In the Jan.-Feb. issue of Utne Reader, we reprinted a great interview with Richard Sennett about the value of craftsmanship, what the sociologist calls “an enduring, basic human impulse, the desire to do a job well for its own sake.” In a recent piece for Guernica, Rochelle Gurstein looks at craftsmanship from a policy perspective—by way of exploring the history of labor in the United States and the intentional dismantling of a skilled labor economy.
“There is nothing natural or inevitable about our system of labor,” Gurstein writes. “It came about through conscious decisions made by industrial capitalists in the name of profit for them alone.” The assembly-line mindset hastened the demise of meaningful work and, of course, bolstered the consumerism that’s come to define American life and threaten the environment. But while conversations about consuming less are in vogue, discussions of a new (or renewed) way to work are not. As Gurstein puts it:
Instead of putting forward, as so many of our elected officials, policy analysts, pundits, and journalists predictably do, a picture of our world that is essentially the same, except that it is somehow “green” and somehow peopled with college-educated or better “trained” workers, we need to focus our attention on the more pressing and more basic question of what kinds of work people should be expected to devote their lives to doing.