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The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism Paperback – 13 Oct 1999


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Product details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; New Ed edition (13 Oct. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393319873
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393319873
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 0.1 x 2.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 102,071 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Richard Sennett again raised sociology to the realm of art with a wise, funny account of life in our new high-risk, low-loyalty workplaces. Chosen twice as a 1998 book of the year in The Independent -- The Independent

...the one book that engages the heart as well as the mind. One of the New Statesman's economics books of 1998. -- New Statesman

In a succinct essay of rare elegance, Richard Sennett, recent recruit to Anthony Giddens's London School of Economics and sociology professor at New York University, combines the forensic skills of an academic who has a sense of history with those of the social observer of the contemporary scene. -- Financial Times

This beautiful and moving book by one of our finest sociologists describes, explains and warns Europe against following the road already taken by the US and, perhaps not quite irreversibly, by Britain. -- Eric Hobsbawm, New Statesman

[An] erudite and thoughtful book. -- The Times Higher Education Supplement

From the Publisher

Selected as one of The Economist's "very, very best of 1998's books". Winner of the New Perspectives in Social Sciences category of the 1998 European Amalfi Prize for Sociology and Social Sciences. Awarded "Das politische Buch" prize by the Association of Publishers, Booksellers and Librarians at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

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Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Folan on 16 Nov. 2006
Format: Paperback
The book is well written and makes it points clearly and supports them with enough data and examples to make it resonate with anyone working in a team environment that has been upsized, downsized, rightsized or simply been subject to a number of reorganisations. He brings home the quiet desperation that many feel as they come to terms with an ever changing world that is not delivering the personal satisfaction and security that was promised.

The tension between older values of loyalty and newer ones of flexibility is well described and it should make everyone fear for whatever will happen next.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 12 May 1999
Format: Hardcover
I am struck by the visceral and reactive comments in some of the reviews, but this only demonstrates that Sennett has touched a vulnerable nerve among those who have a vested interest in the juggernaut of globalization and commercial frenzy of the Internet. Isn't it interesting that the most volatile reviews come from those in the heart of Silicon Valley? Sennett has succeeeded in illuminating the universal in the particular, yes, through what his critics denigrates as "just anecdotes"? But anecdotes are grounded in human experience, not rarefied abstractions of traditional posivist sociology. His critics ought to go back to read C. Wright Mills' clasic The Sociological Imagination, who takes these posivist parasites to task. Sennett also does a stellar job of stripping away the corporate speak and propaganda about "change, teams, reengineering" --the stuff that has made management gurus and their parrot of consultant-followers rich, while the ordinary Joe is the mere anecdotal recipient of such social engineering schemes. Sennett also succeeds in showing how the superficiality of corporate life is bleeding over to the family, eroding away depth and character..this is a sore spot that most managers would rather ignore. As C. Wright Mills, the great sociologist taught, "the political task of the sociologist...is to translate personal troubles into public issues, and public issues into the terms of their human meaning for a variety of indivdiuals" The public isn't moved by barren statistics, it is moved by real stories of real human beings.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By ISCA on 23 Feb. 2002
Format: Paperback
This book rang a bell with me because I can see the trends it describes unravelling in my own place of work.
Team working and flat structures are both attacked as one method by which bosses retain power over workers but shed responsibility. Every one is on their own in the world of new working methods and only the bosses really benefit. The old heirarchies are not eulogised but by comparison for Sennett are a lot better than the present state of affairs.The fallout affects the families and other relationships of the workers -there is no trust left and no long term goal to work towards.
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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 11 May 1999
Format: Hardcover
Richard Sennett takes a very interesting look at the changing workplace and the possible links to its changes. He looks at the effects that the new workplace has taken on people's lives and their families. He gives vivid comparisons between the past generations and how character had its effect in their jobs and how today's jobs have an effect on character. Sennett doesn't just take a 90's perspective, but instead looks into the past at what the motivations and goals of the workers were centuries before. In 1972 Sennett wrote a book, along with Jonathan Cobb, called "The Hidden Injuries of Class". The book is about a man named Enrico who was a janitor. Enrico's job was both routine and not very mentally challenging. The reason that he was content with his job was because he had goals to improve the lives of his children. His vision canceled out most of the mental and physical drain that his job entailed. He also looks back at when most jobs were what he calls "routine" and what people thought of about habitual labor.
Diderot believed that routine labor was good. He thought that the repetitive actions enabled the worker to become an expert and increasingly develop their skills. He explained that in a factory if each worker were to become an expert at their individual task, that the result would be the best possible product produced at the best possible efficiency. Adam Smith had different views. He believed that routine work "deadened the mind." Sennett points out that today the world has followed Smith's ideas. Pride among the workers has dissipated. When a person starts from the bottom and works to the top they appreciate what they have earned and what they have produced. Today the goal is to skip or zoom past the earning stage.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By calmly on 21 Oct. 2007
Format: Paperback
A doctor warned me once that people weren't built for rapid mentally jumping from one thing to another and that hi-tech companies tended to use people up. Sennett's warning came quite late.

Sennett's findings seem well intended but not surprising at all to anyone who has worked in hi-tech. I suspect many other workers have noticed the consequences of the "new" capitalism. Similarly, there seems nothing wrong with trying to simplify what is happening by noting a few key characteristics and values. Sennett's observations on the exploitation of "teamwork", although familiar, are welcome. "Risk", "failure", "flexibility" , it all can become as manipulative as political speech about "liberty", "democracy" and "free markets".

However, the 176 pages seem like 20. Despite footnotes, Sennett seems to be writing as if he were the first observer of capitalism, entirely out of character for the profound author of "The Hidden Injuries of Class:. The exact nature of the impact on character in this newer book seems largely unestablished. The efforts of unions, albeit sparse with hi-tech, goes unnoticed. The real consequences on real lives becomes an apparent gentlemenly philosophical exercise. How carefully he closes: "But I do know a regime which provides human beings no deep reasons to care about one another cannot long preserve its legitimacy". If there were, in this book, more sociological and less anecdotal support for such a claim, "The Corrosion of Character" might be worth your reading. As it is, you may well know it yourself.

Sennett does note at the end a "fear of the resurgence of unions". I didn't see that Sennett provided any pointers on where to seek help apart from an abstract appeal to community.
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