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The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism Hardcover – October, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0393046786 ISBN-10: 0393046788 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (October 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393046788
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393046786
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #543,685 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

In the brave new world of the "flexible" corporation, Richard Sennett observes, workers at all levels are regarded as wholly disposable, and they have responded in kind, ceasing to think in terms of any long-term relationship with the organizations they work for. This, he argues, has tremendous negative consequences for workers' emotional and psychological well-being. Even in menial jobs, we extract much of our self-image from the idea of a "career"--a life narrative rendered intelligible by specific loyalties, which is to some degree self-invented but also in some respects predictable. Innovations like "flextime" and bureaucratic "de-layering" seem to promise more freedom to define one's career, but in fact they create jobs in which there's less freedom than ever to be had. The Corrosion of Character is a short, anecdotal book, and while one might wish that it included a discussion of the social and psychological costs of the sheer increase of work time in the average worker's week, Sennett has created a pithy, disturbing picture of the cost of the corporate world's much-vaunted new efficiencies. --Richard Farr

From Publishers Weekly

The American company today ostensibly offers a more humane environment than in the era of "Fordism," when work on the assembly line had a deadening, routine character. However, Sennett, professor of sociology at New York University and the London School of Economics, believes this improvement is illusory. His argument is that the modern workplaceAwith its emphasis on short-term, episodic labor; projects and flexibilityAdoes not allow people to shape their experiences or build a coherent narrative of their lives. Most important, the new adaptability in business militates against the formation of character. Character depends on stability for virtues such as loyalty, trust, commitment and mutual helpfulness to develop. And rather than giving workers greater freedom, the flexibility model allows another kind of power to be imposed from the top: from 1980 to 1995, between 13 million and 39 million workers became unemployed owing to downsizing. Even flextime contributes to the fragmentation and disorder, and teamwork only emphasizes "mutual responsiveness rather than personal validation." Sennett makes his case in well-crafted prose with references not just to luminaries such as Adam Smith, Diderot, Nietzsche and Rousseau, but to the immediate experiences of blue-collar workers and folks in bakery shops and bars. He challenges the reader to decide whether the flexibility of modern capitalism offers a better context for personal growth or is merely a fresh form of oppression.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

And if power within companies was not drastically unequal, that would be the case for employees and employers.
J. Grattan
It is sociology at its best, both the critiquing economic trends and relating them to lives of individuals who are both representative and compelling.
Mark B. Cohen
Similarly, there seems nothing wrong with trying to simplify what is happening by noting a few key characteristics and values.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Peter J. Cassimatis, Professor emeritus of economics on October 7, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Amidst the cacophony about the wonders of globalization and the new millennium's everlasting prosperity and bull market, Richard Sennett has the intellectual courage to present some of the negative consequences of global capitalism on a vast number of workers whose skills and dedication the economy and markets depend upon. Jobs are replaced by "projects" and "fields of work" and the moto for organizing working time is "no long-term". As workers are forced to go from one job to another, the new capitalism increases the risk of the workers in choosing employment, while it robs them of the sense of security enjoyed previously and, in Sennett's words, corrodes their character. The book covers the trends and nuances of the new capitalism and with many examples illustrates the decline of job security of both workers and managers, the fact that the fastest growing sector of the labor force is those working on temporary jobs, often called "permatemps", and that the frequent turnover in employment increases the risk of choosing a career or even a job. Richard Sennett correctly concludes that the new order does indeed corrode the worker's character.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By David Roger Allen on December 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
London School Of Economic's Richard Sennett (no relation to Mack Sennett of Keystone Kops fame) has written an important and eminently readable short book (a long essay, really) about the personal consequences of work in the "new capitalism."
His book, titled THE CORROSION OF CHARACTER (1998), explains in clear and compelling terms how things have changed for the worse in the workplace, and how this has affected workers negatively.
Sennett begins by explaining how personal character is attacked by the "new capitalism". He states that routine was an evil of the old capitalism, and that in recent times, the workplace was made "flexible" by means of the restructuring of time (flextime, part time jobs, increased use of swing and graveyard type shifts, etc.). He then asserts that modern forms of labor are difficult to understand (he calls them "illegible"), and implies, persuasively, that the very murkiness of these new forms has enabled employers to victimize employees in new ways.
Author Sennett goes on to discuss the subject of risk, much ballyhooed and heavily sold as a good thing in recent times. Sennett disagrees. He states that risk-taking has become disorienting and depressing in today's world and workplace. Sennett goes on to say that the work ethic has changed for the worse, and that workers have become enmired in inevitiable and depressing failure. He describes the various ways workers caught in all this have tried unsuccessfully to cope with failure, and seems to be headed for a sad ending to his book.
However, the last chapter of THE CORROSION OF CHARACTER offers some hope.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 13, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Richard Sennetts book entitled The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consquences of Work in the New Capitalism is a well written and informative book about the economic changes and conditions going on in America's workplace today. Sennett uses examples in his book about janitors, IBM workers, and Boston bakers as case studies to get some of his points accross. He paints a picture of how each of these professions has changed over the years. These examples are deeply thought out and explained in detail. He even makes the examples so easy to understand that even a young adult can follow along. The only downside to his book is that the author gives no soloutions to the problems inour changing workforce. He just explains why things are the way they are. If you are intrested in learning about the changes in our workforce, this is a book for you.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 11, 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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