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The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  1,166 ratings  ·  93 reviews
In The Corrosion of Character, Richard Sennett, "among the country's most distinguished thinkers . . . has concentrated into 176 pages a profoundly affecting argument" (Business Week) that draws on interviews with dismissed IBM executives, bakers, a bartender turned advertising executive, and many others to call into question the terms of our new economy. In his 1972 class ...more
Paperback, 176 pages
Published January 17th 2000 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 1996)
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This is something of a relook at the themes from Sennett’s earlier book ‘The Hidden Injuries of Class’. Except, in the years between writing that book and this one there have been fundamental changes in the way that work is organised in the US – and throughout the rest of the world too. These changes in how we work, how we are employed, the way teams work and have become more ‘networks’ have made significant changes to all aspects of life, not least to what Sennett refers to as ‘character’.

In th
Tom Ewing
Aug 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book was written in 1998, the year I entered the corporate world Richard Sennett describes, one of networked authority, teamwork, and above all "flexibility" in the face of relentless change. So I'm intimately familiar with much of what he discusses in this slim, bleak, but humane book - particularly the way the change and 'disruption' of globalism are presented as impersonal, irresistible forces.

The Corrosion Of Character is about what happens to people's sense of themselves in these condi
Let's talk about character. I'm a big believer in it -- in having character, trying to foster character in the world, and in the process, trying not to be too judgmental.

However, the term "character" is abused. Your parents tell you that you will build character when you have that first shitty job bagging groceries when you're 16 -- if anything, that job will do the opposite, and teach you the virtues of gaming the system, strategically avoiding work, knowing how to get on the boss' good side, a
Aug 09, 2009 rated it liked it
Richard Sennett’s influential 1998 book, The Corrosion of Character has important things to say about the nature of modern work. He has a theory, partly based on his own place in the generational scheme of life (as a baby-boomer) that tries to delineate normal and acceptable work patterns from the abnormal and unacceptable in terms of personal identity in the realm of work. What stands out in my mind in this study by Sennett is the provisional nature of work arrangements in today's economy and t ...more
Jun 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
Sennett may be a little too nostalgic about unions and hierarchical corporate structures and some readers will not like how he frames his arguments in relation to a few people he meets and interviews, but that shouldn't get in the way of his real achievement here: Sennett brings clarity to why the emphasis on teams and flexibility and leaders who don't take ultimate responsibility but let everything slide off of them confuses, depresses and, yes, corrodes the character of workers, many of whom w ...more
Rachel Bayles
Feb 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Worth the read. Multi-dimensional. Somewhat stream of consciousness. A quick and easy to digest introduction to an important topic.
Sep 18, 2007 rated it did not like it
Is there a better way to argue that the ridiculous material gains our ever-expanding economy has afforded us over the past 2+ decades are accrued at the unacceptable of crippling the human spirit than with a few poorly selected, hardly relevant anecdotes?

If there is, the author didn't seem to think it worth exploring. So, instead, we get tear-jerking stories of a woman whose colleagues didn't listen to her at an ad agency, or a guy who had held eleven jobs in eleven years out of college because
Rohith Jyothish
As a PhD student, you are always on the look for those books or papers that give you a proper perspective to think from. I had come across Sennett's work when Janaki Nair, who is a noted historian in India reviewed one of his books in a journal. Richard Sennett's 'The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism' is a book that makes you drop everything and stare at the ceiling for a few hours after. He travels from political economy to social theory to psychoa ...more
Carlos Luso
Jan 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
As a person who had multiple internships around the globe, it's amazing to see how the book accurately describes the current workplace. Fortunately, in Portugal, we are years away from this awfull regime. The future shows us that the workplace will not become better for its employees.
Sep 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a great book. No doubt about it.

I only have one problem with it. It tries to be a scientific book. It isn`t.

Methodological, this book falls through. The story is great, the ideas are, although not necessary new, interresting. None of this matter, when the collection of data (method) - is of such low quality. Why am I left with the feeling that most of the characters are created?

Why is this a problem? Science is based on observation and categorization of knowledge.

