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am 2. Juli 1999
Richard Sennett's little book includes many worthy insights. His analysis of risk-taking and community is particularly good. It appears true that in the private sector a short term focus is widespread. For many individuals, life narratives are perhaps getting lost amidst fragmentary episodes of work. Personal character no doubt suffers.
But whose fault is this? Sennett seems to imply that workers are passive victims of institutional structure. Such structures, however, are always changing. Workers may be more resilient than he gives them credit for. Personal narratives are probably intact even though many of them are so different from those of, say, their parents as to be unrecognizable. Then, too, in changing times one may simply have to exert more effort to understand and develop a life narrative. On the basis of Sennett's small sample, assuming too much about the workforce as a whole may be unwise. Do foreign service officers, Oklahoma bankers, Iowa farmers, physicians in Oregon, and school teachers in New Mexico suffer from a diminished sense of identity because of the new capitalism?
I felt swayed by Sennett's argument until I read on p. 116 that, "The classic work ethic of delayed gratification and proving oneself through hard labor can hardly claim our affection." In fact, it does. Even under new circumstances, working hard and delaying gratification in order to achieve a larger goal produces a sense of accomplishment, of self-worth. Similiarly, human beings have a way of seeking out or creating the communities they need. If the office doesn't provide it, or the neighborhood, churches and voluntary associations of all kinds do. Some people simply opt out of work situations which do not provide or allow them the kinds of communities they need.
Capitalism is infinitely changeable and dynamic, but most people are quick to see their options. Quicker perhaps than Mr. Sennett.
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Amidst the cacophony about the wonders of globalization and the new millennium's everlasting prosperity and bull market, Richard Sennett has the intellectual courage to present some of the negative consequences of global capitalism on a vast number of workers whose skills and dedication the economy and markets depend upon. Jobs are replaced by "projects" and "fields of work" and the moto for organizing working time is "no long-term". As workers are forced to go from one job to another, the new capitalism increases the risk of the workers in choosing employment, while it robs them of the sense of security enjoyed previously and, in Sennett's words, corrodes their character. The book covers the trends and nuances of the new capitalism and with many examples illustrates the decline of job security of both workers and managers, the fact that the fastest growing sector of the labor force is those working on temporary jobs, often called "permatemps", and that the frequent turnover in employment increases the risk of choosing a career or even a job. Richard Sennett correctly concludes that the new order does indeed corrode the worker's character.
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am 13. Mai 1999
Richard Sennetts book entitled The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consquences of Work in the New Capitalism is a well written and informative book about the economic changes and conditions going on in America's workplace today. Sennett uses examples in his book about janitors, IBM workers, and Boston bakers as case studies to get some of his points accross. He paints a picture of how each of these professions has changed over the years. These examples are deeply thought out and explained in detail. He even makes the examples so easy to understand that even a young adult can follow along. The only downside to his book is that the author gives no soloutions to the problems inour changing workforce. He just explains why things are the way they are. If you are intrested in learning about the changes in our workforce, this is a book for you.
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am 20. Oktober 1998
I wanted to enjoy this book--the subject of modern downsizing fascinates and compels me and there's been a number of solid books recently on the subject...but this isn't one of them. I was misled into believing that on THIS topic, at least, Sennett would be more clear and easier to understand than in those previous books of his which I've read and found highly incomprehensible. His case studies are sketchy, his conclusions are cliched, and his ultimate point is lost in obscurity. Instead, try reading Barbara Rudolph's "Disconnected" for a more personal, accessible look at the subject.
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am 27. Juni 2000
Richard Sennett is obviously an erudite man, and (from my perspective) a good writer. But he has written a deeply flawed book. He has committed the cardinal sin of analysis, imagining that, by becoming expert in what is wrong with the world, he would glean some useful insights into how to make it right. Unfortunately, the doctor who studies only sick people has little to offer on the subject of health. The psychologist who investigates only depressed people learns little about true satisfaction. And, of course, the sociologist who chooses to interview only downsized and downtrodden workers makes few discoveries about how to find meaning and purpose in today's working world.
The world that Sennett found in his interviews, with its "delicious ironies" and its "fictions" and its unhealthy "power relationships", may be accurate enough in the specific, but, as other reviewers have commented, it is not generalizable. Nor is it helpful. It is simply depressing.
