Richard Sennett: the sociology of the human scale

If sociology appeared in the early TWENTIETH century as one of the social sciences committed to understanding the intricacies of growing the organization’s human, technological revolutions, the wild capitalism and the depersonalization in the links put on, in the new century, in the face of a major challenge. In the midst of that whirlwind, Richard Sennett is a man determined not to drown in the academic language to lay claim to the dimension of craftsmanship that allows us (or should enable us) to survive in our era. Pass by Buenos Aires, Radar interviewed him to talk about their literary tools, and his vocation as humanist, but also of his reading of current phenomena such as the Spring Arab, and the massacre at the premiere of Batman.



Interview with Richard Sennett made by Carla del Cueto and Gabriel D. Lerman in Page/12


Richard Sennett: el sociólogo de la escala humana

Detector images that synthesize the social life, the creator of concepts, a great observer of the decline contemporary, Richard Sennett takes the social critique as a form of literature, for that exact combination in their approach and in their writing of pragmatism and critical philosophy. A man who has been on their books a cultural archeology of the present, looking from the past, going to the time in which the modern man broke ties with the life-dogmatic and left to a long-term process that, although it seems contradictory, combined freedom and dehumanization.

Sennett met Michel Foucault, the French philosopher: he was your friend, you should be the first approaches and drafts of Flesh and stone, an extremely beautiful work of sociology on the history of the corps and the cities, which could be in the library next to the History of sexuality, to which we will add urbanism, biographies of public space, cities, and inhabitants.

“We were friends for a long time, ” he said to Richard Sennett to Radar this week about Foucault, during a cold morning in Buenos Aires, in a central hotel–. Do you read here to Foucault? A person incredibly creative, amazing. You would have to write an entire novel about him to tell you everything that I would want to say. We were friends for twenty years.” Prolific author and original, though he takes care to say that many of the things he says are not “theirs” but are part of streams of thought and more spacious. This is the first time that Sennett comes to Argentina, invited by the National University of San Martín, which gave on Wednesday the Honoris Causa title. Among his books also highlight The corrosion of character, The decline of the public man and The artisan, the first volume of a trilogy aimed to rethink the link between practice and thought, in the ability of individuals to learn, act and change their world. In addition, Sennett wrote three novels, including the notable Palais Royal. He was born in early 1943 in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Chicago, and in his youth excelled as a soloist of cello. He studied at the universities of Chicago and Harvard, where he obtained his phd. He is the director and founder of the Institute for the Humanities of New York (along with Susan Sontag and Joseph Brodsky). Gives classes at the New York University and the London School of Economics.

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While he was in Buenos Aires gave two public lectures: “Homo Faber: culture and the politics of skill,” and “My profession of sociologist”. In the first case, dealt with the problems of the world of work, not so much in relation to the destruction of the jobs, but with the progressive loss of skills for the job, for which rescues the figure of the craftsman as an individual that puts into practice the knowledge inherited, obtained, in everyday life and in interaction with others. In the second, he exposed his relationship with the social research and writing ensayística, a topic of ongoing question and strong personal commitment. What is more, in any interview has declared that would like to be remembered as a writer on the societies rather than as a sociologist. Disciple also of Hannah Arendt said about it: “Arendt was my teacher, I am always in a relationship freudian denial with her.” Something that you like to mention and point to, as if you left a glimpse of debts intellectuals not disclosed. As a sort of pessimistic optimist, something that could also be an inseparable combination between reason and passion, Sennett displays in his work a diversity of objects of analysis that, however, could be grouped in a long contest between human practices and the social repression. This is a story of the resistance of the individual in a world governed by limits brutal. The pursuit of sexual pleasure, the creativity, the resistance of the bodies that are subjected to endless configurations of urban space and technological inequality as the mismatch between the skills, occupation and enjoyment.

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In dialog with Radar, Sennett expressed their preferences when speaking of the cuisine of the research and the writing, the back room of the method of sociology, the disciplines with which it dialogues, the problem of labour in the capitalism of today.

In his books, you condense voices and testimonies, it changes references to time, places. It is a procedure that is rather like using the fiction. What is the limit? Where begins the fiction and where the chronicle of the reality?

–The difference is simple. One can’t invent the words of another person, what one can do is to unite two voices as if it were a. What I learned from novelists is that there are different forms of narration and then it is not to simply narrate facts goals. So what I did was pay attention to the forms of narration of the people when they tell their stories. Somehow this leads to processes that are included within the human brain and there is to pay attention to see how they are constructed. In this sense, we are involved in an activity for which other people have much more freedom to be handled. What strikes me most is that these stories seem a lot more to narratives postmodern, the fictions that are more traditional and this is what I know after twenty years of research in the narratives about the job.

How is the plan of the work, which begins with The craftsman?

–I’m interested in the homo faber, the person who makes things, which maintains relations with the other and is linked with the environment. I focus on the ability of people in these three planes and whether that capability is potentiated or suppressed by the society. This project forms part of a school that is pragmatism, focusing on the practice. It is based on the notion that human beings have abilities in common both for the physical as to the social relations and with their environment. What I try to do is show the practice not as something static but as something in development. If we think of a minimum force, for example, that is a skill. With craftsmanship, we are able to explore an object. But there is also a skill that we need to deal with other people so that a conflict does not become violent. And this question of the minimum force, is also given in terms of the environment. It is rape or not, not to be too intruder with the other. A very trivial is that of transit, and the efforts being made to minimize the noise so that it is not so intrusive to the other. To put it in a very crude way, is to “do more”. The do is a state of development. It might be that if I am bad in handling, it is also bad in social relationships or even in the treatment of the physical objects. If I am unable to get in a spot of minimum force, how could you cope in the other two areas?

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In his recent book raises the problem of capitalism today in relation to the work, such as a decrease of the capacities and abilities of the individual.

–Much more that the topic of unemployment is the constitution of the work itself, this question of the loss of the ability. What is interesting is that at the same time divides and intersects with the problem of inequality. We are always focalizándonos with the inequity of the money, instead of paying attention to a loss of human capital.

And what about when you write? What a difference when writing a book of sociology, and a novel?

–I am not a great novelist, when I’m writing fiction, I’m like a workman going to his workshop. I’m not a novelist, I investigated. When I write sociology, what I try to do when writing is to retrieve an old literary form is the essay. What has happened with a lot of writing in the social sciences is that one feels that only write to the colleagues and when one wants to write for the general public, then one is sad because it lowers the level of what it says. Then what I do is try to outsmart the reader by offering a write that has to do with the typical essay that is not low-level. For example, when one reads Rousseau, is an essay of great level that has to do with a particular language, a type of expression and how to engage people in statistics and things like that, without necessarily lowering the level. It is not a matter of having colleagues on the one hand and public on the other.

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