Home: Richard Sennet

Introducing Richard Sennett

Richard Sennett writes about cities, labor, and culture. He currently serves as Senior Advisor to the United Nations on its Program on Climate Change and Cities.  He is Senior Fellow at the Center on Capitalism and Society at Columbia University and Visiting Professor of Urban Studies at MIT.

Richard Sennett

Mr. Sennett's scholarly writing centers on the development of cities, the nature of work in modern society, and the sociology of culture. Families against the City was his earliest book, a study of the relation between family and work in 19th Century Chicago.  A subsequent quartet of books explored urban life more largely: The Uses of Disorder, an essay about identity formation in cities; The Fall of Public Man, a history of public culture and public space, particularly in London, Paris, and New York in the 18th and 19th Centuries; The Conscience of the Eye, a study of how Renaissance urban design passed into modern city planning, and Flesh and Stone, an overview of the design of cities from ancient to modern times.

Another quartet of books is devoted to labor. The Hidden Injuries of Class is a study of class consciousness among working-class families in Boston; The Corrosion of Character explores how new forms of work are changing people's communal and personal experience; Respect probes the relation of work and reforms of the welfare system. The Culture of the New Capitalism provides an overview of these changes.

Authority is an essay in political theory; it addresses the tools of interpretation by which people recast raw power into either legitimate or illegitimate authority.

Mr. Sennett's latest completed project is called 'Homo Faber,' exploring the nature of production. The first book in this series is The Craftsman, published in 2008; subsequent volumes are Together: The rituals, pleasures, and politics of Cooperation, published in 2012, and the final volume, Building and Dwelling, on the relation of urban design to urban life.

In the public realm, Mr. Sennett founded, and directed for a decade, the New York Institute of the Humanities at New York University. Mr. Sennett then chaired a UNESCO commission on urban development and design. As president of the American Council on Work, Mr. Sennett led a forum, sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, for researchers trying to understand the changing pattern of American labor. Through the last three decades, He has advised on United Nations projects in urban development, refugee shelter, and apprenticeship.  Most recently, he has serves as senior advisor to UN Habitat about climate change and cities.  


Recent News

Building and Dwelling: Ethics for the City has been published by Allen Lane in London and will be released by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in New York in April.

In the 2018 New Year Honours, Richard Sennett was appointed Officer of the British Empire (OBE) for services to design.

Richard Sennett has been named a Senior Fellow of the Center on Capitalism and Society at Columbia University.

Richard Sennett has been awarded the 39th European Essay Prize by the Charles Veillon Foundation for his book "Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Cooperation."

Richard Sennett is now a Distinguished Visiting Scholar in the Department of Sociology at Cambridge University.

Richard Sennett is the co-chair of Habitat III's "New Charter of Athens" project. In 1933, Le Corbusier, Siegfried Giedion, and others wrote a Charter of Athens to guide urban development in the 20th century. For the events occurring in 2016-17, under the auspices of UN-Habitat, Richard Sennett, Richard Burdett, Joan Clos, and Saskia Sassen chair a group writing a new charter of Athens for the 21st century.

Richard Sennett is a member of the Social Science Research Council's "The Decent City" project.

 

Current Projects


Richard Sennett chairs Theatrum Mundi, a network of artists, critics and scholars engaging urban culture in London, New York, Edinburgh, Venice, and Berlin.

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Recent work

Building and Dwelling: Ethics for the City

Building and DwellingIn this sweeping study, one of the world's leading thinkers about the urban environment traces the often anguished relation between how cities are built and how people live in them, from ancient Athens to twenty-first-century Shanghai. Richard Sennett shows how Paris, Barcelona and New York City assumed their modern forms; rethinks the reputations of Jane Jacobs, Lewis Mumford and others; and takes us on a tour of emblematic contemporary locations, from the backstreets of Medellín, Colombia, to the Google headquarters in Manhattan. Through it all, he shows how the 'closed city' - segregated, regimented, and controlled - has spread from the global North to the exploding urban agglomerations of the global South. As an alternative, he argues for the 'open city,' where citizens actively hash out their differences and planners experiment with urban forms that make it easier for residents to cope. Rich with arguments that speak directly to our moment - a time when more humans live in urban spaces than ever before - Building and Dwelling draws on Sennett's deep learning and intimate engagement with city life to form a bold and original vision for the future of cities.

The Craftsman

The CraftsmanThe Craftsman names a basic human impulse: the desire to do a job well for its own sake. Although the word may suggest a way of life that waned with the advent of industrial society, Sennett argues that the craftsman’s realm is far broader than skilled manual labor; the computer programmer, the doctor, the parent, and the citizen need to learn the values of good craftsmanship today.

Practicing Culture

Practicing CultureThe essays in Practicing Culture seek to revitalize the field of cultural sociology. They show how to put theoretical sources to work in empirical research. Culture is a set of practices rather than static representations; culture is made and remade in countless small ways and occasional bursts of innovation. Culture is something people do.

The Culture of the New Capitalism

The Culture of the New CapitalismIn The Culture of the New Capitalism, Richard Sennett surveys the major differences between earlier forms of industrial capitalism and the more global, more febrile, ever more mutable version of capitalism that is taking its place.

Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Cooperation

The CraftsmanLiving with people who differ—racially, ethnically, religiously, or economically—is the most urgent challenge facing civil society today. We tend socially to avoid engaging with people unlike ourselves, and modern politics encourages the politics of the tribe rather than of the city. In this thought-provoking book, Richard Sennett discusses why this has happened and what might be done about it.

The Foreigner

The ForeignerIn this pair of essays Richard Sennett visits two of the world's greatest cities at crucial moments in their history to meditate on the condition of exile in both geographical and psychic space: the Jewish Ghetto of Renaissance Venice, where state-imposed outsiderdom was translated into a rich community identity; and nineteenth-century Paris, a magnet for political exiles, where the experience of displacement seeped into the city's culture at large.

Respect, In an Age of Inequality

Respect, In an Age of InequalityIn the uncertain world of “flexible” social relationships, all are troubled by issues of respect: whether it be an employee stuck with insensitive management, a social worker trying to aid a resentful client, or a virtuoso artist and an accompanist aiming for a perfect duet.

The Corrosion of Character

The Corrosion of CharacterDrawing on interviews with dismissed IBM executives in Westchester, New York, bakers in a high-tech Boston bakery, a barmaid turned advertising executive, and many others, Sennett explores the disorienting effects of the new capitalism.

Flesh and Stone

Flesh and StoneFlesh and Stone is a history of the city in Western civilization, one that tells the story of urban life through bodily experience.