A Brief Overview of the Work

Mr. Sennett’s work belongs to “cultural studies” – but not quite in the usual sense of that phrase. Rather than focus on popular culture, he has explored how individuals and groups make sense of material facts about where they live and the work they do. He focuses on how people can become competent interpreters of their own experience, despite the obstacles society may put in their way. His research thus involves interviewing and ethnography; he also draws on the historical record to set these first-person accounts in context. As a social analyst, Mr. Sennett stands at the end of a long line of pragmatist thought, stretching from Richard Rorty back to William James. As a writer, Mr. Sennett has sought to reach a general, intelligent audience.

His first book, The Uses of Disorder, [1970] looked at how personal identity takes form in the modern city. He then studied how working-class identities are shaped in modern society, in The Hidden Injuries of Class, written with Jonathan Cobb. [1972] A study of the public realm of cities, The Fall of Public Man, appeared in 1977; at the end of this decade of writing, Mr. Sennett tried to take account of its philosophic implication in Authority [1980].

At this point the writer needed a break from sociology, a refuge he found in composing three novels: The Frog who Dared to Croak [1982], An Evening of Brahms [1984] and Palais Royal [1987]. He returned to urban studies with two books, The Conscience of the Eye, [1990], a work focusing on urban design, and Flesh and Stone [1992], a general historical study of how bodily experience has been shaped by the evolution of cities.

In the mid 1990s, as the work world of modern capitalism began to alter quickly and radically, Mr. Sennett began a project charting its personal consequences for workers, a project which has carried him up to the present day. The first of these studies, The Corrosion of Character, [1998] is an ethnographic account of how middle-level employees make sense of the “new economy.” The second in the series, Respect in a World of Inequality, [2002} charts the effects of new ways of working on the welfare state; a third, The Culture of the New Capitalism, [2006] provides an over-view of change. Most recently, Mr. Sennett has explored more positive aspects of labor in The Craftsman [2008], and in Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation [2012]. The third volume in this trilogy, The Open City, will appear in 2016.

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