Richard Sennett: biography of this American sociologist

Richard sennett is an American sociologist known for his research on social relations in urban settings, for his studies on the effects of city life on individuals in modern society today, or for his various academic works on the nature of work and sociology of different cultures over time and history.

In this article, we tell you who Richard Sennett is and we review his major published works.

Who is Richard Sennett?

Richard Sennett is an American sociologist whose thought can be inscribed in the philosophical tradition of pragmatism. He was born in Chicago in 1943 and grew up in Cabrini-Green homes in that American city. As a child he trained in music and learned to play the cello, although due to a hand injury he had to end his musical career.

Sennett briefly attended the University of Chicago, then entered Harvard, Where he studied history with Oscar Handlin, sociology with David Riesman and philosophy with John Rawls. He received his doctorate in the history of American civilization in 1969 and has since published several books on sociology.

Over the past five decades, Sennett has written on social life in cities, changes in working methods and phenomena related to the activity of human societies. His books include “The Corrosion of Character”, which won the European sociology prize.

He has also had a prolific public career, first as founder of the New York Institute of the Humanities, then as president of the American Labor Council. For thirty years, he held the post of consultant in various organs of the United Nations; and more recently, he drafted the declaration for the Habitat II mission, at the Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development.

Five years ago, Sennett established Theatrum Mundi (“The Theater of the World”), a foundation dedicated to research into urban culture, and is currently chaired by the Board of Trustees. Among other accolades, Sennett received the Hegel Prize, the Spinoza Prize, an honorary doctorate from Cambridge University and the Centennial Medal from Harvard University.

published works

Richard Sennett’s academic work focuses primarily on the development of cities, The nature of work in modern societies and the sociology of cultures.

Here are some of the most important works of his academic career.

1. Urban life and personal identity: the uses of disorder

In this book, Sennett shows how an overly ordered community causes adults to have rigid attitudes that stifle their personal growth. The author argues that the ideal of accepted order generates patterns of behavior that are stunning and incite violence.

Sennett offers more functional cities that can integrate anarchic elements, More diversity and creativity to seek adults capable of responding and facing openly the challenges of life.

2. Hidden class injuries

In this book, titled “The Hidden Wounds of the Classroom” in its original version, Richard Sennett treats the concept of class not as an economic or statistical issue, but as something to do with emotions. Sennet, working with Jonathan Cobb, isolates the “hidden class signals” through which today’s worker measures his or her own worth in the face of those lives and occupations that our society gives special meaning.

The authors examine intimate feelings in terms of the totality of human relations within and between classes, And look beyond, but never out of ignorance, the struggle for economic survival. This work goes beyond the sociological critique of everyday life.

The authors criticize both the claim that workers merge into a homogeneous society and the attempt to “save” the worker and place him in a revolutionary role, as the conventional socialist approach does.

3. Authority

In this book, Sennett analyzes the nature, role and faces of authority in personal and public life, as well as the concept of authority itself.

This work attempts to answer questions such as the following: Why are we so afraid of authority? What real needs for authority do we have: orientation, stability, images of force? What happens when our fear and our need for authority collide?

In exploring these questions, Sennett examines traditional forms of authority (father in family, lord in society) and dominant contemporary styles of authority, and shows how our needs for nothing less than our resistance to authority have been shaped by history and culture, as well as by psychological dispositions.

4. The decline of the public figure

Richard Sennett shows in this book how our lives today are deprived of the pleasures and strengthening of social relationships with strangers.

Sennett shows how the stranger is a threatening figure now; how silence and observation have become the only means of living public life, in particular street life, without feeling overwhelmed; for everyone believes in the right, in public, to be left alone.

And according to him, due to the change in public life, privacy is distorted as we necessarily focus more and more on ourselves, In increasingly narcissistic forms of intimacy and self-absorption.

For this reason, Sennett concludes that our personalities cannot develop fully because we lack that simplicity, that playful spirit, and the kind of discretion that would allow us to have real and enjoyable relationships with those we may not know. – never be intimately.

5. Character corrosion

Based on interviews with licensed IBM executives in Westchester, New York, bakers at a high-tech bakery in Boston, a waitress turned publicity manager and many more, Sennett explores the disorienting effects of the new capitalism.

It reveals the vivid and enlightening contrast between two worlds of work: the vanished world of rigid and hierarchical organizations, where what mattered was a sense of personal character, and the brave new world of corporate reengineering, risk, flexibility, networking, teamwork in the long term, where what matters is being able to reinvent yourself for a penny.

6. The craftsman

In “The Craftsman”, Richard Sennett names a fundamental human impulse: the desire to do a good job for yourself. Although the word may suggest a way of life that declined with the advent of industrial society, Sennett argues that the realm of the craftsman is much broader than skilled manual labor.

According to him, professions such as computer programmer or doctor, parents and citizens themselves must now learn the values ​​of craftsmanship.

7. Together: rituals, pleasures and cooperation policy

In this work, Sennett maintains that cooperation is a professionAnd the basis of skillful cooperation is learning to listen and debate, rather than discuss. Sennet explores how people can cooperate on the Internet, in schools, at work, and in local politics.

It traces the evolution of cooperative rituals from medieval times to the present day, and in situations as diverse as slave communities, socialist groups in Paris or workers on Wall Street.

8. Building and living: an ethic for the city

In this extensive work, Richard Sennett explores the differences between the way cities are built and the way people live in them, From ancient Athens to 21st century Shanghai.

In addition, he advocates for “open cities” where citizens actively analyze their differences and urban planners experiment with urban forms that allow residents to live their daily lives better.

Sennett’s “materialistic pragmatism”.

Richard sennett he justifies the return to a culture of matter that redirects the relationship that we humans have with nature and with the way we live and inhabit our cities. For Sennett, today’s capitalism is hostile to the construction of life and is partly responsible for the loss of the notion of what is artisanal in the workplace.

Sennet advocates reconciling the relationship between life and work, calling on workers not to mass produce and to be able to take on longer term jobs that may be technologically very advanced but at the same time artisans, have the ability to pause and reflect on what is being worked out.

For Sennett, the craft connects the person to their material reality and allows them to make mistakes, to learn from their mistakes by overcoming obstacles, the best way to ensure deep inner satisfaction and to seek respect from others. In a world where speed prevails and, the American sociologist continues to believe in values ​​such as patience, practicality and the importance of a job well done.

Additionally, Sennett clearly opposes the downgrading of certain skills in modern societies, as he consistently rewards a few for their ability to perform certain tasks, while leaving the rest of the commons in the gutter so they can be fixed. as best he can. in a life devoid of respect and dignity.

However, Sennett’s pragmatism constantly pushed him to seek practical solutions to each of the problems he revealed in his works, and he declared himself an optimist, although he was aware that if we continue as before we do. are doomed to gradual disappearance.

Bibliographical references:

  • Joas, H., Sennett, R. and Gimmler, A. (2006). Creativity, pragmatism and the social sciences: a discussion between Hans Joas and Richard Sennett. Distinction: Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory, 7 (2), 5-31.

  • Sennett, R. (1998). Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism. WW Norton & Company.

  • Sennett, R. (2007). The culture of the new capitalism. Yale University Press.

  • Sennett, R. (2017). The fall of the public man. WW Norton & Company.

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