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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Sennett, Arendt and who cares....

Back to Sennett's Respect in a World of Inequality....

Speaking today to a professional friend who (along with his spouse) has same strange interests in philosophy and its relationship to public administration, and in catching up on our various readings and work I mentioned I was reading Sennett and listening to shows on Arendt. As it turns out, my colleague and his spouse (both well known for their writings on the nature of public administration) are reading Arendt's "thinking diaries" (her daily "Denktagebuch" covering 1950-1975) which have been published in German.

And as it happens I am at that point in Sennett's work where he discusses Arendt's views of "caring without compassion" -- a position she takes in contrast to charitable forms of caring based on manipulative largesse, pity, self-redemption, etc. Those charitable forms of caring serve the ego of the provider and demean -- dis-respect -- the recipient, leading Sennett to associate advocates of "basic incomes policy" alternative to welfare (he cites Ackerman, Offe) with the Arendtian position. Sennett provides insights into Arendt's position that trace back to her dissertation on St Augustine, but as important he answers in part the question implied by Young-Breuhl's book, about why Arendt matters....

The discussion on Arendt is also tied to an interesting comparison of the contrasting social service philosophies of Mother Frances Cabrini and Jane Addams, which in turn raises issues about the gender-ification of social work (and government work in general) implied in the writing of Carol Gilligan and others who highlight the caring nature of the feminine. And having taken all that in, Sennett turns to a discussion of how modern bureaucracy fits into all this -- where is where I am at in Respect....

Stay tuned and I might actually be able to say something coherent (and even relevant) about all this. As much as I am engrossed by the book, Sennett's style and approach is an acquired taste (see here for a critique related to earlier work). But, hey, I also really like listening to Philip Glass....

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