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July 22, 2012 AT 1:01 am

What Happened to the Craftsmanship Spirit?

Essay by Louis Uchitelle in the Times:

Ask the administration or the Republicans or most academics why America needs more manufacturing, and they respond that manufacturing spawns innovation, brings down the trade deficit, strengthens the dollar, generates jobs, arms the military and kindles a recovery from recession. But rarely, if ever, do they publicly take the argument a step further, asserting that a growing manufacturing sector encourages craftsmanship and that craftsmanship is, if not a birthright, then a vital ingredient of the American self-image as a can-do, inventive, we-can-make-anything people.

That self-image is deteriorating. And the symptoms go far beyond Home Depot. They show up in the wistful popularity of books like “Shop Class as Soulcraft,” by Matthew B. Crawford, in TV cooking classes featuring the craftsmanship of celebrity chefs, and in shows like “This Old House.”

Traditional vocational training in public high schools is gradually declining, stranding thousands of young people who seek training for a craft without going to college. Colleges, for their part, have since 1985 graduated fewer chemical, mechanical, industrial and metallurgical engineers, partly in response to the reduced role of manufacturing, a big employer of them.

“In an earlier generation, we lost our connection to the land, and now we are losing our connection to the machinery we depend on,” says Michael Hout, a sociologist at the University of California, Berkeley. “People who work with their hands,” he went on, “are doing things today that we call service jobs, in restaurants and laundries, or in medical technology and the like.”

That’s one explanation for the decline in traditional craftsmanship. Lack of interest is another. The big money is in fields like finance. Starting in the 1980s, skill in finance grew in stature, and, as depicted in the news media and the movies, became a more appealing source of income.

An interesting read, though this is old news to Makers, many of whom seek to redress the balance.


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4 Comments

  1. And this is precisely the void the Maker movement is filling in behind. The makers of today (with their technological bent) are the craftsmen of days gone by.

  2. The problem with Loses and Home depot is they only have standard parts and they have put mom and pop stores out of business. I have a house where the door was too small and I needed a new door. It cost over $1,000 to have a new door made. I settled for a $100 wood door and having it cut. I have the same problems with plumbing.

  3. I have much to say about this subject, but I will try to be brief. I am a self-proclaimed craftsman. I used to use jack-of-all-trades, but that has a bad connotation now and I am not so vain as to call myself a polymath (i.e. Leonardo daVinci). I like to make things using my head and my hands. I find that any type of work that uses hands is denigrated by our culture. I believe that the maker movement is history repeating itself, just as the arts and crafts movement <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arts_and_Crafts_movement&gt; was a response to mass produced manufactured goods. Most jobs today don’t seem very creative to me and most products have slim differentiation. People are naturally creative and the maker movement is the outlet for that creativity and the need for individualization.

  4. Instead of berating ourselves over romantic notions of a lost golden era we should embrace the reality and opportunities of an ever evolving society. As the population increases, our scientific understanding elevates and technology advances we become increasingly specialized.

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