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Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Cooperation

Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Cooperation

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by Richard Sennett

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Living with people who differ—racially, ethnically, religiously, or economically—is the most urgent challenge facing civil society today. We tend socially to avoid engaging with people unlike ourselves, and modern politics encourages the politics of the tribe rather than of the city. In this thought-provoking book, Richard Sennett discusses why this has


Living with people who differ—racially, ethnically, religiously, or economically—is the most urgent challenge facing civil society today. We tend socially to avoid engaging with people unlike ourselves, and modern politics encourages the politics of the tribe rather than of the city. In this thought-provoking book, Richard Sennett discusses why this has happened and what might be done about it.

Sennett contends that cooperation is a craft, and the foundations for skillful cooperation lie in learning to listen well and discuss rather than debate. In Together he explores how people can cooperate online, on street corners, in schools, at work, and in local politics. He traces the evolution of cooperative rituals from medieval times to today, and in situations as diverse as slave communities, socialist groups in Paris, and workers on Wall Street. Divided into three parts, the book addresses the nature of cooperation, why it has become weak, and how it could be strengthened. The author warns that we must learn the craft of cooperation if we are to make our complex society prosper, yet he reassures us that we can do this, for the capacity for cooperation is embedded in human nature.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
"Cooperation can be defined...as an exchange in which the participants benefit from the encounter." Given that, what are the impacts of trends that reduce cooperation, such as class segregation in income and locales, temporary jobs in place of lifelong careers, and the "tribal" political divide? Citing current and historical sources, as well as providing numerous examples and anecdotes, NYU and London School of Economics sociology professor Sennett (The Craftsman) explores the origins of cooperation, the myriad factors that have led (and lead) to its erosion-making it "less open, less dialogic"-and its impact on society. Sennet argues that changes in the "social triangle...of earned authority, mutual respect and cooperation during a crisis," have resulted in an uncooperative character type who is becoming more common in modern society, one who-in search of "reassuring solidarity amid economic insecurity"-acts according to the "brutally simple" paradigm of "us-against-them coupled with you-are-on-your-own." Sennett concludes with skills that can enhance cooperation and community, citing a "repair" workshop as a useful metaphor for a cooperative society. Although Sennett's writing is engaging and he provides an interesting perspective on modern society, his final call for a commitment to community is a weak ending to an otherwise compelling study.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Washington Post
A whirlwind of big ideas. Sennett is a worthy warrior, armed with abundant evidence of our better natures.—Connie Schultz, Washington Post

— Connie Schultz

Zocalo Public Square

Winner of the Zócalo Public Square Book Prize, awarded by the Center for Social Cohesion

— Zócalo Public Square Book Prize

Selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2011 in the North America category

— Choice Outstanding Academic Title

The Independent
I envy any reader coming fresh to Sennett's work. Over four decades, his books have grown, volume by expert, companionable, readable volume, into a comprehensive diagnosis of the ailments of urban life and work, together with a series of hard-headed, historically rooted prescriptions for rescue and reform.—Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

— Boyd Tonkin

Washington Post - Connie Schultz

“A whirlwind of big ideas. Sennett is a worthy warrior, armed with abundant evidence of our better natures.”—Connie Schultz, Washington Post

The Independent - Boyd Tonkin

“I envy any reader coming fresh to Sennett's work. Over four decades, his books have grown, volume by expert, companionable, readable volume, into a comprehensive diagnosis of the ailments of urban life and work, together with a series of hard-headed, historically rooted prescriptions for rescue and reform.”—Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

Zócalo Public Square - Zócalo Public Square Book Prize
Winner of the Zócalo Public Square Book Prize, awarded by the Center for Social Cohesion
Choice - Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2011 in the North America category

Z�calo Public Square - Z�calo Public Square Book Prize

Winner of the Zócalo Public Square Book Prize, awarded by the Center for Social Cohesion
Zocalo Public Square - Zócalo Public Square Book Prize

