Culture of New Capitalism

Richard Sennett addresses three challenges that he sees as the sociological aspects of the global capitalist workplace in developed countries. The first one, is how to manage short term relationships and how to adapt to a changing “life narrative.” Bennett suggests that people take pride in being good at something and need this to be happy. The second challenge is how to develop new skills as “reality’s demands shift.” This idea of learning to do many skills is short lived, one that has many skills Bennett feels are displaced with a loose narrative.  The third one is about surrendering, every one is replaceable. No one is entitled to his or her position at an organization. Pass services do not mean that an employee is entitled to their position.

While Bennett views the capacity to learn new skills as being economically valuable, his lack of appreciation for the role of the “expert” is troubling. In cross disciplinary collaborations, success isn’t necessary achieved by teams being comprise of many people who are all somewhat flexible in their skills. Often times, it is the various mastering of skills across members that benefit the group as a whole. The ability for everyone to think outside their own craft’s “box” is important, but the skills needed for many complex social problems often require years of study and work. It is unrealistic to think that the same level of progress can be achieved by someone or a group that has to constantly learn a new skill and will not have the time to fully comprehend. Our ability to learn is important to our life’s narratives, and Bennett makes an interesting argument that an individual’s personal identity is deeply affected by one’s inability or ability to achieve success. However, there has been a strong movement in the DIY front as the internet makes it incredibly easy to access instructions for learning basically any skill.

Furthermore, it seems unfair to generalize that people define their happiness by how well they do a job, we would argue that it’s more about what that job is. What collaboration needs is passionate people from different backgrounds who all have something to contribute to the whole, and are able to be flexible with learning the skills they need to accomplish their goal. The ability to move between different worlds is more important for the role of facilitator in collaborative groups or workplaces.

Do you agree or disagree?  Think about how you identify yourself based on your skills and skill level. Write down each skill you have, skill level, and level of happiness. Do you feel that these skills will be transferable to many different careers?


Joamir and Stephanie

8 thoughts on “Culture of New Capitalism”

  1. Stephanie and Joamir,

    Where does Sennett demonstrate a “lack of appreciation for the role of the expert”? In this article, as well as his book The Craftsman, I see Sennett advocating for patient skill building, and experts. Point to the area of the reading you are referring to.

    The debate about rotating skills (as Jo Freeman promotes) vs. autonomy in the group based on expertise/skills (as the Critical Art Ensemble promote) is longstanding in group work. Perhaps this will come up in the debate today!

    For me, I navigate my desire to share or use my skills based on a range of motivations, from joy in the activity to pride in refining my craft and learning. Based on these two kinds of happiness, my “pride” skills are: grant writing, copy editing, public speaking, facilitation and my “joy” skills are: soccer playing, connecting people, and hosting events

  2. Hey guys: I can’t speak for Sennett, but I agree with Caroline, I think he supports the idea of what in game studies we would call “mastery.” That people take pride in being able to master a skill or craft. I think what he might be saying is, in a world where everyone is replaceable, that people are replaced or rotated out of jobs before they have time to master skills. I am X Generation and I have had 4 jobs in the last 24 years, so have had time to develop skills. My experience was a paradigm shift though: my parents only had one job their entire life, and this was expected. Now if Generation Y spends a year or two at a job in a shifting economy, that’s fine if you are in your 20’s without a mortgage, kids or other commitments. What happens when you are 45, with more commitments and possibly less mutable?

  3. I don’t think Sennett doesn’t appreciate the ‘expert’, I think he, much like what Melanie says, fears for the position of the expert. Do we have the time anymore to both grow and become an expert in a specific part of our field, and then make use of this expertise, before we (need to) go on and do different things?

    That peculiar trait of personality that is able to deal with all of this (time, talent and surrendering) is not as rare as Sennett makes it out to be though. Sure, this might be the case for the traditional craftsman, but haven’t we passed the age of that traditional image of a craftsman? Today, because we don’t have one job for our entire life, and because of our technological revolution, soft skills are far more important than hard skills. I would say that soft skills flourish with changing environments, and so it doesn’t disrupt our ‘life-narrative’. The best soft skill of all, I would say, is to be able to educate yourself as technologies and needs change. This makes us very transferable to many different careers.

    1. I agree to Mirte’s post in many senses. However I feel the need to add two personal point of views. First, to be a generalist this days was only possible because of the Internet. The sharing of skills (mainly in the format of tutorials) and knowledge by others that are more experience in that skill, makes it possible for us to quickly grasp basic knowledge to ‘go through’ a specific task.

      Also, We are looking in the perspective of our own field, as designer and technologist, in which is kind of particular in a way, compared with more traditional professions, such as medicine, engineering and so on. These types of fields are much more rewarding if you are an ‘expert’ in a skill rather than all over and is more common to have people working on the same company in those field, rather then ours.

  4. I don’t think that Sennett is necessarily devaluing the skills of an expert, but rather saying that one who has mastered only one thing will have a tough time dealing with today’s world of fragmented capitalism and the homogenous workplace. I may be wrong, but Sennett seems to be wishing for a time in the past when big institutions did not influence, even break apart, much of one’s professional and personal life. Like he says, most people don’t just have temporary, forgettable experiences or want to learn lots of small skills that are easily learned. Sennett states that humans are naturally the opposite but acknowledges that they might have a hard time living ideally in such an institutionalized economy. Overall, actually, I am not sure which type of person Sennett is advocating more, but I think he is merely stating the fact that not all experts can find the work that they want to do and that big companies usually look for someone more short-term oriented.

  5. What mostly stood out to me in this article as an idea is that a small percentage of the population, the ones working in huge firms, have the most influence over us as a whole. They make the decisions for how things will run and I agree with Sennett’s words that it does not make us free, but rather ties us even more. We as a society have even more responsibilities, everything is linked to another, actions have consequences and the more “freedom” we have, the more responsibilities we carry. When working in a collaborative firm, I believe that we are looking for something long-term and stable, because this is how we support the rest of our responsibilities and desired. Short-turm services can only temporarily give a relief to our worries of how we will manage and survive in such a busy and demanding lifestyle. As far as the hiring managers, the field of work greatly determines whether or not the employes are hired short-turm or long-term. In a position where a lot of time and money is spent on training, the best interest for both parties would be long-turm employment. If this is not the case, employes are easily replaced and the company will have more variety of skill sets.

  6. I think there is a limit to the amount of skills you can go far ahead with, how diverse would someone want to get? When in a collaboration, the reason an individual is in it is because he/she is good at something. That individual may or may not have diverse skills but as long as he is an expert in one field, that may serve as an umbrella for many skills. My knowledge of various skills will help me get better in this one field I am the most passionate about. The more knowledge I have, the better I am at my work. So I don’t think you have to be an expert at a specific skill but rather be an expert in the field that encompasses all your skills.

  7. I do agree with the idea of one’s identity might be strongly affected by his/her inability or ability to achieve success. For me it is hard to imagine a world that we live in is without any competition. And since we are striving in this particular creative world for career, it is even more inevitable to value yourself by your skill sets. So I think the question is what characters do you value to achieve a better life? And I think that also affects the way you appreciate yourself to gain better confidence. I will say my skills in design might be graphic design, interaction design…for etc. But what I really think that makes me different is my way of thinking. My perspective of observations. Those are qualities I believe that based on my personality which makes me a better skilled professional. And as long as problems are solved by my design, my level of happiness will raise. And I so think those qualities can be transferable to different careers in terms of the fact that it is implanted in my heart and brain. It is my nature. So if the job needs a person who always think critically and creatively, I think I might be the right fit.

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