Intellectual Craftsmanship

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On intellectual craftsmanship

C. Wright Mills

TO THE INDIVIDUAL social scientist who feels himself a part of the classic tradition, social science is the practice of a craft.  A man at work on problems of substance, he is among those who are quickly made impatient and weary by elaborate discussions of method-and-theory-in-general; so much of it interrupts his proper studies.  It is much better, he believes, to have one account by a working student of how he is going about his work than a dozen , codifications of procedure' by specialists who as often as not have never done much work of consequence.  Only by conversations in which experienced thinkers exchange information about their actual ways of working can a useful sense of method and theory be imparted to the beginning student.  I feel it useful, therefore, to report in some detail how I go about my craft.  This is necessarily a personal statement, but it is written with the hope that others, especially those beginning independent work, will make it less personal by the facts of their own experience. 1

It is best to begin, I think, by reminding you, the beginning student, that the most admirable thinkers within the scholarly community you have chosen to join do not split their work from their lives.  They seem to take both too seriously to allow such dissociation, and they want to use each for the enrichment of the other.  Of course, such a split is the prevailing convention among men in general, deriving, I suppose, from the hollowness of the work which men in general now do.  But you will have recognized that as a scholar you have the exceptional opportunity of designing a way of living which will encourage the habits of good workmanship.  Scholarship is a choice of how to live as well as a choice of career; whether he knows it or not, the intellectual workman forms his own self as he works toward the perfection of his craft; to realize his own potentialities, and any opportunities that come his way, he constructs a character which has as its core the qualities of the good workman. What this means is that you must learn to use your life experience in your intellectual work: continually to examine and interpret it.  In this sense craftsmanship is the center of yourself and you are personally involved in every intellectual product upon which you may work.  To say that you can 'have experience', means, for one thing, that your past plays into and affects your present, and that it defines your capacity for future, experience.  As a social scientist, you have to control this rather elaborate interplay, to capture what you experience and sort it out; only in this way can you hope to use it to guide and test your reflection, and in the process shape yourself as an intellectual craftsman.  But how can you do this?  One answer is: you must set up a file, which is, I suppose, a sociologist's way of saying: keep a journal.  Many creative writers keep journals; the sociologist's need for systematic reflection demands it. In such a file as I am going to describe, there is joined personal experience and professional activities, studies under way and studies planned.  In this file, you, as an intellectual craftsman, will try to get together what you are doing intellectually and what you are experiencing as a person.  Here you will not be afraid to use your experience and relate it directly to various work in progress.  By serving as a check on repetitious work, your file also enables you to conserve your energy.  It also encourages you to capture 'fringe-thoughts': various ideas which may be by-products of everyday life, snatches of conversation overheard on the street, or, for that matter, dreams.  Once noted, these may lead to more systematic thinking, as well as lend intellectual relevance to more directed experience. You will have often noticed how carefully accomplished thinkers treat their own minds, how closely they observe their development and organize their...
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