Sennett, Richard 1943–

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Sennett, Richard 1943–


Born January 1, 1943; married Caroline Rand Herron. Education: University of Chicago, B.A. (summa cum laude), 1964; Harvard University, Ph.D., 1969.


Home—New York, NY. Office—Remarque Institute, Judson Hall, New York University, 5 Washington Sq. N., New York, NY 10003. Agent—Lynn Nesbit, International Creative Management, 40 West 57th St., New York, NY 10019. E-mail—[email protected]; [email protected]


Sociologist, educator, and writer. Affiliated with New York University, New York, NY, beginning 1969—; professor of sociology, director of Center for Humanistic Studies, senior research associate of Center for Policy Research, and University Professor; London School of Economics, London, England, professor of sociology; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, Bemis adjunct professor of social sciences. Also fellow of Joint Center for Urban Studies, of Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1967-68; Speechwriter for U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy, 1968; visiting member of Institute for Advanced Study, 1973-74; guest scholar at Clare College, Cambridge, autumn, 1976; Sigmund Freud Lecturer at University of London, 1977; and Wissenschaft und Gesellschaft Professor, Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe Universitat, Frankfurt, Germany 1991. Work-related activities include codirector of Cambridge Institute, 1969-70; founder and director of Ford Foundation Urban Family Study, 1968-72; member of Agnelli Foundation Commission on Advanced Industrial Societies, 1974—; and member of board of directors of Community Crafts of Roxbury, 1965-67.


PEN (member of the board, 1977—), New York Council for the Humanities, Humanities Study Group (chair, 1975—), American Academy of Arts and Sciences (fellow), Royal Society of Literature (fellow), Royal Society of the Arts, Academia Europea.


Nominated for National Book Award, 1973; Guggenheim fellowship, 1973-74; National Endowment for the Humanities senior research fellowship, 1976-77; Amalfi and the Ebert prizes for sociology; has also received Woodrow Wilson fellowships and a French Embassy fellowship to France.


(Editor and contributor) Classic Essays on the Culture of Cities, Appleton (New York, NY), 1969.

(Editor, with Stephan Thernstrom, and contributor) Nineteenth-Century Cities, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1969.

Families against the City: Middle Class Homes of Industrial Chicago, 1872-1890, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1970.

The Uses of Disorder: Personal Identity and City Life, Knopf (New York, NY), 1970.

(With Jonathan Cobb) The Hidden Injuries of Class, Knopf (New York, NY), 1972.

(Editor) The Psychology of Society: An Anthology, Vintage Books (New York, NY), 1977.

The Fall of Public Man, Knopf (New York, NY), 1977.

(With Alain Touraine, T.B. Bottomore, and others) Beyond the Crisis-Society, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1977.

(Contributor) Essays in Honor of David Riesman, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1977.

Authority, Vintage Books (New York, NY), 1980.

The Frog Who Dared to Croak (novel), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1982.

An Evening of Brahms (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 1984.

Palais-Royal (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 1986.

The Conscience of the Eye: The Design and Social Life of Cities, Knopf (New York, NY), 1990.

The Hidden Injuries of Class, Norton (New York, NY), 1993.

Flesh and Stone: The Body and the City in Western Civilization, Norton (New York, NY), 1994.

The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism, Norton (New York, NY), 1998.

Respect in a World of Inequality, Norton (New York, NY), 2003.

The Culture of the New Capitalism, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 2006.

(Editor, with Craig Calhoun) Practicing Culture, Routledge (New York, NY), 2007.

The Craftsman, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 2008.

Contributor to professional journals and other magazines, including New York Review and Partisan Review. Member of editorial board of Theory and Society, 1974—, Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Science, 1976—, and Literature and Society, 1978—.


Richard Sennett's nonfiction writings on sociology have drawn enthusiastic reviews for being both readable and insightful. In his novels, too, he presents and explores complex sociological themes, placing them in colorful historical settings. Sennett synthesizes history, sociology, and the study of architecture in The Conscience of the Eye: The Design and Social Life of Cities, in which he traces the roots of urban alienation. In the book, he decries modern cities as sterile and dehumanizing, and argues that they are that way because of "a fear of exposure to human diversity and sensory experience"—a fear that has its roots in Protestant ethics, as Genevieve Stuttaford wrote in Publishers Weekly. Stuttaford described The Conscience of the Eye as "a radical, original rethinking of our relationship to the built environment."