If Richard were just a writer his fascination with pathology would be merely distracting. But, worringly, he is also a teacher. It is alarming to imagine him passing off his flawed insights as truth to those many hungry, but impressionable minds at LSE.
I don't know whether he reads these reviews but if he does... Richard, change the focus of your research. Take the time to study healthy work relationships. Investigate employees who have found purpose in today's changing workplace. Your insights will be more accurate, more compelling, and, in the end, more useful.
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am 12. Mai 1999
I am struck by the visceral and reactive comments in some of the reviews, but this only demonstrates that Sennett has touched a vulnerable nerve among those who have a vested interest in the juggernaut of globalization and commercial frenzy of the Internet. Isn't it interesting that the most volatile reviews come from those in the heart of Silicon Valley? Sennett has succeeeded in illuminating the universal in the particular, yes, through what his critics denigrates as "just anecdotes"? But anecdotes are grounded in human experience, not rarefied abstractions of traditional posivist sociology. His critics ought to go back to read C. Wright Mills' clasic The Sociological Imagination, who takes these posivist parasites to task. Sennett also does a stellar job of stripping away the corporate speak and propaganda about "change, teams, reengineering" --the stuff that has made management gurus and their parrot of consultant-followers rich, while the ordinary Joe is the mere anecdotal recipient of such social engineering schemes. Sennett also succeeds in showing how the superficiality of corporate life is bleeding over to the family, eroding away depth and character..this is a sore spot that most managers would rather ignore. As C. Wright Mills, the great sociologist taught, "the political task of the to translate personal troubles into public issues, and public issues into the terms of their human meaning for a variety of indivdiuals" The public isn't moved by barren statistics, it is moved by real stories of real human beings.
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am 11. Mai 1999
Richard Sennett takes a very interesting look at the changing workplace and the possible links to its changes. He looks at the effects that the new workplace has taken on people's lives and their families. He gives vivid comparisons between the past generations and how character had its effect in their jobs and how today's jobs have an effect on character. Sennett doesn't just take a 90's perspective, but instead looks into the past at what the motivations and goals of the workers were centuries before. In 1972 Sennett wrote a book, along with Jonathan Cobb, called "The Hidden Injuries of Class". The book is about a man named Enrico who was a janitor. Enrico's job was both routine and not very mentally challenging. The reason that he was content with his job was because he had goals to improve the lives of his children. His vision canceled out most of the mental and physical drain that his job entailed. He also looks back at when most jobs were what he calls "routine" and what people thought of about habitual labor.
Diderot believed that routine labor was good. He thought that the repetitive actions enabled the worker to become an expert and increasingly develop their skills. He explained that in a factory if each worker were to become an expert at their individual task, that the result would be the best possible product produced at the best possible efficiency. Adam Smith had different views. He believed that routine work "deadened the mind." Sennett points out that today the world has followed Smith's ideas. Pride among the workers has dissipated. When a person starts from the bottom and works to the top they appreciate what they have earned and what they have produced. Today the goal is to skip or zoom past the earning stage. Who can get to the top the fastest is the grand prize. Loyalty between the company and the employees isn't visible anymore because many people don't look at what they can offer, but instead at what they want to receive. People's interests are with themselves and sometimes respectively so. Why would someone today have loyalties with a company if they know that they are not valued by that company? The workers know that they are simply a tool that can be replaced with the twist of a wrench. Sennett explains why people don't see the "long-term" and what some of the factors are that have influenced change.
Enrico's son Rico now has most everything that Enrico dreamed for him. He attended college, has a well paying job, and lives comfortably in a New York suburb. Enrico failed to realize that the discipline and experience that he gained, through hard work, was very necessary. By sending Rico to college with Enrico's own money never gave Rico the appreciation of attending the University. Today it is a very common occurrence for parents to pay for their children's tuition. Yet, there is little way around this dilemma. The children need to stay in school to learn so they will be ready for college. To have kids work enough to pay for college is not very realistic. Many people feel that they need to attend college to stay current with the changing times so they can find a good paying job. Technology has had a large part in these changing times. It is the leader while the businesses and companies run, dart, and leap to catch up.
