Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Shop Class as Soulcraft

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Matthew Crawford
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMark Sanford

Matthew Crawford's new book Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work appeared on my Summer Reading List. I'm about half way through it and it's certainly worth reading. Crawford is asking fundamental questions about work. With a PhD in political philosophy, and after working in universities and "think-tanks," Crawford opened a motorcycle repair shop. He discovered that not only did motorcycle repair seem more meaningful, but he also found it much more intellectual. Meaning, repairing motocycles required him to think more. He writes, "Given the intrinsic richness of manual work - cognitively, socially, and in its broader psychic appeal - the question becomes why it has suffered such a devaluation as a component of education."

Good question. Why have we devalued "working with our hands?" Perhaps the best sermon I have ever heard preached was by Tim Keller (Redeemer Presbyterian Church) on a Christian understanding of work: Made for Stewardship (right-click to download). I find many of the strongest points in Crawford's book to be in-line with the historic, Christian understanding of work. We are created in the image of a creator, of a worker, of a God who both works and rests. We have been placed on earth to tend, work, cultivate the creation. Work is not a necessary evil, but it is part of God's good creation, the task given to humans before the fall. To be human, is to work. Of course, after the fall, there are now thorns and thistles related to our work, but we are still called to work. Work is not something we do for money or for leisure, but it is how we image God in the world. Crawford's book gets pretty close to this kind of understanding of work, and I recommend it highly.

It turns out that Stephen Colbert and I have similar reading lists. He's probably a follower of Bookshelf. Enjoy the video!


Nick said...

hallelujah. Long have we suffered under the insidious idolatry of intellectualism. I really appreciate the conversation turning toward a valuing of manual labor. This is more honest about how we are created as mind, soul, and body. It's very dangerous to challenge the status quo idea that it's best for everyone to go to college. But that very idea may be part of the lie that white collar jobs are better.
As a youth pastor, I'm imminently thankful for my blue collar volunteers. For many of the youth at my church are more likely to end up working with their hands than with a college degree. Hopefully, many will work with both.

Hamlet2007 said...

You might find this discussion interesting:

Deep's blog will send you to some other good posts, including Stanley Fish's blog, where he points out in a subtle way how Crawford's approach to the subject takes the form of the very thing he says he rejects--namely abstract intellectual repackaging that is largely divorced from the hands on world.

Mattthew Biberman
author of Big Sid's Vincati

Kanukopf said...

When I saw the cover photo, the title and the introduction I though that this book was a sure thing. It's too bad I wasted $32 of my hard earned money on it. I thought that it would lend perspective into what I see as a movement away from craftsmanship and pride in workmanship in the trades and society in general. Even though it may truly do so I will never know since I gave up after the second chapter. Why is it that some writers are so pompous that they need to use as large a vocabulary as possible to try to impress upon the rest of us how smart they truly are. I guess it must be some sort of attempt at justification of the ridiculous price tag. Don't get me wrong, it's not like I just fell off the turnip truck or something. I have a three year college degree and have worked for many years and in various positions for an engineering firm. As a matter of fact I currently teach mechanical and electrical engineering and control technology to Engineers and Technologists along with mechanics, electricians and pipe-fitters. The whole gambit. You would think that someone like me would be a prime demographic audience for this book however mine now sits under the kickstand of my classic BMW motorcycle to hold it at a better angle when I work on it. At least it has come to some use. I wonder if the author really even owns a Beemer?
Perhaps I'm the only one that feels this way or perhaps I'm the only one who is willing to open his mouth and run the risk of criticism by the other pompous a-hole writers who also feel themselves to be so important.
Bottom line...don't bother. It's too painful!