Human life in urban spaces is again the subject of Flesh and Stone: The Body and the City in Western Civilization. In this work, called a "highly original, multidisciplinary history" by Booklist writer Donna Seaman, the author explores the relationship between a culture's view of the human body and its architecture. He uses as examples six cities at significant points in their history. Ancient Athens, where men walked naked to prove their strength and power, is notable for its open, airy building style. Similar relationships between attitudes about the body and prevalent building styles are pinpointed in Paris during the medieval and revolutionary eras, Renaissance Venice, Edwardian London, and contemporary New York. It is "a kind of sermon on the life of urban man, a meditation that combines anthropology, the history of medicine and the history of cities themselves," stated Peter Campbell in New Statesman. "To read it is to have a sharper sense of the causes of the eases, as well as of the diseases, of city life."

The dehumanizing aspects of life in contemporary America are analyzed in The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism. Sennett argues that while the modern workplace—with innovations such as flextime and team approaches to work—would appear to afford workers more dignity, such changes have really undermined their sense of self and, in a larger view, done serious damage to family and society. Values such as loyalty and perseverance have vanished, he believes, and although working conditions may be more physically comfortable, they are psychologically deadening. Numerous reviewers found the work challenging and original. Although admitting that it has its flaws, Matthew Budman declared in Across the Board that The Corrosion of Character is "thought-provoking and concise, a welcome break from jargon-heavy, consultant-generated fare, and it raises crucial questions about the impact of workplace flexibility." A Publishers Weekly contributor noted: "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."

Sociology heavily influences Sennett's novel Palais-Royal but does not detract from its value as an enjoyable novel, in the opinion of New York Times Book Review contributor Richard Holmes. Set in Paris and London during the mid-1800s, it features cameo appearances by numerous real-life characters in a story of two brothers, an architect and a priest, both caught up and transformed by the rapidly changing ideas and mores of the times. Holmes found that "the historical drama quickly strips down to severe and thought-provoking sociology," but added that "the novel does not lack life or color. It is exhilarating and amusing to read, with a brilliant surface. The reconstruction of pageantry and high performance, though external to the author's characters, is outstanding. This esthetic historian always writes with a zest." Holmes went on to write in the same review that descriptions of famous historical episodes "are all carried off with extraordinary panache. They leave one entranced and delighted."

In Respect in a World of Inequality, published in 2003, Sennett makes his case for the importance of a society based on mutual respect. Instead of the popular political notion that potential rather than need should be rewarded, which led to the dismantling of some forms of social welfare, the author presents his case that need is just as important as potential. In a blend of scholarship and personal memoir, the author makes his case for developing a system of social responsibility that addresses need across the gulf of inequality. Sennett looks at factors that undermine mutual respect and proposes a welfare system based on respect for those in need. He also examines the necessity for nurturing self-worth in an unequal society and how mutual respect can be an essential element in helping to form bonds across the inequality divide.

"This is an important book that reflects the temper of our times," noted Frank Furedi in the New Statesman. Writing about Respect in a World of Inequality, Nation contributor Linda Gordon, noted: "One might pick up this book expecting Sennett to see disrespect as another of the hidden injuries of class, or of other forms of inequality in power and privilege, but his argument is more interesting and quite counterintuitive to the left-of-center reader: that it might sometimes be easier to structure and practice respect across lines of inequality than among equals."

The Culture of the New Capitalism is based on lectures Sennett gave at Yale University in 2004 in which he surveyed major differences between earlier forms of industrial capitalism and the more modern form of capitalism typified by globalization and mutability. Sennett examines how changes in capitalism have affected everyday life, how the work ethic is changing, and how the boundaries between consumption and politics is dissolving. While the author recognizes that the new capitalism has vanquished many of society's old problems, he also explores how this new form of capitalism has brought troubles of its own.

"This is not a work you can take in at one sitting: partly because it is so packed with thought, partly because it is so profound and challenging," noted Madeleine Bunting in her review of The Culture of the New Capitalism, for the New Statesman. "I ended up full of admiration for the subtlety and originality of Richard Sennett's work." Monthly Labor Review contributor Michael Wald noted: "There is no suggestion in the book of a golden era when workers were productive and content, but the author does suggest that with the newly found freedom of the marketplace, workers must also find ways to overcome the social losses that come with this less structured, more economically based culture."

In his 2008 book, The Craftsman, Sennett examines the meaning of the craftsman and craftsmanship. Going beyond the typical skilled manual labor meaning of the word "craftsman" as applied to tradesmen such as carpenters, the author defines the craftsman as almost anyone engaged in doing a job well for its own sake. "His interest in the subject arises from his work as an academic sociologist, but this says only the barest minimum about his expertise," wrote Roger Scruton in the London Times. "He is at home in historical, philosophical and psychological literature, and has a lively interest in music, architecture and urban planning, all of which have influenced and broadened his conception of craft." Sennett's book examines the work of craftsmen from the past, such as Roman brick makers and Renaissance goldsmiths, through modern times, in which the author points to the craftsmanship of such professionals as doctors, computer programmers, and cooks. In the process, he ponders the connections between material consciousness and ethical values and challenges modern ideas concerning what constitutes good work.



