Lecture by Richard Sennett on 'Sociology as Literature'



innovation center conference will bring together center directors for many different worlds you UK us miserable himself the co-founder and director of new york institute of humanities where academics publishers writers musicians politicians jealous gathered thought himself described personality food and could talk I'm accelerated as a native of New York intellect life in the eighties and this surely is what a convention center it will bite but we spend also emerging visiting the innovator in work or should I say a craft no one has paid great attention to the idea and practice of craftsmanship and II craftsmanship makespan violence Soviet construction workers or chairs and writers himself sincerely avert if sexual energy policy driven work work work of the writer who we cross the sentence against again until it's just right and yet like the best product he's writing books on labor it does its job of communicating ideas specificity and directly it makes the leader things along with him it's kind of today accepted literature cap took something of his repeated return the literary obsessions around through his career he writes about idea if they were living characters in need of death and subtleties to be understood world historical personages some other confirma novels perhaps but their own public and private my clients unfolding with unpredictable yet inevitable logic so really one of Facebook's is what like leading a normal full of surprising terms and come to terms banana thing one usually associates with academic writing an immersion in the processes of reflection and discovery work culture craft flexibility respect inequality urban life authority the body before the public man private at the energetic obsessions maybe each makes freshly visible a previously unexplored aspect of the social world in which we live and work the term public intellectual is often bandied about you have a rare which Senate in his work the empirical drive ecclesiology attentiveness particularity so cool whistles public and private is combined with the creativity and elegance of the bathroom who's writing takes the form of a public communication yet its style and his specialist roots run deep indeed the books over the last few decades apathetic of that liminal space by capitalism today at the g20 leaders meet in London and in college together and fed needle speech it's custom a on these occasions to and crisis or elsewhere that missile that speaker needs no introduction when they go on to do it Richard Anika too well either and he's made himself a friend to be here and we mentioned the fertility and say what a great pleasure has been having in Cambridge and that like the tenacious cash back he will keep coming back well Mary asked me a few months ago I'd like to talk personal and you do to ask him any worker with it would like to talk about IRA's invitation but I have been trying to think a little in terms of my own practices as skull about the issue interdisciplinary in fact that something had to think about and I've suffered with a month most of my writing life so I had what I'm going to describe to you today is in a way what I've learned about the crossing the disciplines between sociology and I just be crystal to get me i'm sure there's the moral to be drawn from my own experience although it will be drawn to subjects in the past i have to say it oriented my research and I concern work of the place I want to know how people labor and how to make home and I have a in a way a preferred method of doing so I prefer talking to workers and city dwellers directly a face-to-face and when I could not I try to use first person historical accounts to understand these two dimensions of social experience this is hardly the discipline Oh vitatree to speak person and i tell you how i came to work in this way became intellectual by accident a hand injury for men to the career jealous when I went into university was a decade behind classmates my reading and so by necessity I had to obey all about this rule over read little but read closely more more I innocently believe that culture is a unity and the tomb understand the culture requires combining ideas of sociology history and philosophy but I assumed somehow I'm self-consciously happen like Rossini's thieving magpie I took about ideas as they came and assuming the day had a coherence which I had lead worry about and for this i paid price unlike the entirely benign school but founded by my friend over the lives in my early years i'd like to message for 650 facts and ideas and this i have to say is true of the philosophical tradition which is always gotta be that of pragmatism in this tradition method as a bad name but as you know pragmatism does not be practical in the strict problem-solving sense the focus is rather our lived experience say in german yet focuses on her lateness experiences lived through for the second being open to new experience crack pragmatism dwells less on strategic practice which in German we-we-we a kind of experience we think about is their power the power has a method in our ladies that's not because pragmatism values surprise of curiosity and lived experience an emphasis emphasizing openness and improvisation in understanding the rigor of a discipline school of thought is therefore sacrifice no this is where I began and it never really satisfied me he's our precepts that that make sense to me when I began to write but the lack of the method was something that this was that negatively and what to close this personal introduction what I want to describe to you today is the kind of practice culture analysis that I put in place of what would be a single academic form of rigorous it's based quite simply on the belief that social science can and more I would argue should be a form of literature and this conviction carries its own discipline discipline is warm writing clearly its goal is to achieve that sense of lived experience of our latest on the page in this talk I first want to address the issue of what others make discoveries economics or politics should care at all about the practice and this is a matter of scholars connecting to the public realm from the time of mold tenure to roughly up to that took feel you would have been taken for granted that an analyst of social life should be committed to the craft of writing largely this was because really modern society at a verbal blind spot in case of rigid feeling social categories of hereditary station the dynamism energy more modern social order was difficult to describe even to me European compras of foreign lands like a conquistador de las