An Interview with Matthew Crawford: An Interview with Matthew Crawford, Author of Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work. the Book Is about His Experiences as a Philosopher (He Holds a Ph.D. in Political Philosophy) Turned Motorcycle Mechanic

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An Interview with Matthew Crawford: An Interview with Matthew Crawford, Author of Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work. the Book Is about His Experiences as a Philosopher (He Holds a Ph.D. in Political Philosophy) Turned Motorcycle Mechanic


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ACTE: Could you please tell us the premise of your book?

MC: I'd say it's an attempt to speak up for the honor of the manual trades and say that that kind of work can be worth choosing.

ACTE: What are some of the factors that caused you to make such a dramatic career change, and to write this book?

MC: I've had a lot of different kinds of jobs. I've worked in an office, and I've worked as an electrician and mechanic. And the book grows out of an attempt to understand why I've always preferred doing work that is concrete. The office jobs that I've had I got because of my academic credentials, yet all of those jobs were dumbed-down in one way or another, to the point that doing the job often required me to actively suppress nay own ability to think.

But in working as an electrician or as a mechanic, the physical circumstances in which you do the job really wary too much for your role to be reduced to just following a set of procedures. It always requires improvisation and adaptability.

ACTE: Please describe the most challenging aspects of your job.

MC: The aspects that are most challenging are most rewarding. In fixing motorcycles, either the bike starts and it runs right, or it doesn't. And if it doesn't, you can't spin a cover story that makes it okay. So it's challenging in that sense. But by the same token, when you get it right and some bike that hasn't run in years fires up, it's a powerful experience of validation.

ACTE: What do you believe are some of the factors in the decline of manual jobs such as yours?

MC: Manufacturing jobs have certainly been hurt, but the trades have a very different outlook. Thirty years ago we learned that anything that can be put on a container ship is going to be manufactured wherever labor is cheapest. And for the last 10 years, we've been learning that a similar logic applies to the products of intellectual labor that can be delivered over a wire. So accountants, programmers, architects, even radiologists are now competing with people overseas who are well-educated and speak very good English. But, as one economist points out, "You can't hammer a nail over the Internet." Similarly, the Indians can't fix your car. So the point seems to be that any job that has to be done in person or on site is safe from that logic of outsourcing, so the manual trades are relatively secure, compared to many other jobs.

ACTE: What do you feel are important steps to take in changing the stigma associated with hands-on technical careers?

MC: I think a lot of people assume that if the work is dirty, it must also be stupid, and they don't want their children to go into it. We seem to have developed what you might call an educational monoculture that's tied to a vision of what kind of work is valuable and important. So everyone gets herded into a certain track where they end up working in an office, regardless of their natural inclinations. But some people, including some who are very smart, would rather be learning to build things or fix them. …

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