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Matthew Crawford`s, “Shop Class as Soulcraft An Inquiry into the Value of Work”


MatthewCrawford’s, “Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Valueof Work”

Inthe modern world where everything seems to be automated and jobdescriptions are limited only to portions of a bigger productionmaster plan, people most of the time settle for dependence ratherthan independence when it comes to working. The concept of teams,division of labor and organizational strategies had taken over everypossible areas of work environment. Although it is easy to concludethat the said concepts worked well in improving work strategies byincreasing efficiency and maximizing operational costs, it has at thesame time changed dramatically how people exercise their workcapabilities in general.

Inthe modern work environment, it is not uncommon for a person toperform a job that would require him or her to develop one specialaspect of work production. As such, dependence on other workdepartments has been the norm and in the micro picture, thedependence of every person on someone else has become the normal workattribute of almost any worker. While in economics, this scenariodoes not really prove to be a concern, but instead, contributes evenmore to production efficiency, personal values seem to be needing anintrospection because of the issues involving philosophicalimplications to one’s internal development.

Crawford’sMain Themes and Arguments

Whilethe whole book refers to and discusses about humanity and the valueof work, Crawford focuses on specific themes in order to present hisideas on the matter.

Thebook is a philosophical inquiry into the work nature of the Americanindustrial world. In general, one can say that the entire work iscontroversial and persuasive, although in their looser senses becausethe presentation of arguments were made in a manner that do not usestrong words and expressions. However, it is clear that the authorprefers a specific viewpoint on the issue he raised, which can beseen to be clear in the conclusion. Such conclusion was drawn fromhis personal experiences and on his intellectual processes involvingthe said experiences that he has accumulated over the years of beinga part of the country’s workforce. He likewise noted in his workthe fact that in the United States, skilled trades are often lookeddown and are undervalued by people and industries. This is alsoevident in the educational systems in the country because based onhis observation, educational systems in the United States havealready eliminated shop classes in their programs. These class ofwork had been undervalued by people as evident from the common notionof the term “blue collar” which is associated withunprofessionalism and dirty jobs. However, there remains oneparticular place where such kinds of jobs are not valued less andthat is the marketplace. In the marketplace, the demand for skilledcraftsmen grow greater and greater in fields like carpentry, electricworks, machine operation, and so on. Because of the demands that seemto be not only high, but ever increasing at the same time, a skilledtradesman possesses a great deal of power to choose what kind of jobhe or she would venture into, does not need to report to somebodyelse in the performance of the job and earns a decent amount of wage.These perks, in relation to the current economic climate are far frombeing worthy of the scoffs it has garnered from the public. Crawford,through his book, shows his readers how things became this way,through pipe dreams, future forecasts and dreams of totallyeliminating manual labor and the manner on how these concepts hadseemed to be deeply entrenched in the educational systems of thecountry, as can be seen from their educational policies. Thesepractical life scenarios are given a philosophical dose in the bookby the author who made common things worthy of reflection because oftheir internal significance to the value of humanity and humanexistence.

Consideringthe points raised by the author, this paper will focus on thefollowing three (3) key points as a reference for discussion:

  1. The removal of manual labor from the production process equates with removing thinking in the said process

  2. Team and organizational frameworks are troubled with many unnecessary components, unlike in a simple tradesman’s work settings and

  3. Education in universities are baselessly biased towards fields that are less productive in the long run.

ManualLabor and the Production Process

Manuallabor, as pointed out by Crawford, can be observed to be almosttotally eliminated from the workforce. He traces such elimination tothe supposed professionalization of each field, where people losespleasure in doing the basic tasks and instead, get caught up in theprestige of pursuing more glorified, and seemingly rewardingprocesses. This was explained in the following quotations from thebook saying that “anexternal reward can affect one`s interpretation of one`s ownmotivation, and interpretation that comes to be self-fulfilling. Asimilar effect may account for the familiar fact that when someoneturns his hobby into a business, he often loses pleasure in it” [CITATION Mat09 p 97 l 1033 ].

Ascited by Crawford, Brewer has said the according to Aristotle,pleasure is not a “separate sensory effect of our doings, but as anactive attention to our own unfolding activities complete orunimpeded” [ CITATION Tal09 l 1033 ].This can be interpreted to mean that in the context of Aristotle’sstatement, although in reality he is against manual labor, manuallabor can nevertheless be associated with pleasure, unlike what mostpeople suppose.

