August 8, 2009

School of Thought

On Tuesday at Politics and Prose author Matthew Crawford read from and discussed his new book Shop Class As Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into The Value of Work, in which he extols the virtues of the hands-on self reliance which has all but disappeared from the modern workplace. Matthew Crawford is a philosopher and mechanic. He has a Ph.D. in political philosophy from the University of Chicago and has served as a postdoctoral fellow on its Committee on Social Thought. Currently a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, he owns and operates Shockoe Moto, an independent motorcycle repair shop in Richmond, Virginia.

Our questionable advancement from the industrial to the information age does not subtract from our dependence, at home and at work, on those who can truly make and fix things. In Shop Class As Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into The Value of Work, Crawford presents an astonishingly complex view of the nature of work, skillfully examining its relationship to our intellectual and moral development. He emphasizes the value of doing work which shows tangible results and for which we both can and must take responsibility. This affects our own sense of self as well as the larger community we inhabit. His book, he writes, “advances a nestled set of arguments on behalf of work that is meaningful because it is genuinely useful. It also explores what we might call the ethics of maintenance and repair.”

Crawford’s Shop Class As Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into The Value of Work explores more specifically how the traditional trades can involve intense thought. He reveals the satisfaction of working with one’s hands and introduces the reader to his extensive knowledge of, as well as his passion for and insight into, the difficult but fascinating task of fixing vintage motorcycles, his chosen milieu. He makes the case that our society has placed a disproportionate value on white-collar work compared with that bestowed upon the trades.

The event’s overwhelming turnout is an indication of the public’s interest in Crawford’s thought-provoking debut. A work both relevant and valuable, it provides solid insight into motorcycle maintenance and discusses important topics and issues involved in the study of philosophy.

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