Winner of the Zócalo Public Square Book Prize, awarded by the Center for Social Cohesion

Library Journal
In this second volume in a planned trilogy of works on key skills for everyday life, Sennett (sociology, New York Univ. and London Sch. of Economics; The Craftsman) explores cooperation—the craft of listening to, working with, and responding to others. He discusses the ways in which cooperation can be shaped, weakened, and strengthened in various types of exchange and ritual. Covering such wide-ranging areas as politics, labor, psychology, music, repair work, and religion, Sennett shows how the cooperative craft can be viewed from a surprising variety of angles. He argues that it is possible and indeed desirable to engage in dialogic interactions with others—listening to those who differ from oneself and attempting to understand them on their own terms, if not to become like them. The reader gains a new appreciation of cooperation and how it can be achieved and manifested in the complex human community. VERDICT This humane work is broad in scope and will be of interest to sociologists, political scientists, and curious readers seeking hope for pursuing a more cooperative society.—Elizabeth Winter, Georgia Inst. of Technology Lib., Atlanta
Connie Schultz
Sennett wants to alter the course of rising tribalism, which he defines as coupling "solidarity with others like yourself to aggression against those who differ." A mammoth undertaking, to be sure, but he is a worthy warrior, armed with abundant evidence of our better natures…Sennett makes a convincing argument…that human beings are flawed but full of potential. He encourages us to listen more and talk less, and to break down organizational silos of communication designed to exclude. He is an academic who celebrates whimsy, extolling the power of unscheduled moments when people thrown together…pause for informal exchanges…He is admittedly an aging sociologist who refuses to give up on people.
—The Washington Post

Product Details

Yale University Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt


The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation


Copyright © 2012 Richard Sennett
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-11633-5

Chapter One

'The Social Question'

Reformers in Paris Explore a Puzzle

A visitor to the Paris Universal Exposition in 1900 searched hard to find its most explosive exhibit. Out in the open, the Exposition sprawled over the vast Champ de Mars fairground in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, the tower painted a beckoning bright yellow; beneath it, stands displayed the very latest in flush toilets, machine guns and industrial cotton-looms. In the open air, officialdom celebrated 'The Triumph of Industry and Empire', but tucked away on a side street were cramped rooms devoted to reckoning the human issues raised by this triumph. The fair's organizers dubbed the side-space a musée social, a social museum, a Louvre of labour meant to show how capitalism gets its work done. The exhibitors described their rooms quite differently, naming the space La Question sociale – 'The Social Question'.

No modern museum curator would ever have mounted a show as these exhibitors did. A modern curator will pay a fortune for a canvas of dried human blood, this 'transgressive' object presented as somehow making a social 'statement'. The statements made in the Paris rooms came mostly in the form of documents and maps tacked up on the walls. One wall displayed Charles Booth's maps of poverty in London, 'the class relations of the city outlined, street by street, in bright washes of wealth and dark masses of poverty'. The Germans posted documents on the history-making coalition of labour unions and political parties represented by Ferdinand Lassalle's Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein (General German Workers Association, including both skilled and semi-skilled workers); the French hung up various pamphlets on social policy; mixed among government reports was testimony from various voluntary associations in local communities, most notably documents from the nascent Catholic Worker movement.

The American exhibit was the smallest. Much of it dwelt on race, a novelty of sorts for Europeans, who generally focused on class. In one corner of the exhibit visitors found pinned up a daunting statistical study by W. E. B. Dubois on the fate of African-Americans in the state of Georgia since the end of slavery. In another corner, the American room contained a tangible display of handiwork from the Hampton and Tuskegee Institutes, institutions training African-American ex-slaves to become artisans – artisans whose work together was no longed enforced by the lash of a master.

