Excerpt from Brick Magazine:
Richard Sennett draws on ethnography, history, and social theory to develop his ideas about how we make sense of our environment—the cities we live in and the work that engages us. As Jenny Turner wrote in the Guardian, “for many years, [Sennett has been] the Anglo-American world’s most original and eloquent thinker on work and the workplace, streets and street life, the places where huge, impersonal social forces intersect with an individual person’s fragile sense of self.” Although Sennett teaches sociology, or social and cultural theory, at both the London School of Economics and New York University, he doesn’t really write academic prose. As Turner describes it, Sennett’s writing “is an elegant mix of interview, anecdote and wide, deep book-research. His key terms have to do with common personal predicaments, understood as socio-historic formations: love and power, dignity and humiliation, impersonality and self-absorption, self-worth and self-blame.” Often described as brilliant, he’s one of that rare breed: a public intellectual.
Sennett’s books include The Fall of Public Man, The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism, and Flesh and Stone: The Body and the City in Western Civilization. Five years ago, he embarked on his Homo Faber, or “man the maker,” trilogy of books “about the skills people need to sustain everyday life.” He began with The Craftsman, offering an original perspective on craftsmanship—the desire to do a job well for its own sake—and its close connection to work and ethical values. The second volume, Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Cooperation, looks at the practical skills of communication and co-operation. How can people who don’t know, don’t like, or don’t understand each other work together? The last in the trilogy—still to come—is about the physical environment: how to make cities.
Richard Sennett was born in Chicago in 1943. He had an unusual childhood as the son of Communist parents and as a musical prodigy, giving concerts on the cello when he was scarcely a teenager. For more than twenty-five years, he’s been married to Saskia Sassen, a specialist on the social, economic, and political dimensions of globalization.
I spoke to Richard Sennett when he was in Toronto last June for the Luminato Festival.