Themonetary reward of labor has taken on the most attractive post in theranking of careers because people became ultimately less appreciativeof the manual processes that come with industrial matters. Perhapsthis view can be traced from the time of the early Greeks whodeveloped were most notably known for their philosophicalcontributions to the world. Philosophers were basically pushing formore intellectual activities and as such, manual labor was lookeddown. Durant noted this as he said that in ancient Greece, “manualwork was then merely manual, and Aristotle looked down upon it, fromthe heights of philosophy, as belonging to men without minds, as onlyfit for slaves, and only fitting men for slavery” and adds that forAristotle, manual labor “dulls and deteriorates the mind, andleaves neither time nor energy for political intelligence” [CITATION Wil06 p 106 l 1033 ].

Thepoint of view of Aristotle and that of Crawford are at two extremeends. Considering the arguments they raised and the present settingsof industries, I am more inclined to side with Crawford. Hisarguments tend to be more practical and bring to scorn thesuperficial sentiments of Aristotle against manual labor.


Thereare many philosophers who have studied the subject of industrialbondage and regard many instances of work settings as a form ofbondage. While in the present America where people are said to enjoyfreedom, Crawford disagrees on the notion of freedom, consideringthat the neglect of manual labor results to bondage.

“We`renot as free and independent as we thought. Street-level work thatdisrupts the infrastructure (the sewer system below or the electricalgrid above) brings our shared dependence into view. People mayinhabit very different worlds even in the same city, according totheir wealth or poverty. Yet we all live in the same physicalreality, ultimately, and owe a common debt to the world”[CITATION Mat09 p 25 l 1033 ].

Thisstatement claims that only shop class industry offers trueindependence and freedom. In contrast to this, Crawford interpretsthe beauty of manual labor in that a manual laborer’s “treatmentof mechanical problems wasn`t divorced from the worldly situations inwhich they arise, and as a result [John Muir`s service manual onVolkswagens] is extraordinarily clear and useful. It has a humanquality, as well” [CITATION Mat09 p 81 l 1033 ].

Asto this argument, I am convinced of Crawford’s proposition becausenon-manual workers are truly easily paralyzed by external errors orindustrial malfunction. However, I still maintain even with theindependence of manual labor, it is nevertheless lesser in its impactbecause essentially, it involves a process of its own.

Educationin the University

Perhapsone of the best arguments raised by Crawford in the book is theseemingly baseless emphasis of universities on trades that only tendto develop only certain aspects of human activities which are notnecessarily connected with the improvement of the intellectualfaculties. While the great value of university education is beyondquestion, it is nevertheless important to direct the course ofeducation to proper destinations that would certainly result tobetter human development. This sentiment has been expressed byCrawford in his statement: “When the point of education becomes theproduction of credentials rather than the cultivation of knowledge,it forfeits the motive recognized by Aristotle: &quotAll humanbeings by nature desire to know”&nbsp[CITATION Mat09 p 44 l 1033 ].

One of the possible roots of the conflict that drew universities tofocus less on manual labor and more fields with superficialintellectual significance of is the dilemma attached to the conceptsof “intellectual labor” and “philosophical education” [CITATION Jos04 p 13 l 1033 ].Whilemost people do not see the conflict between the two concepts, thesaid concepts appear to be contrasting in the work setting becauseeducation, at times tends to sophisticate and even complicate thesimple procedures involved in business and trade. While it has beensaid that the “order of education is the mastery of language…whichis a means to mastery of the material world,” sometimes, the meansbecome more valuable than the end [CITATION Pet08 p 20 l 1033 ].


Therhetorical techniques used by Crawford in the book is persuasiveenough to make a reader contemplate on what is commonly regarded asthe best industrial settings. The author used reflection as a way ofinviting the readers to rethink and reanalyze concepts that hadalready been regarded as accepted by using a metaphor where“constructions of ‘the real’ are made persuasive” [CITATION Ric04 p 20 l 1033 ].This is shown in the following quoted statements:

Forhumans, tools point to the necessity of moral inquiry. Because naturemakes only ambiguous prescriptions for us, we are compelled to ask,what is good? If you give a young boy a hammer for the first time andwatch his face, you will see an awareness of this burden dawning onhim (as he turns to the cat, for example) [CITATION Mat09 p 65 l 1033 ].


Brewer, Talbot. The Retrieval of Ethics. New York: Oxfor University Press, Inc., 2009. Print.

Collins, Peter M. The Philosophy of Education of William Torrey Harris in the Annual Reports. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 2008. Print.

Crawford, Matthew B. Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work. London, England: The Penguin Press, 2009. Print.

Durant, Will. Story of Philosophy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006. Print.

Edwards, Richard, et al. Rhetoric and Educational Discourse: Persuasive Texts. London: RoutledgeFalmer, 2004. Print.

Pieper, Josef. For the Love of Wisdom: Essays on the Nature of Philosophy. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004. Print.