Across the Board, February 1, 1999, Matthew Budman, review of The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism, p. 61.

American Historical Review, June, 1996, Robert Rotenberg, review of Flesh and Stone: The Body and the City in Western Civilization, p. 806.

Architectural Record, April, 1996, Andrew Anker, review of Flesh and Stone, p. 24.

Arena Magazine, June-July, 2006, review of The Culture of the New Capitalism, p. 46.

Booklist, September 1, 1994, Donna Seaman, review of Flesh and Stone, p. 10; December 1, 2002, David Pitt, review of Respect in a World of Inequality, p. 633.

Business Week, November 16, 1998, Patrick Smith, review of The Corrosion of Character, p. 30.

Commonweal, September 26, 1980, David Toolan, review of Authority, p. 541; May 17, 1991, Christopher Lasch, review of The Conscience of the Eye: The Design and Social Life of Cities, p. 336; February 26, 1999, Eugene McCarraher, review of The Corrosion of Character, p. 22.

Guardian (London, England), February 2, 2008, Richard Sennett, "Labours of Love."

Harper's, July, 1990, "Whatever Became of the Public Square?," p. 49.

History Today, January, 1997, Richard Mackenney, review of Flesh and Stone, p. 56.

Latin Trade, February, 2006, review of The Culture of the New Capitalism, p. 71.

Library Journal, May 15, 1980, David Gordon, review of Authority, p. 1171; December, 1986, Cynthia Johnson Whealler, review of Palais-Royal, p. 140; January, 1991, Bennett D. Hill, review of The Conscience of the Eye, p. 120; November 1, 1998, Susan C. Awe, review of The Corrosion of Character, p. 104.

Monthly Labor Review, July, 2006, Michael Wald, "The Culture of the New," review of The Culture of the New Capitalism, p. 57.

Nation, April 14, 2003, Linda Gordon, "Respectfully Yours," review of Respect in a World of Inequality, p. 34.

National Review, August 8, 1980, Joseph Sobran, review of Authority, p. 972.

New Statesman, November 18, 1994, Peter Campbell, review of Flesh and Stone, p. 55; February 10, 2003, Frank Furedi, "The Doubting Self," review of Respect in a World of Inequality, p. 51; March 13, 2006, Madeleine Bunting, "Loose Connection," review of The Culture of the New Capitalism, p. 52.

New York Review of Books, October 23, 1980, J.M. Cameron, review of Authority, p. 42; August 12, 1982, Robert M. Adams, review of The Frog WhoDared to Croak, p. 11; April 9, 1987, D.J. Enright, review of Palais-Royal, p. 24; April 25, 1991, Robert M. Adams, review of The Conscience of the Eye, p. 48.

New York Times Book Review, March 8, 1981, review of Authority, p. 35; June 27, 1982, Anatole Broyard, "In Praise of Contact," p. 3; March 24, 1985, Anatole Broyard, "Mothers, Fathers and Friends," p. 10; February 8, 1987, Richard Holmes, review of Palais-Royal, p. 14; March 3, 1991, Karal Ann Marling, review of The Conscience of the Eye, p. 3; October 1, 1994; October 16, 1994, Peter Laslett, review of Flesh and Stone, p. 35.

Psychology Today, May, 1980, Seymour Martin Lipset. Authority, p. 120; December, 1980, review of Authority, p. 126.

Publishers Weekly, March 7, 1980, review of Authority, p. 78; April 23, 1982, review of The Frog Who Dared to Croak, p. 86; April 6, 1984, review of An Evening of Brahms, p. 66; November 1, 1986; November 23, 1990, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of The Conscience of the Eye, p. 52; September 21, 1998, review of The Corrosion of Character, p. 62; October 28, 2002, review of Respect in a World of Inequality, p. 59.

Saturday Review, June, 1980, James Sloan Allen, review of Authority, p. 82.

Time, September 6, 1982, Otto Friedrich, review of The Frog Who Dared to Croak, p. 76.

Times (London, England), February 10, 2008, Roger Scruton, review of The Craftsman.

Whole Earth, December 22, 1997, J. Baldwin, review of Authority, p. 85.


London School of Economics & Political Science Web site, (April 10, 2008), faculty profile of author.

New York University Department of Sociology Web site, (April 10, 2008), faculty profile of author.