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Akademie, Kloster, Handwerk

Pekka Himanen

The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age

Die Fußnoten zu Platon (OSP)

Richard Sennett

Volume 55, Number 16 · October 23, 2008 Back to Basics

By Julian Bell

The Craftsman by Richard Sennett Yale University Press, 326 pp., $27.50

The Craftsman, Richard Sennett's new book, is a far-roving intellectual adventure. Touching here on the cooking of poulet à la d'Albufera and there on the construction of tunnels, here on Hesiod and there on evolutionary psychology, Sennett's curiosity races across disparate fields of expertise much as an eclipse might sweep over the globe, slicing an unfamiliar path from Brazil, via Egypt, to Mongolia. In part Sennett's project is to draw some conclusions from a polymathic career. To his intimate knowledge of haute cuisine and of cello playing he can add over thirty years as a sociologist known for his influential reinterpretations of class relations, of Western cultural history, and of urban life. At the same time, Sennett in his mid-sixties—now, by his own description, one of the "elderly"—is attentive to immediate contemporary concerns. Early in his argument's trajectory, the ongoing debates over Wikipedia fall within its penumbra. Is the wildfire expansion of that nonprofit reference Web site a trend to celebrate, or does it show that knowledge acquisition is succumbing to "part anarchy, part mob rule"[1]? Does the incessant shuttle of volunteers' entries and editorial alterations amount to nothing more than an "online multiplayer irreality game,"[2] as a onetime editor of the Encyclopædia Britannica has alleged?

Sennett notes that Wikipedia has problems with the quality of its input, but the drift of his thinking comes to the Web site's support. For in principle, at least, it is an "open source" project, one that encourages its users to act as its codevelopers and that publically reveals, rather than conceals, the constant evolution of its content. As with the Linux operating system for computers, the trailblazer for "open source" models in software development, Wikipedia trusts to the good sense and goodwill of interested parties at large. The kernel of the Linux code "can be employed and adapted by anyone; people donate time to improve it."

That is the type of institutional model that Sennett, who inclines to some form of socialism, tends to favor. The foil he sets against it in this context is the Microsoft Corporation, with its secretive, proprietary approach to product development. By contrast, those engaged in "open source" projects such as Wikipedia put considerations of ownership behind them. Their signatures are not on display. Concentrating on the identification of problems and the exploration of fresh possibilities, their online chat is terse and content-packed. A "blunt impersonality turns people outward." And in such a light Sennett, with a characteristically bold sweep of the hand, associates these networkers with the nameless potters, smiths, and weavers that Hesiod celebrated in archaic Greece, when he composed a hymn to their master god Hephaestus. "Open source" participants form a community of craftsmen to whom the ancient appellation demioergoi [literally, "public producers"] can be applied. It is focused on achieving quality, on doing good work, which is the craftsman's primordial mark of identity.

For Sennett, then, the "craftsman" across the ages has been a person who knows how to do "good work." What is good work? Answers to that question are what he constantly tries to find on his book's rarely beaten and sometimes rugged track of argument. He wishes to close in on a certain quality of activity, rather than on the particular social role that his chosen title might seem to denote.

The Craftsman by Richard Sennett

Reviewed by Roger Scruton

Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman continues an argument begun in the 19th century, when writers such as John Ruskin and William Morris extolled the crafts remembered in our surnames (Smith, Cartwright, Thatcher, Mason, Fletcher) while lamenting the mind-numbing and soul-destroying labour of the industrial process which was replacing them. A long line of thinkers, from Hegel and Marx to Sennett’s teacher Hannah Arendt, have sympathised with the argument. But Sennett does not think that craftsmanship has vanished from our world. On the contrary: it has merely migrated to other regions of human enterprise, so that the delicate form of skilled cooperation that once produced a cathedral now produces the Linux software system. Linux, for Sennett, is the work of a community of craftsmen “who embody some of the elements first celebrated in the (Homeric) Hymn to Hephaestus”.

The quotation illustrates the range and boldness of this book. Sennett defines craftmanship as “an enduring, basic human impulse, the desire to do a job well for its own sake”.

Wie der Wirtschaftsethiker Ulrich Thielemann (Süddeutsche Zeitung, 29.2.08) sagt: „Nicht das Geldverdienen sollte die Hand führen, sondern der Wille, gute Arbeit zu verrichten“, verfolgt der amerikanische Soziologe Sennett die These, dass ein zentrales menschliches Bestreben sei, „seine Arbeit um ihrer selbst willen gut zu machen“. Das ist nun durchaus nicht immer ganz einfach, und eine Quelle der Unzufriedenheit kann das Fehlen dieser Möglichkeit auch bei hohem Einkommen sein. So berichtet Sennett von zahlreichen Linux-Programmierern, die es leid waren, für weitaus mehr Geld mittelmäßige Programme für eine größere Softwarefirma zu schreiben, die ihre Produkte beim Verbraucher testet. Sie entschieden sich, lieber auf Teile ihres Gehalts zu verzichten, aber die Chance zu haben, gute Arbeit zu machen, unter anderem dadurch, dass sie in der open-source-community mit anderen Programmierern kooperieren konnten, statt überwiegend in Konkurrenz zu anderen Leuten ihres Fachs zu stehen. Auch an anderer Stelle waren solche Firmen im Vorteil, die z.B. bei der Entwicklung neuer Produkte auf Kooperation statt auf Konkurrenz setzten, denn ihre Produkte waren besser oder die Entwicklung verlief schneller. Gute Arbeit entsteht auch dadurch, dass die Entscheider alle wichtigen Informationen erhalten. Wenn in einem Unternehmen die Beschäftigten zwar Freundlichkeit und Teamarbeit simulieren, aber dabei wichtige Informationen zurückhalten, gerät es in Nachteil zu einem solchen, in dem bei allem Respekt vor dem Vorgesetzten in aller Deutlichkeit Kritik vorgetragen und auch gestritten wird, wie dies Sennett von einer Reihe japanischer Unternehmen darstellt. Paul B. Schmidt, Berlin OSC 15 (2008)

Perlentauscher | Sennett: Handwerk | The Guardian, Review | Kostis Velonis

frei versus offen

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