Richard Sennett

How I write: Sociology as Literature

Verleihung des Gerda Henkel Preises 2008

Gerda Henkel Vorlesung
Herausgegeben von der Gerda Henkel Stiftung

2009, 92 Seiten, 6 Beiträge, 36 Abbildungen, Alle Beiträge in deutscher und englischer Sprache, broschiert/Fadenheftung
2009, 92 pages, 6 essays, 36 figures, All articles printed in German and English, paperback/sewn

ISBN 978-3-930454-93-8
Preis/price EUR 12,40

16,5 × 24cm (B×H), 300g

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Aus dem Inhalt / from the book:

Zum Autor

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Der am 1. Januar 1943 geborene, heute in London und New York als Professor lehrende Richard Sennett ist in Chicago aufgewachsen. Mit großer Konsequenz ist er immer wieder der Frage nachgegangen, wie ein erfülltes Leben angesichts der Auflösungstendenzen moderner Gesellschaften möglich ist. Zwei zentralen Lebensbereichen widmet Sennett besondere Aufmerksamkeit, der Stadt und der Arbeit.

Unter dem Titel How I write: Sociology as Literature (Wie ich schreibe: Soziologie als Literatur) beschreibt Sennett seine wissenschaftliche Disziplin, was handwerklich gutes Schreiben ausmacht. Reflexionen über schriftstellerische Fertigkeiten verbinden sich bei ihm mit Analysen der umfassenderen Geschichte der Gesellschaft. Entstanden ist ein sehr persönlicher Text, der eigene Erfahrungen ebenso einschließt wie Bezüge auf akademische und literarische Vorbilder.

Im Jahr 2008 hat Richard Sennett den Gerda Henkel Preis erhalten, den die Gerda Henkel Stiftung in zweijährigem Turnus für herausragende Forschungsleistungen auf dem Gebiet der Historischen Geisteswissenschaften vergibt. Der vorliegende Band enthält u.a. die Laudatio des Germanisten Wolfgang Frühwald, der den ungewöhnlichen Lebensweg des Soziologen und die Konsequenzen für dessen Kritik an gegenwärtigen Gesellschaftsformen schildert und auf den Stilisten Sennett eingeht.

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Zum Geleit / Foreword
Julia Schulz-Dornburg

Grußwort / Preface
Annette Schavan

Begrüßung / Welcoming remarks
Michael Hanssler

Bericht der Jury / Report of the Jury
Ralf Dahrendorf

Laudatio / In honor of Richard Sennett
Wolfgang Frühwald

How I write: Sociology as Literature /
Wie ich schreibe: Soziologie als Literatur (Gerda Henkel Vorlesung)

Richard Sennett

Richard Sennett
Vita, ausgewählte Publikationen / Vita, Selected Publications

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I want next, therefore, to talk about the craft of social writing. What I'm going to describe to you are issues drawn from my own experience - I certainly would not hold myself up as a shining example of writing well, and certainly there are many other solutions to the problems of expressive writing than those I've found. But the problems themselves, I would claim, are generic to socially minded literature.


Today, many social scientists are menaced by exclusion from this public realm, due to their feeble powers of expression. This feebleness is not simply a personal failing. The history of academic institutions seeking to protect their freedom, the specialization and bureaucratization of knowledge, are general sources of intellectual isolation; the feebleness of shared intelligence is but one tangible result. The depth of what researchers know becomes incommunicable, due to a lack of expressive tools; the public is left with the husks, the surfaces of knowledge.

All writing is political just in the way a writer relates to readers. I've noted with dismay that when social scientists attempt to address the general public, they tend to survey and to simplify; that is, to talk down; that is, to condescend. The reader is excluded from being a critical partner in the writer's own thinking - whereas da las Casas, Montesquieu, and Tocqueville treated their readers more as equals. The politics of talking down to the reader evinces also an error in the understanding of writing itself.


Life histories and collective history do not possess this literary property. Individual life-histories are often incoherent, a jig-saw of parts which do not fit together; collective histories may not accumulate in value. To give you an example of each: Many of the workers I've interviewed in the new economy have short-term jobs rather than long-term careers, obliged to change what they do and where they do it by global forces beyond their control. Though they work very hard they lack a coherent narrative about the work itself. Lack of accumulated meaning is something I noted most recently in interviewing go-go financial managers in New York; the collapse of firms like Long-Term Capital Management a decade ago or the bursting of the dot-com bubble a few years after has made little impress on these managers, their behavior neither conditioned nor conditioned by prior disasters - the collective history did not accumulate in value.


I have tried to show, through these techniques of voicing, narrating, stimulating curiosity, and symbol-making, how the writing of social literature is a craft. As in any other craft, inspiration is no guide, nor in this particular craft will humanistic empathy suffice. The social writers I particularly admire - Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, and Michel de Certeau - write quite differently from each other, yet all share an essential ethos of craftsmanship. All established a set of practices for their prose, but these practices evolved in the course of their careers; they could be thus make discoveries, rather than just demonstrate skill. All craftsmanship should have that aspiration; good technique is not a fixed, closed system.

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Sie finden Live-Videos des Vortrags von Richard Sennett wie auch der Laudatio von Wolfgang Frühwald vom Abend der Verleihung des Gerda Henkel Preises (10. November 2008) auf der Website der Gerda Henkel Stiftung [Klick zum Video]. Der Vortrag ist in englischer, die Laudatio in deutscher Sprache

You can watch live videos of Richard Sennett's lecture as well as Wolfgang Frühwald's speech in honor of Sennett from the evening of the presentation of the Gerda Henkel Award (November 10, 2008) on the Gerda Henkel Foundation website [click for the video]. The lecture is in English and the speech is in German.

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Zum Autor:

Geb. am 1. Januar 1943 in den USA; 1961 Studium an der The Juilliard School of Music, New York; 1964 Bachelor of Arts (BA), University of Chicago, Chicago; 1969 Promotion (PhD), Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 1969-1974 Kodirektor des Cambridge Institute, Direktor von The Urban Family Study, The Cambridge Institute, Cambridge, MA; 1975-1984 Gründer und Direktor des New York Institute for the Humanities; 1989-1993 Vorsitzender des Advisory Committee on Cities, International Social Science Council, Vorsitzender des International Committee on Urban Studies der Vereinten Nationen des Development Programme der UNESCO, seit 1998 Vorsitzender des Cities Programme an der London School of Economics, Professor für Soziologie und Kulturwissenschaften und Akademischer Direktor an der London School of Economics, Professor für Soziologie und Professor für Geisteswissenschaften an der New York University, Fellow des Council on Foreign Relations (USA), der Royal Society of Arts (Großbritannien), der European Academy, der American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Frankreich), Fellow der Royal Society of Literature (Großbritannien)

Ausgewählte Publikationen: The Fall of Public Man, New York: Knopf, 1974/1977. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977; Authority, New York 1980. London: Secker and Warburg, 1980; The Conscience of the Eye. The Design and Social Life of Cities, New York 1990. London: Faber and Faber, 1991; Flesh and Stone: The Body and the City in Western Civilization, New York - London 1994; The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism, New York - London 1998; Respect in a World of Inequality, New York 2003; The Culture of the New Capitalism, New Haven 2005; The Craftsman, New Haven - London 2008.

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