Résumé de Shop Class As Soulcraft - An Inquiry into the Value of Work

Matthew B. Crawford, 2010

Publié le 1 février 2023 Mis à jour le 31 mars 2023
Work - Consumerism - Education System - Thinking and Doing

About the author

Matthew B. Crawford is an American philosopher and research fellow from the University of Virginia. His thoughts are focused on the meaning of work in modern societies. He is also a bicycle mechanic and has been an electrician for some years, experiences that provide a unique look to his findings.


Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work aims at bringing an explanation to why manual work feels more engaging intellectually and why knowledge work loses its meaning. Through the lens of sociology, education science, work culture and cognitive science, Crawford provides an original point of view on work and education.


 Consumerism and the need of mastering one’s stuff

Economic development and consumerism lead to increased technicity and delocalized mass production. Crawford observes that “engineering culture has developed in recent years in which the object is to ‘’hide the works,” rendering many of the devices we depend on every day unintelligible to direct inspection”. We tend to live around devices, which call for consumption, that we do not understand anymore. The tools we once used required practice and were often self-repaired whereas new devices are now bought, and can only be fixed by experts who often replace an entire system “because some minute component has failed”. Besides, with hard economic times looming we might want to become frugal, which requires self-reliance and could fulfil a deeper need of understanding of the world around us.

The education system’s crisis

Along with the increase in purchase power and the production of goods being done elsewhere, there might have been an expansion of higher education beyond market demand which leads white-collar workers to substandard work or at wages below those of the better-paid manual workers. In addition, since knowledge work isn’t as built on tangible skills and products, there comes a need to attest one’s ability with credentials, gained from renowned schools and universities. Such a system does not rely on the student’s desire to know, and makes him disengaged. The credential loving student becomes risk-advert and usually chooses the easiest path in a system that does not build intellectual adventurousness. Students tend to face this mismatch through knowledge work interviews, where they are never asked about technical skills but mere complaisance. This suggests that all that studying is just a ticket to a vague meritocracy.

Modern work culture

While being slightly exaggerated in The Office, modern white-collar work culture faces plenty of contradictions. Crawford supports that American companies “have shifted their focus from the production of goods (now done elsewhere) to the projection of brands”. Processes, optimized through management techniques, become more important than products and that is translated in the mentalities of the workers. Management theory resembles that of life coach gurus and team building exercises often project an altered version of one’s self, which can be alienating. Besides, since there is no concrete task that rules the job, there is no secure basis for social relations. Knowledge workers tend to use a two-tiered language, direct in private, and empty in public: to cover-up reality through vague corporate vocabulary.

Cognitive science and the loss of humanity

Engineering culture and the science of processes tend to create a system that relies heavily on algorithms. Workers become stuck with a delimited task to become disposable and have to interact in the real world through an overly codified system that loses accuracy and removes room for practical sense and individual intelligence. Operators are not considered as actuators rather than thinking persons, which is disengaging. This system does not value tacit knowledge as much as the explicit one, which fails to appreciate the craftsman’s or expert’s experience, who makes the right decisions without being able to explain why. Crawford also points out an interesting difference between abstract sciences and manual work: one requires creating idealized objects ex-nihilo to make something up whereas the other relies on a constant dialog with the item to fix.

Publié le 1 février 2023 Mis à jour le 31 mars 2023