Sennett recognizes that in today's workplace one must be very flexible. Companies need to be light on their feet and able to adapt to quick changes. The world economy and business techniques have changed very similar to how armies have changed. The strongest castle or the longest trench used to be huge advantages. Now all a nation needs is a nuclear weapon and they are a threat. Business is the same way in that the size of the company isn't what makes them strong, but instead the unique ideas and ability to stay afloat with the waves of change. Rico is pawn in this game. He has certain skills but they will only be useful for so long. He had to move four times in fourteen years. He realizes that his skills are only needed for a certain period of time, so he has no loyalty to his job or what he is providing. All of this leaves scars on his personal character. He finds himself feeling dumb when he tries to explain to his children about commitment. His commitment to his family is weak so for him to try and explain about this value doesn't work because it doesn't come from the heart. Commitment isn't part of a fast pace, "short-term" society.
Sennett does a terrific job at showing why people are unhappy with themselves even though they have good paying jobs. He gives evidence that money isn't what makes people happy. Enrico was a very content man for many reasons. He was very organized, he had goals, a family with whom he could spend time with, and a job that wasn't the best but paid enough so that he could support his family. I think that he successfully showed that a person has control over their own character through the decisions that they make. Sometimes people don't see that they have a choice because they are blinded by an outside controlling factor such as greed. By Andy Sweeney and Mike Duvall
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am 12. April 1999
I bought this book because it was on the Economist's best books of 1998 list and I was a little disappointed (the other books on that list were terrific though). I think what was the biggest oversight is that the current "sales-pitch" of the modern work environment is "meritocracy" and Professor Sennett does not use that word once in the book, although he sort of hints at it when talks about the IBM workers. I think that a lot of the book was secretly whining about the decline of unions and union mentality in this country and its replacement by something "soulless," and yet a lot of what has happened, which he does not comment on, is the replacement of lock-step job advancement based on connections, "class" and skin color with job advancement based on how good you are at your job (this process is still incomplete, but much better than it was say in 1950), something running counter to the leveling attitude of Marxist thought.
I liked Professor Sennet's use of the "achetypes" of Rico, Enrico, the Boston bakers, and especially "Davos man." I felt that the book, however, was deeply pining for a sort of a Marxist worker solidarity consciousness that supposedly existed back in the glory days of unionism. I think that's clear in the next to last sentence of the book. I don't trust his statistical tables, and I wanted him to interview more people, to present the current situation in a more complicated way. These archetypes are only a small portion of the whole picture.
Anyway, I just wanted to speak up about something I thought was a major omission (from my perspective).
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am 24. Februar 1999
This is a highly readable book, informed by academic insights but not over scholarly. Its merit is that it makes you think-particularly by the chapter segmentations. Its scope is wide for a small book-employment,the nature of jobs, the career..Throughout Sennett provides a powerful counterblast to the rhetoricians of the right and also demonstrates the indifference of big business and politicians. His perspective on the Davos summits is beautifully written and acute. While respecting the advice of another reviewer concerning Hezenberg et al, I do not believe the books should be compared. 'New Rules' is a book largely about employment and does not attempt to assess matters of meaning and identity at work. Sennett does this admirably. I think his target audience is the layperson not the academic and reading this book can be a rewarding experience
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am 10. Dezember 1998
Natürlich schlägt Sennett in Kerben, die wohlmarkiert sind und die spätestens seit Marx den Rang von Topoi haben. Es geht um Entfremdung und Orientierungslosigkeit in einer immer schneller verfahrenden Welt, in der der Platz des Einzelnen alles andere als gesichert erscheint. Das Problem mit diesem Buch ist, daß es keine Lösungsansätze zeigt. (Das Problem bei Marx war allerdings, daß er einen allzu bestimmten Lösungsansatz vorschrieb). Damit reiht sich Sennett aber in eine lange Reihe von modernen Philosophen ein, die nicht über die Beschreibung des Ist-Zustandes hinauskommen. Habermas ist hierfür in Deutschland das prominenteste Beispiel. Deshalb mag Habermas das Buch auch. Sennetts Buch ist jedenfalls lesenswert als Ausdruck eines sehr weit verbreiteten Lebensgefühls, das vielleicht die Nachwachsende Generation kennzeichnet.
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