Though couched in dry language, all the exhibits in these rooms were meant to be provoking, and succeeded, at least in terms of visitor numbers. After the inauguration, tourists to the Universal Exposition wandered rather aimlessly among the flush toilets and industrial drills; but as attendance thinned out on the Champ de Mars, the alternative rooms swarmed with people packed together discussing and arguing.

The contributors to the 'Social Question' rooms and their arguing visitors shared a common enemy: the surging capitalism of their era, its inequalities and oppressions. They were convinced that raw capitalism could not produce a good quality of life for the masses. Yet the exhibits on the edge of the Champ de Mars did not dwell on this enemy in itself; this was a more adult forum than the modern curator's transgressive exhibit meant to elicit howls of shock, horror and rage. The Parisians had aptly named their project 'The Social Question'. How should society be made different? Socialist kitsch – happy workers singing while working for the revolution – did not figure among the answers; nor had proposals for reform degraded into simple media labels like 'fairness' or 'the big society' (as the British Left and Right have recently branded their politics).

The exhibitors did agree on a common theme. 'Solidarity' was the buzzword in these rooms; people debated what it meant. Solidarity named generally the connection between everyday social bonds and political organization. Cooperation made sense of this connection: the German's united labour union, the French Catholic voluntary organization and the American workshop exhibited three ways to practise face-to-face cooperation in order to bring about solidarity. The more radical among the Parisian exhibitors took these examples of cooperative activity as an invitation to think about the social in socialism.

We should dwell for a moment on that word 'social', for it was at this time undergoing a sea change in social thought.

Migrants at the end of the nineteenth century flooded into European cities, and immigrants to America left the Continent altogether. Industrialization created a geography of isolation wherever it took hold, so that vast numbers of workers knew little, inside the factory or at home, about people unlike themselves. Industrial cities were becoming internally more dense; the isolated classes were compacted ever more tightly. What could arouse mutual understanding among these people, who knew one another not even though they were pressed together?

Answering that question preoccupied Georg Simmel (1858–1918), who did not attend the musée social but avidly followed debates about the social question. His work was a radical enterprise that connected history, sociology and philosophy; his life exemplified a particular struggle with social relatedness. Jewish origins kept him out of German academic life until well into middle age; marriage to a Lutheran estranged him from his Jewish roots. He had good cause to see himself as marginal, though as a German bourgeois his marginality was not life-threatening. Still, he did not stew in this estranged state. He thought it to be the condition of modern man, and believed it contained a certain promise.

Modern social life went beyond the sheer pleasure people take in one another's company, which Germans call Geselligkeit. In a talk given in 1910 in Frankfurt, Simmel argued that this pleasure is universal, occurring in all human development, as the physical body-sports and rough-housing of children gradually modulate into friendly words shared in a bar or café. As he contemplated the arrival of ethnic immigrants, mostly very poor Jews from Eastern Europe, in Germany's midst, Simmel wondered what the intrusion of strangers would do to this playful, sociable pleasure. If living amid foreign bodies tamps down Geselligkeit, he thought, their presence can also deepen social awareness; the arrival of a stranger can make others think about values they take for granted.

Stranger-shock Simmel found strongest in big, expanding cities like Berlin. New stimulation constantly occurs in a city's streets, particularly in places like the Potsdamer Platz of his day where streets emptied their differing human contents into a concentrated centre. A celebrant of difference, Simmel thought his contemporary Ferdinand Tönnies – who equated 'the social' with intimate, small-scale community (Gemeinschaft) – wore blinkers; life with others is bigger, richer.

Yet awareness of others occurs inside the urbanite's head. The man or woman of the city, Simmel said, dons a cold, rational mask in public to protect him- or herself against the waves of stimulation coming from outside; if the presence of others is felt, the urbanite seldom shows what he or she feels. Packed densely together with strangers, seeing but not speaking to them, masked, modern man has taken a journey in the city from the universal, sociable pleasures of Geselligkeit to a subjective condition Simmel called 'sociality'.