Casas had to strange and describe an unexpected complexity and richness of the people whose lives the conquerors were destroying the later time at home will tsk you needed to important resources of allegory in the Persian letters to shop his fellow parish permissions between awareness of the local pneus and women's European culture and in the dismal science Adam Smith did great verbal gifts to make his contemporaries aware of the power of markets which were coming in to rule their lives again the couple's democracy in America is laid out quite consciously I think on the model of Homer's Odysseus a voyage into the foreign country of equality now when literary powers of all these writings were meant to arouse in their readers a sense of the social as a problematic category the writing made a disaster yet consciousness which is to say that the various strengths of their writing help itself creating public realm this was Hana Rev conceived of it a realm of share collective intelligence today many social scientists are menaced by exclusion from just this other realm due to their feeble powers of expression the feebleness is not simply a personal failed history of academic institutions to protect the disciplinary boundaries the specialization of your organization knowledge of self our general sources of intellectual isolation and in pville people have shared intelligence is but one result of kind of one way of organizing knowledge socially but the result is that the depth of what researchers know who comes in the community due to a lack of expressive tools the public is left with the husks the surfaces of knowledge to me all writing is political just in the way the right of the latest reviews I know you with great dismay that when social scientists attempt to address the general public they tend to survey them to simplify that is to talk down to come to set the reader is excluded for being a critical partner in the writers own thinking where's the coffee to feel cheated their readers as equals the politics of talking down to the reader evinces also an error in the understanding of writing itself people who commit this area it may imagine that they can know before they write will gather the data thoughts and them with English phrase has it write up the results the staying to others but they have already thought through whereas the act of writing should be a laboratory a workshop for thinking not an after-the-fact presentation when we try to write expressively about society so that others are aroused are moved by what we write we encountered a very set of analytic problems and I want next instant substance of what I want to say I want next and therefore to talk about the craft of social right what I'm going to describe to you our issues from my own experience certainly not pull myself up as a shining example of writing well certainly there are many other solutions to the problem expressive ready and those I thought but the problems themselves are the claim are generic to socially minded rivage I'm going to lay out you four challenges I faced in my writers actively these concerns issues of authorial voice narrative arousal and generalizations and now mostra playwright also has to deal with this quartet because there are fundamental properties of literature but the writer of nonfiction has to address authorial voice narrative arousal and generalization in special ways so let me first say something about voice voice James who is speaking to the reader in literature voice is recognizable simply by the use of I or we of the third person voice in the hands of the great novelist light flow Barre makes the author's presence felt in every word of the page without the author ever speaking personally to the reader in non-fiction writing handling voice is a tricky and often frustrating chalice say the writer brought to bring to left of the page the experience of a capable woman working for an incompetent male boss a sort of blocks it takes three hour lunches and leaves her to deal in the meantime with all the tough problems I just choose but to make literature of this situation the writer is going to have to do more than just enumerate the circumstances of the sort that I've just named the writer will have the probe what in confidence means to the long-suffering work that is given her voice the writer could do this simply by quoting her complaints but illustrative quote illustrative quotation is a very static dull procedure in fiction individuals will principally as an instance of the category like the suppurating worker are dead cat characters and this is true of nonfiction as well the writer wants to enter into the round distinctive life of another person which requires giving that person in interpretive what's struggling to make sense of his were here for the circus and here's the difficulty the thorny social issue lurks in in the 19th century film will type first call for social science to enter the two men is how people act as their own interpreters rather than the social science doing Emily interpretation for them this is the domain of guilt ice groundwork a fair share humanist he believed people are competent interpreters of their lives projected in particulars and anti-marxist the idea of voluntary military more guilt I was convinced that empathy on the part of the research the open gates understand a craft oppressed with grief of bring forward insight about how the oppressed think feel and happy in his view then this aspect of personal character that is the power to empathize with the subject is what constant crowd this day the writing interstate and the kind of research I do they said interviews first-person historical come just this matter as proof vexy early on in my career I studied the lives of American white working-class adults and adolescents many of my subjects were hardcore racists and have remained so use obviously republic to me more recently to give another example of studying engineers and computer programmers whose technical passions are largely a tenant sheer emotional empathy from mental identification in these cases cannot alone suffice in the field I'm a rather combative interviewer bargaining with racist interviewees challenging engineers to justify water the technique or procedure madam argument conveys that I take them seriously in fact I do with this poses a problem the writer and writing someone who shares my working practice will want to make use of a kind of fictional as if reporting what he or she has been told how does doom interpreted as if the writer were also a racist or a technician it's a form of impersonation and then to step out of that impersonation that has it to