When Mr. Sennet constru
Anne Lee
Aug 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
An interesting and in depth look at how our personal and social lives are affected by the market place and how changes within it have diminished opportunities to develop character. Not character in the tv series sense - or character in the isn't that heavy drinker amusing sense but character in the sense that a person is able to discern long term good and the good as a whole and strive toward that not putting necessarily putting aside personal benefit but understanding the difference and make ju ...more
Timothy McCluskey
May 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Sennett is a remarkable thinker. He is spot-on in his observations on the emerging work force and its impact on community and family. We are forgetting the importance of 'social capital' in creation of wealth. Without the social relationship that form trust, the market culture collapses.
Andrea Olson
Aug 16, 2012 rated it did not like it

My little brother's math textbook was more interesting and better written than this. His writing was so dry and boring, I couldn't focus long enough to see the points he was trying to make. The title had such promise.
Titus Hjelm
Jul 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
A brilliant example of the sociological essay. Great read for all sociologists even if outside their own specialisation.
Bryce Doty
Apr 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
How do humans develop coherent narratives while working in the "New Capitalism?" That is the question Richard Sennet asks in this short sociology study. Sennet finds few satisfying answers to his question. Published in the late nineties, the struggles he identifies only seem more acute now. I struggled with this book. He identifies several features of "New Capitalism," flexibility, risk-taking, and challenges to work-ethic motivations, and goes on to explain how these challenge the ability of wo ...more
Aug 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: society

The world system seems to have found some ways to mask the corrosion of character the "liquid modernity" creates. With the emergence of social media, that have been useful to create a cultural identity for a generation, based on the global identity that have grown on the fertile land of a generation connected to the internet, watching same tv shows, looking similar, thinking similar and doing similar things. But the problem persists; in a world where cultural identity is the main variable o
Keith Akers
Mar 15, 2019 rated it liked it
"The Corrosion of Character" is a conversational and journalistic look at what work is doing to humans. It is less technical and systematic than something you would read in an academic journal. It is filled with insights and is a good counter-narrative to all the slogans that have been floating around the workplace, such as "teamwork!" and "we have to be flexible" and "we have to take risks" and "automation is the future," as well as the expectation that there is such a thing as "the work ethic. ...more
I found this book useful in highlighting the problems and challenges of the current mode of business and economic growth. That said, the book fails to address the “other side“ of the story from the point of view of the impact of big government, and dependency welfarism. However the following points were salient:

(1). The new transitory relationship between workers and company
(2). The drive for constant “transformation“ in business and its impact on workforce, loyalty et cetera.
(3). Devaluation of
Jacob Lehman
Jan 27, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: business
I wish there were more details/thesis here. The book starts out very strong, talking about the shift from predictable work to lack of predictability and also highlighting the drudgery/stultification that can come from specialization, but is short on prescriptions or insight into what proportion of contemporary workers achieve the promise of flexibility v. in years past, to be weighed against the disruption in one's life as well. It's also the case that specialization can apply at least as much i ...more
May 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Full of anecdotes and useful insights about the effects of the modern workplace on one’s sense of self-worth. Why we despise routine, the perils of the "flexible" work culture that has replaced it, the incomprehensibility of power structures that continue to exist even after traditional bureaucracy has been spurned, the superficiality of teamwork and the difficulty of acknowledging one’s limits, failures and dependence on others. All ideas that have been at the back of my mind but have lacked cl ...more
Ozum Arzik
Jan 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
I read it for the second time. worth pondering on yet again as a flexible self employed I must admit that I love my job and do not agree with him on some points
Mar 05, 2017 rated it liked it
A great book and one I needed to read. Not so much a pop science book on the new capitalism but more of a long essay on how to find meaning through our life's narrative.

Some quotes:

> His will has become static; he is trapped in the sheer assertion of values.

> He is a manager of process. His job, facilitation and mediation, can be, with enough savoir faire, divorced from outcome.

> The authors of the SCANS and similar studies are realists: they know the economy today emphasizes immediate performan
Katherine L
May 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
Anyone who has read any career website or even glanced at Linked In articles has probably become (over) familiar with the importance placed these days on teamwork, flexibility, broad networking, and personal branding.