Though this word is not ordinarily used in English, it has long existed in French, as socialité. In French usage, socialité includes the assurance people possess to deal with difficult or hostile situations, as when diplomats sit down at the negotiating table; they don an imperturbable mask, open to what others say but cool and calm, not instantly responsive. In this, socialité is a cousin to empathy, as described in the Introduction to this book. It too requires skill; the French link capable behaviour in difficult situations to savoir faire, a word with a larger compass than knowing which wines to order in a restaurant. To Simmel, the virtue of sociality is that it can run deep, rather than consisting just of casual impressions. He explains this by contrasting sociality to Verbindung, the German word for tying together, making whole again, healing. Sociality can have a tragic scope in recognizing those wounds of mutual experience that do not heal. What Simmel had in mind was brought home to me by a Vietnamese taxi driver who addressed a group of Americans returning to Hanoi twenty years after America's ill-fated war: 'We have not forgotten you.' He said nothing more and nothing less, he offered simply the acknowledgement of a painful connection rather than healing words. My companions, admirably, said nothing in return.

For all this, sociality is not an active reaching out to others; it is mutual awareness instead of action together. Sociality thus contrasts to solidarity. In Paris, the radicals debating the 'Social Question' took an opposing course to Simmel's thinking: they wanted to heal the cracks and separations in society through concerted action, they wanted Verbindung. A particular call to arms arose from the Dreyfus Affair in France, which began in 1894 with the trumped-up conviction for treason of a Jewish military officer, and from the election of the anti-Semitic Karl Luegar as Vienna's mayor in 1895. Many ordinary workers in both places turned against poor Jewish neighbours as well as against Jews higher up the social scale. Some radicals addressed this eruption by preaching toleration, which is a very Simmelian virtue; sociality asks you to accept the stranger as a valued presence in your midst. Others said toleration alone could not suffice; the working classes needed a more engaging, bonding experience, such as going on strike together for higher wages, to heal the ethnic breach.

The more vigorous meaning participants and visitors to the museé social gave to 'the social' did not, however, unify them. Their debates about solidarity raised two big issues. The Left divided between those who sought to establish solidarity top-down and those who sought to create it bottom-up; the centralized German labour union represented the one approach, the local American workshop the other. This divide led to a question about cooperation. The top-down activists thought about cooperation as a tool, a means, for realizing their political goals; to achieve political ends, discipline has to be imposed on face-to-face exchanges. Local activists working from the ground up worried about the power-games within their small organizations: who rules the group, who is accepted or excluded? The local activists wanted as much free participation as possible within the parish hall or on the street, even if this meant sacrificing a certain amount of discipline.

There were thus two versions of solidarity in these discussions, the one emphasizing unity, the other inclusion. These contrasts were not unique to the Left, nor do they belong just to the past. Movements of all political stripes have to decide whether to emphasize unity or more diverse inclusion, they have to cope with intra-group politics, they have to define the kind of solidarity they want. In the course of the twentieth century, the two versions of solidarity came to mark off what could be called the political Left from the social Left.


In Paris, activists on the political Left argued that you have to counter big power with big power; large political parties and labour unions are the only way to transform the capitalist beast.

Military organization served as one model for this radical politics. The very word 'militant' has, from the twelfth century, been used as a synonym for soldier of all sorts; during the Counter-Reformation the Catholic Church began to speak of itself as a militant organization at war with Protestants; in the early twentieth century the word came into colloquial use, in both England and France, to apply specifically to radical politics. Saint-Just's Institutes and Lenin's What is to be Done? are equally bloodthirsty radical tracts, but, at the end of the eighteenth century, Saint-Just likens the revolutionary most often to the policeman, whereas in the early twentieth century Lenin's language moves seamlessly between organized politics and warfare. As in an army, Lenin writes, radical discipline has to come from the top; solidarity requires surrender of self among the troops. Verbally, militant activism of Lenin's sort made the 'fetish of assertion' (discussed in the Introduction) into a virtue.