judge and pose 94 questions in other words the technique here is what can I try to pursue it threw out all my own research but America is what's called deadly it is not simply m fishing but a kind of identification with somebody else's interpreting the subject and then stepping out of that not back and forth is how we create draw on the page of acknowledging the voice of another person this is pretty little thing that's the crap procedure not a matter a few it's not a matter of sheer it's a way of dealing with your relation subject so that the result on the page is this act of dulling begins to say that the writing which results should convey a double your perspective on a page Bishop more than one active voice I'm going to get lost in the sight of sugar but I want to point out to you the people who do the kind of work I do why the notion of over n thought the subject with this sufferance of other people trapped and we see this all the times with very young the notion is that people have suffered so much I am there to bear witness that is a form of condescension but worse it means that the writing itself goes dead why are you there what are you so it's a technique in be very sloppy in your actions as an interviewer but when you're right you're adding nothing you are if I would say con vicinity it is this doubling doesn't produce what is the reader something active on the page readers of reports of suffering opened a very description so this is the station between reportage and making voice voice image you intrude rather than simply serve as a witness for our system and that's a crap now let's say something about narrow subject of narrative wakes a big warning flag about considering social science as bertha novelist is bullying control events social writer is not and this truism has a more particular application action in a novel accumulates the obviously classic well-made novel body say by George Eliot's Middlemarch but thomas mammootty balls in these narratives each event each app prepares for what comes next the progress of events loads the incidence of action moving forward accumulation of also operates more modern novels like James Joyce's Ulysses the works of Thomas bear aha you need to read these books through to the end to make sense of their fragments like histories and collective history do not present possess this literary property individual life histories are often incoherent jigsaw parts which do not fit together like if history's may not accumulate in value give you an example of each many of the workers have interviewed in the new economy recent books have short-term jobs rather than long-term careers life change what they do and where they do it by global forces beyond their control they work very hard in that two coherent narrative about the work themselves lack of accumulative mean is something I noted most recently in interviewing a go go financial management of New York the collapse of firms like long-term capital management the decades go of bursting of calm bubble a few years ago have made little impress on the manager that I even I behavior with music either conditioned by no response to prior to Zach disasters this collective history does not become human so you have what is a Nam narrative tie even because people are placed in a situation of living in fragments were they themselves are not thinking about their own flooding but experience as forming something in which meaning that you faced with such if coherence the social right of might want to chronicle its moments but now impose a narrative economy mess but this would be to do a certain kind of social reality of disservice a critical social reality human beings thinking stories in order to understand cause and effect that is to give action value in terms of this consequences this is a basic impulse you know way in which we try if they prove it critically moreover in everyday narratives and everyday life narratives can help people think strategically my project different outcome about an action we might not only take both critical retrospection and strategic perfect rejection require imagination not once a certain outcome with or or cause but many possible scenarios without narrative is this sort of tool social understanding is radically diminished for us as they're reading this is Meredith way we learn to pick backward and forward in time and not simply in costs X produces wyotech when as in modern capitalism people are deprived of the guiding error the rightist task in my view is to identify and analyze just these absences when Stan y de worker has been fired where an investor who has ruined cannot connect his or her past present and future this task produces a peculiar narrative of its own the story marked by gaps and emissions writer in truths into the narrative council somebody else gives them by naming what's missing which is love rid of the projection of the oven it needs a he failed to connect X to Y or X Y Z see what the writer is doing composing of social narrator yes essentially identifying and analyzing absence it's a sort of thing in a way to very familiar in the narrative of absence which is marked with ratings of orcas where are the telephone covino today i am with argue these literary tools help us make sense of a time fraction with a goal come in someone narrative differs from history and it differs because the writer may impose a consequent time story the student or in the kind of narrative that marks sociological discussion focuses on missions silences as significant part of the story and identify why things are not saying why people fall silent is part of the sociologists work in America again I'm just gonna make it very short aside about the craft of you when you be poor ethnographic accounts what you get are a seamless set of sentences that have to chance prod where all the silences and I need all the effect they mean though they were crafted by now Calvino that the person at least talk very clear that's really second quality work when we do very good ethnography we have to create a transcript in which all of those elements are present at particular than notions of stumbling and silence pauses may seem like a small who tells you but it's precisely in marking and hearing responding to those things that we understand what it difficult for people to say and not that they can produce almost mechanically so that the craft of writing about these silences also means that interview has got to both record them and intend to them and again in a state that beginning viewers make is to get very uncomfortable than the subject all silent stones as though something is going wrong they have nothing to say