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Respect in a World of Inequality

Overview

The powerful case for a society of mutual respect.
As various forms of social welfare were dismantled though the last decade of the twentieth century, many thinkers argued that human well-being was best served by a focus on potential, not need.
Richard Sennett thinks differently. In this dazzling blend of personal memoir and reflective scholarship, he addresses need and social responsibility across the gulf of inequality. In the uncertain world...

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Respect in a World of Inequality

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Overview

The powerful case for a society of mutual respect.
As various forms of social welfare were dismantled though the last decade of the twentieth century, many thinkers argued that human well-being was best served by a focus on potential, not need.
Richard Sennett thinks differently. In this dazzling blend of personal memoir and reflective scholarship, he addresses need and social responsibility across the gulf of inequality. In the uncertain world of "flexible" social relationships, all are troubled by issues of respect: whether it is an employee stuck with insensitive management, a social worker trying to aid a resentful client, or a virtuoso artist and an accompanist aiming for a perfect duet.
Opening with a memoir of growing up in Chicago's infamous Cabrini Green housing project, Richard Sennett looks at three factors that undermine mutual respect: unequal ability, adult dependency, and degrading forms of compassion. In contrast to current welfare "reforms," Sennett proposes a welfare system based on respect for those in need. He explores how self-worth can be nurtured in an unequal society (for example, through dedication to craft); how self-esteem must be balanced with feeling for others; and how mutual respect can forge bonds across the divide of inequality.
Where erasing inequality was once the goal of social radicals, Sennett seeks a more humane meritocracy: a society that, while accepting inequalities of talent, seeks to nurture the best in all its members and to connect them strongly to one another.

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Editorial Reviews

The Guardian
“[Sennett] possesses a rare genius for getting into other people's heads and hearts.”
Leon Botstein
“Sennett has once again shown himself the master of interpretive sociology....provocative, insightful, and graceful in style.”
Barbara Ehrenreich
“It's a delight to spend time in the company of Sennett's astonishingly well-stocked and endlessly curious mind.”
Publishers Weekly
Novelist and sociologist Sennett (The Corrosion of Character) offers an unusual, well-intentioned, but frustratingly vague series of essays on fostering respect across barriers of social inequality. To tackle his subject, Sennett, who is affiliated with the London School of Economics and New York University, combines personal memoir, sociology, and deep reading in history and the social sciences. The first chapter is the best: a personal memoir of growing up poor and white in Chicago's Cabrini Green housing project, with a reminiscence of a "glass war," a game in which black and white children throw broken glass at each other; of becoming a proficient cello player only to lose his musical career to a hand injury; and of his early experiences as a sociologist. These stories vividly illustrate how difficult it is to respect oneself and others, particularly given race and class differences. But the rest of the book is too abstract and meandering to provide either sharp analysis or clear proposals. Sennett explores the meaning of the term "respect" and performs an inconclusive "inquest" on three ways of earning it: "make something of yourself, take care of yourself, help others." He argues against the current view that welfare bureaucracies should be dismantled and suggests ways in which the "relationship between society and character" might "lead people to treat each other with mutual respect." Throughout, Sennett's ideas seem tentative, in keeping with his stated view of this volume as an "experiment" providing neither "practical policies... nor a full-blown autobiography." The concluding section is headed "Instead of a Conclusion," and there are times when it seems he has written something instead of a book. Still, his efforts, while incomplete, succeed in provoking thought on a worthy subject. (Jan.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393325379
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/19/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,380,006
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Sennett teaches sociology at the London School of Economics and New York University

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