Because Marxism-Leninism so dominated the later history of state socialism, it might be imagined as identical with top-down politics on the Left, but that was not the case a century ago; in fact, top-down politics pitted many radicals against Marxism. They sensed, correctly, that Marxism would dwell on warfare against other Left parties rather than seek to cooperate with them. The publication of Karl Marx's Critique of the Gotha Programme, a pamphlet written in 1875, encapsulated this refusal to cooperate; the pamphlet attacked the nascent Social Democratic Party in Germany – the strongest Left organization in Europe – for being insufficiently revolutionary; the pamphlet managed to turn most friends into enemies, and remains a foundational text of fratricide on the Left.

For the German Social Democrats, as for French radicals rebuilding their political fortunes after Germany's invasion of France in 1870, solidarity required absorbing factions and splinter groups on the Left into a single whole. Collective bargaining on a national scale, seeking strength in numbers, was an invention of the later nineteenth century. It was intended to establish a common thread between people who did very different kinds of industrial and craft labour; however, many workers clung to the old guild ideal of a trade as something special, each trade having its own political interests. To overcome that disposition needed a measure of accommodation and compromise between groups; still, action on the national or European level sought to establish the main themes of struggle, leaving relatively minor variations of practice and belief to particular trades or local communities. Strength dictated organizational hierarchy. As Hannah Arendt has observed about German Left political parties based on union membership, equality of views within the organization was seen more as a threat than as a bond.

It's important not to make a cartoon of firm rule from the top. Ferdinand Lassalle and his followers were willing to engage in ferocious debate, but wanted to keep turf, strategic and ideological quarrels private so that in public they could present a united front. Any dialogic bouncing-off of views and lateral thinking, in public, seemed to spell political weakness to the national leaders, effectiveness in fighting the capitalist bosses requiring unity top-down. So they feared and suppressed people like Gustav Kessler (1832–1904), who argued for the primacy of local unions and political parties, each going its own, sometimes erratic, way.

The conditions of struggle made theirs an urgent view, as Samuel Gompers in America and the Fabian socialist Edward Coulson in Britain, both leading lights of labour organizing at the time of the Universal Exposition, knew only too well. These labour organizers were in the position of outnumbered soldiers, their right to protest unprotected by government, their strikers often violently menaced by employers and hired security forces, their unions occasionally betrayed by informers from within. Internally, wildcat strikes in Europe and America proved equally destabilizing to the movement, spontaneous rebellions lacking discipline and so fizzling out. In this climate of menace and disorder, solidarity had to entail both rigidity and fixed hierarchy; were the leadership to change constantly, acquired knowledge and experience would disappear; new officials would have to learn the enemy's ways all over again. This is one reason why union elections in the early decades of the twentieth century in America, Britain and France tended to return the same veteran cast of characters.

Most people in the rooms dedicated to the 'Social Question' could also draw on a memory which argued for clarity of purpose and disciplined action. This was the short-lived Paris Commune of 1871, which existed for a period of months after the fall of the empire of Napoleon III when the city was surrounded by the German army. During this siege, Parisians, with a shifting and weak cast of leaders, argued and voted about every aspect of daily life. Reports from within the siege speak of everyday acts of mutual help and support, as when the citizens peacefully shared out the animals in the Paris zoo for food; improvised acts of cooperation were no strategy for survival, however, and the German army, cheered on by the provincial bourgeoisie, soon brought an end to it. The Commune thereafter haunted the imagination of the European Left: its individual acts of generosity, its spontaneous mutual support, but also its inevitable doom.


Excerpted from Together by RICHARD SENNETT Copyright © 2012 by Richard Sennett. Excerpted by permission of Yale UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Richard Sennett founded and served as first director of the New York Institute of the Humanities and is now a professor of sociology at both New York University and the London School of Economics.

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Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Cooperation 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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