they are saying so best somebody would have been feel like to be unemployed month six rather than month for and somebody came stumbling that your data but we tend to homogeneous all this because we imagine that what social research is is getting people to report on themselves rather than to make searching kind of analysis of what they actually express I want to third talk about the issue of arousal which is another aspect of craft protecting people miss very much about myself the editor of the New York Review of Books once said to me a rejecting an essay I written about lives as a total amateur source computer go the other nurse said to me I'm sure what you say is important it just doesn't interest now the issue here is that it's very easy to believe that the sheer importance of the subject will arouse readers editors beautiful open source that we're all computing but there's no necessary connection between importance and arousal sometimes writers respond to this dilemma by overdramatizing an issue to engage other people the pro employ that much abuse were crisis to seize the fish of course if everything is a crisis then the work loses any meaning so we have to grapple in fundamental ways with the nature of stimulation and arousal in writing nonfiction my starting point has been in my craft that curiosity will surprise are much more lasting stimuli than dread and fear in attaching crisis calls attention to the subject curiosity takes the reader inside wall and there are two methods I think available to the social writer for stimulating curiosity your classical psychological studies curiosity revolve revolve around experience of cognitive dissonance a condition in which there are contrary rules rewards for behavior Claudius double by humans like grasses psychologists laboratory can pay close attention to the community of circumstances seeking to work out the puzzle curiosity is engaged on the page the presence of differing dissonant voices which are described earlier and have the same effect let me is the word texture to describe a piece of writing in the non-fictional grill what we mean i think is to invoke justice verbal layering of cognitive dissonance better to believe something and its opposite which focuses you on the conundrum how the subject of your dealing what psychological research and cognitive dissonance reveals is that humans or rats Carly that contradictions do not go into a state of crisis they do not will preserve instead they live with the contradiction by focusing on particular behaviors seeking to manage these within the confines of a larger situation that cannot resolve in writing we want to achieve the same kind of focus setting up contradiction or dissonance important focus the reader detail and this is why I'm writing up interview notes I include wobbling gestures for tones of voice as part of my data since these are frequently ironic or distancing commentaries on the actual words themselves this distance established between a shrug of the shoulders in the decorations principle makes the reader pay attention just as it who roused me in the inner pain so the logic of this for the writer is fine not just focused on facts and details but focus on facts and details which often physically contravene parole declaration one of the reasons that has been rising such a productive turn to visual because it gives us a tool to say what people thought a mileage is like when they tell you I absolutely would like to see all blacks so many smiles believe them they look down on the ground you know that you've got a different kind of in shape so that is a question in other words of stimulating curiosity of actually trying to locate significant detail in another practice which stimulates current curiosity revolves around tacit knowledge assumptions we take for granted the behaviors we practice on whether consciously a bad social writer will surface these tacit assumptions through an active accusation when you say that and really mean when they say that the writer who wants to make people curious about instead gradually surface who's taken for granted to the readers conscious by a process of mutation changing what everybody knows step by step so that it appears increasingly strange provoking thus when writing the fall of public man I explored the handshake seemingly mundane for a public reading connecting it in the 18th century to other bottling gestures of addressing strangers the habits of speaking in taverns of coffee houses my reader I hope he came more and more aware and more and more curious about the shaking hands as it became connected to hugging kissing and verbal saloons he began to appear that the act of shaking it was a violation whereas this is not that's the procedure of rousing and readers interest and His Messenger of arousing the leaders and Trust also gave up their to me I began to be able to see the public realm as a realm of sensing physical experience in which one bottle gesture was used to calm avail when a giant say you is that in place of gravitation the socially minded writer wants to use techniques like cognitive dissonance or the permutation of detail to arouse interest in music or such again there's a politics implicit miss kind of writing the language of crisis is cousin to the manifesto the pronouncement the languages of cognitive dissonance and permutation acquire the closer to everyday life they bite the reader to engage rather than the green of course I do not mean to imply we should always prefer the quiet politics of writing dramatizing it's a necessary tool and any greatest crap I only mean that this tool should be handled with great care as Michel Foucault dust resistant opening of discipline and punish in describing the execution of dunya within Europe a Louie 15 the circumstances of Danielle's torture or grizzly and dramatic but foo Coast art as a writer lives of connecting elements seem daunting ripped who identify events and ideas which has nothing to do with the next room I hope I have persuaded you by now that right you're something more than simply the means to an end it is a crack which transforms both the the research practice of sociology and of course Oh discretion but what then is the consequence of trying to pursue this kind of writer's craft in terms of voicing narrative and stimulate curiosity this leads me to the fourth element of social issue with literature which has to do which addresses the problem of generalization the practices of social literature are described to you so far dwell on individuals of particulars it would be perfectly correct an assert that no matter how engaged such experiences can make no claim to represent general