Simon comment on aliens)
  3. Taylorism Strip know-how and decision-making from workers, and concentrate it

    with the manager (What happened to manual work is being translated to knowledge work)
  4. Cogs in a machine Not a science, but management (politics)

    masquerading as science Fungibility => commoditization (suppress bargaining power) The primary concern is not labor time, but labor cost
  5. Whence ownership? Marxist notion of "abstract labor", and the resulting

    alienation "through work that we recognize our 'species character' […] we get alienated from ourselves when the product and the goals of our work are appropriated, since it is a manifestation of ones own most human possibilities."
  6. Schooling as socialization Schooling as practice in separating thought from

    action Substituting intrinsic motivation with extrinsic incentives (Ivan Illich, Deschooling society)
  7. What is the point of work? Engage and enhance human

    faculties as thoroughly as possible (fundamentally incompatible with Taylorist principles)
  8. What is creativity? \ (two incompatible formulations) Unleashing creativity through

    flexibility Cultivating competence through submission to a domain, resulting in creative skill
  9. Submitting to a bureaucracy "The [automotive shop] service rep. reepresents

    not so much mechanical expertise as a position taken by an institution, and our spirited man is not sure he trusts this institution (mayve they want to sell him a new car). He hates the feeling of dependence, especially when it is a direct result of his not understanding something."
  10. Rational activity choices "The idea of oportunity costs presumes the

    fungibility of human experience: all our activities are equivalent or interchangeable once theya re reduced to their abstract currency of clock time, and its wage correlate"
  11. Active involvement "Spiritedness is an assertion of one's own dignity,

    and to fix one's own car is not merely to use up time, it is to have a different experience of time, of one's car, and of oneself."
  12. Consumerism as the fix for drudgery The rise of "consumption

    engineers" in the early 20th century, for scientific management of desire by to create demand for industrial output
  13. Consumerism to promote employability Boosting consumption is a great way

    to make people work harder Indebtedness and consumption as social signaling as being ready for assembly-line drudgery
  14. Forces on the consumption side, parallelling those on the production

    side "…infantilization at work, and it offends the spirited personality." "There seems to be an ideology of freedom at the heart of consumerist material culture; a promise to disburden us of mental and bodily involvement with our own stuff so we can pursue ends we have freely chosen. Yet this disburdening gives us fewer occasions for the experience of direct responsibility […] appeal of freedomism, as a marketing hook […] points to a paradox in our experience of agency: to be master of your own stuff entails being mastered by it." * "Recurring purchases, after all, may continue even when the alignment of interests between producer and consumer is only partial, or even accompanied by a felt antagonism [like MS Windows]."
  15. What is an intuitive design? "[Indicates] minimal pschic friction between

    the user's intention and its realization. It is such resistance that makes one aware of reality as an independent thing […] limits need not be physical; the important thing is rather that they are external to the self." An intuitive interface ensures that nothing disturbs a solipsistic self- containement.
  16. Problem-solving, and tool-use are fundamental to human nature "…choosing is

    not creating, however much 'creativity' is invoked in such marketing."
  17. Education of a gearhead (in two parts) More autobiographical, with

    evocative examples from automotive maintenance.
  18. "At issue in the contrast between office work and the

    manual trades is the idea of individual responsibility, tied to the presence or absence of objective standards." (external reality, not arbitrarily imposed)
  19. Schumpeter (1942): Expansion of higher education beyond labor market demand

    creates for white-collar workers "employment in substandard work or at wages below those of the better-paid manual workers."
  20. Unavoidable moral property of the medium of office work "the

    job required both dumbing down and a bit of moral reeducation." (fundamental mismatch between intrinsic notion of quality, and the surplus maximized by a third party disintermediating the producer from the consumer.)
  21. Without objective feedback from reality, a lot of modern work

    is basically managing relationships and reputations.
  22. Problems with the escalating rhetoric of "postindustrial society" or "creative

    economy", and how everybody needs higher education (particularly hard on boys/men)
  23. "dispensation of the whole person is at issue; one has

    to have certain personal qualities, more than a well-defined set of competencies tied to the fulfilment of specific organizational ends […] a collection of psychological and social aptitudes, that is harder to codify […] personality package."
  24. Identifying with corporate culture, and "buying in" to "the mission"

    as the primary indicators of professionalism
  25. The current educational system assumes that "knowing that" is more

    important than "knowing how", corresponding roughly to universal knowledge versus the kind that comes from individual experience.
  26. "Degradation of work is often based on efforts to replace

    the intuitive judgement of practitioners with rule following, and codify knowledge into [symbols and processes] that stand in for situated knowledge."
  27. Money reflects generic potency… good, but not intrinsically so. Using

    it to acquire specific goods is cannot imbue work itself with meaning, and is more likely to have the opposite effect of making us stand apart from the job.
  28. National identity and/or class consciousness as a source of dignity

    "Those at the top of a food chain get a new identity in whcih to take pride: [multicultural] sushi-eating, Brazilian-girlfriend-having cosmopolitan. But what does the autoworker get as industries lose their national character? It is harder to take pride in one's work as 'a Rolls-Royce man', if the car is assembled from parts made from who knows where."
  29. Any job that can be scaled up, depersonalized, and made

    to answer to forces remote from the scene of work is vulnerable to degradation (The trades, being inherently situated, better resist this externalization)
  30. Agency directed towards some end affirmed by the actor, but

    embedded in the context of an objective reality instead of merely subjective preferences.