Richard Sennett argues that this focus is a direct consequence of the way we now think about capitalism, and further argues that this mindset causes fundamental problems with the way we see ourselves. Put starkly, he suggests that the "older" virtues of character: loyalty, responsib
Bernard Leckning
Jul 15, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: sociology
The reviews here as elsewhere are quite derisive of Sennett's methodology - or lack of it. In "The Fall of Public Man", where he adopts a similar approach to a different subject, Sennett is clearer about his somewhat unorthodox methods - "postholing", as he calls it, is a way of illustrating something more general by looking in depth at a particular phenomenon. In fact, there's nothing terribly unorthodox about this, other than Sennett does not seem to feel compelled to explain or follow his met ...more
Jul 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book presents a series of related essays on the negative influences of the "new capitalism" - by which is meant a range of changed behaviors by originally British and American firms but now increasingly European and Asian firms that focus on rationalizing the workplace and breaking down more traditional aspects of social organization, organizational culture, and climate - although the phenomena are known by other names. The overall punchline of the book is downsizing, outsourcing, deskillin ...more
Aug 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The Corrosion of character is a fascinating book, though more, as the author confesses, an extended essay of source with a single over-riding thesis; that the change to 'flexible' work conditions in the workplace results in the erosion of traditional markers of character. That people can no longer find definition and narrative in their working lives because those lives are both divorced from what they do(i.e. Bakers now press buttons on a windows based machine, they have no connection to the act ...more
Sep 16, 2015 rated it liked it
Some compelling ideas about how neoliberal capitalism is leading to complications in how people see themselves and narrate their own lives. Narration of life seems to be the key sociological focus point of the book, but Sennett never really explains why narration is so important, and why a more fractured narration is such a bad, unmanageable thing. The book was published in 1998, so it looks make to the pre-Reagan 20th century as the past that is corroding. Macro economics, the working life, and ...more
Jerry Peace
May 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wish I would have read this in '98. Loyalty to employer- "The modern culture of risk is peculiar in that failure to move is taken as a sin of failure, stability seeming almost a living death. The destination therefore matters less than the act of departure. ...To stay put is to be left out." And age- "The current conditions of corporate life are full of prejudices against middle age, disposed to deny the worth of a person's past experience....arguing that older workers have inflexible mind-sets ...more
This book is fifteen years old now but it still describes the slippage of "person" from the work place and the damage that the process does/has done to human beings. Sennett suggests some possible responses; he is not naive enough to believe that we can go back to something more "true/stable/real". Sennett talks about the "leaderless" work group and how that concept and the concept of the need for constant change and risk-taking has changed who we are. He doesn't bother arguing about the rightne ...more
Jul 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
work in the new capitalism… by Richard Sennett
I found it an interesting read about how people are finding it hard to cope with the way work is being presented and the worship of youth over older and experience. Flexibility is one thing but feeling valued in your job and that there is some security is another.

It isn't really my area of expertise but I did find it interesting to read and it did solidify some of my ideas about how work is going.
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Richard Sennett has explored how individuals and groups make social and cultural sense of material facts -- about the cities in which they live and about the labour they do. He focuses on how people can become competent interpreters of their own experience, despite the obstacles society may put in their way. His research entails ethnography, history, and social theory. As a social analyst, Mr. Sen ...more

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“Who needs me?” is a question of character which suffers a radical challenge in modern capitalism. The system radiates indifference. It does so in terms of the outcomes of human striving, as in winner-take-all markets, where there is little connection between risk and reward. It radiates indifference in the organization of absence of trust, where there is no reason to be needed. And it does so through reengineering of institutions in which people are treated as disposable. Such practices obviously and brutally diminish the sense of mattering as a person, of being necessary to others.” 3 likes
“Who needs me?” is a question of character which suffers a radical challenge in modern capitalism. The system radiates indifference. It does so in terms of the outcomes of human striving, as in winner-take-all markets, where there is little connection between risk and reward. It radiates indifference in the organization of absence and trust, where there is no reason to be needed. And it does so through reengineering of institutions in which people are treated as disposable. Such practices obviously and brutally diminish the sense of mattering as a person, of being necessary to others. It could be said that capitalism was always thus. But not in the same way. The indifference of the old class-bound capitalism was starkly material; the indifference which radiates out of flexible capitalism is more personal because the system itself is less starkly etched, less legible in form.” 3 likes
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