social conditions the critic will turn my own words against me no one human being ever represents a social category great fiction wants to commit however just this mistake the novels of Balzac and proof would like the reader to make a metaphor political corruption out of books past crimes or for even if I own the shut-ins is posturing the decline of an entire evista cratic class we can't help ourselves from accepting the invitation to general the American pragmatists CS purse offers one explanation why categories of any sort or mental constructs social categories are particularly fragile mental constructs to the category composed of the million people is based but cannot be based in any one person's consciousness muscle basil onion sufficient information to construct a category a social category we have their fourth and necessarily to make a leap of what first called radical induction lived experience to experience as we could not have the theoretical issue here is that symbols make this leap of radical production of course and women's I see it already know some symbols make this leap of radical reduction be they symbols the symbol social statistics for the characters of advanced in literature but symbols pragmatist condition still purses first preset doesn't explain what the writer might do to make personal experience resonates and volatile that's our tasks in creative literature radical induction may seem no less than an unfathomable secret of great art of great bars in social writing regulation concrete steps can be taken to induce radical induction to create symbols of experience rather than jumping fish and I'm going to describing this regardless steps I've tried to take as a writer the procedure I've used derives from the experience of hat as a musician rehearsing changes with other players rehearsing children visit the players of course have to achieve a coherent collective South yet equally must preserve the distinctiveness of each Jim street if that balance can be struck in each instrument apart seems to move large me more than when the player reverses alone although he or she is piping very same notes and this is how a musical process of symbol making occurs at group rehearsals the notes of each part are transformed in value while remaining the same material effect now I've drawn on my sociological work just this experience of musical rehearsal even when I interview people vidual typically I will try to interview in depth about 30 to 50 people who share something in common like the middle racking computer programmers are interviewed for the global production of character I'll then ask them to talk about the sheriff condition in writing up their very interpretations I traded try to stage something like a group rehearsal on the page one in which individual beliefs or experiences mean more what playing together with or against others hopefully the leader later joins the rehearsal writing worse if it doesn't not about want to emphasize begets generalizations about programmers for instance instead it activates the process of civilization in which the experience of each becomes kind of dialogue with the others becomes an individual report of meaningful through this is clearly it's a way of dealing with data so that if we've got those things with my students 200 this is a shoot archive stuff the idea is not to find a common thread which says analysis what you want to do is look at the ways in which something like long-term unemployed is used different than by people and then use it as a kind of a person on the page what that means and that's the process in this study engaged in other what you want to go on degenerate generalized by finding something at all two hundred that's that's not possible with the kind of material and in fact I'd say it's kind of lie to take to other people and say they represent to middle you want to do something different you want to make a move it I think about how important by seeing perhaps what's possible that's how this issue is me the distinction between generalization and symbol is a keystone pragmatic course while the generalization is a fixed statement the symbols a dynamic process which helps us relate experiences to one another that's what sociology is about just then yep this is violence say to you that the work of civil making process is a sort of ultimate sociological destination simple I try to show from these techniques of voicing narrative stimulate curiosity civil maple how the righting social literature's of crowd as in any other craft inspiration is no God nor in this particular craft of humanistic empathy suffice the social writers I particularly admire while the venue vol thought we should go michaud acepto right quite differently for each other yet all Sharon essential ethos of craftsmanship all established a set of practices for the pros that these practices involved in the course of the careers that does make discoveries rather than simply demonstrate skill and all craftsmanship should have that aspiration as protecting is not a fixed closed system so if I sound as though I've given you rules for how to do something I haven't had it these have certainly but you might find other one goal is to make a sociologist something which and social research something which has some power and the cotton I'd like to just close like to just close this just an informal tomorrow again this takes me back to the person but I've describes you something very hard to situate in any activities it's almost impossible to teach this it is a practice in which credit but it's really an engagement in the social with a certain kind of goal we had three weeks ago trash an event mother conference a group more than seven years of doing cultural analysis and its second day these are mostly PhD students research students it takes them about three or four years in this group it's only a workshop or writing to begin to get the idea of how to write so that they not simply demonstrate that they're proficient they don't make a display of skill but they actually make something that somebody else's engaged but they cross over from that barrier most formal education does of making people legitimate affect their own competence and this self act of legitimation testing is deadly that kind of display of just how smart so it sits very badly with the university context in nylon on my count call this something that was invented by Creek Calhoun so yeah so this is sort of invisible quite I'm trying to make you about this is that this is I've seen intellectual pursue that it's an intellectual discipline very hard to make an academic

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