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Open Collection of Student Writing (OCSW)

“Blue-Collar Brilliance” and “Shop Class as Soulcraft”: A Rhetorical Comparison

Manual labor has consumed the life of the common man since time immemorial, which is why modern labor developments seem so strange. With jobs not directly related to production becoming predominant in the workforce today, negative stereotypes of craftsmen have taken hold in the minds of “white-collar” workers. This peculiar trend has evoked responses from Mike Rose and Matthew B. Crawford, both men with personal ties to the shrinking sector. In “Blue-Collar Brilliance”, Mike Rose refutes the assumption that blue-collar work requires little to no intelligence by giving examples of some of the thinking these workers do as a part of their jobs. Crawford’s “Shop Class as Soulcraft” aims to illustrate why working a trade is still a viable and fulfilling career, despite the trend towards automation of manufacturing. Crawford specifically writes his essay as a response to educators discouraging students from becoming craftsmen. Both authors address an audience who is unfamiliar with blue-collar work, a large part of which is likely white-collar workers. Although the audiences are the same, Crawford’s style is more appropriate for an educated audience, whereas Rose’s diction and logic is accessible to just about anyone. In these essays, Rose and Crawford both use personal examples and claims of fact to explain the values associated with manual labor. While Crawford effectively utilizes both devices to argue the merits of craftsmanship, Rose relies more heavily upon stories but fails to add any substance to his claims of fact.

Both authors effectively use storytelling to give examples of their points throughout. For Crawford, it acts as a secondary strategy through which he gives first-hand examples to better convey his thoughts. He gives two short accounts, the first being the first two paragraphs in the essay’s second section. Crawford uses information about his own experience as an electrician’s assistant to introduce his thoughts on the section “The Psychic Appeal of Manual Work.” He effectively builds off the story by adding different benefits craft can have, using statements in the story like “it was an experience of agency and competence” as a scaffold. The audience is smoothly transitioned from the examples he offers to the points he uses them to make. By doing this, his readers are better able to follow and understand his thinking. Crawford later uses an example of his motorcycle repair shop in a comparable way. It shows how he used practical knowledge and intuition when working with bikes, illuminating what he means when he says,There was more thinking going on in the bike shop than in the think tank.” Crawford may not have centered his paper around his stories, but he still used them in such a way that they fulfilled their purpose well.

In Rose’s case, his essay would have been nothing without his extensive storytelling. He begins his essay by remembering the bustling restaurant his mother worked in when he was growing up, which consumes the first two pages. This is a stark difference to Crawford’s more succinct style. He combines good imagery with a snapshot of his mother’s skill as a waitress to immerse his audience. Readers can visualize Rose’s mother work as though they were there themselves. This is an advantage, one that works especially well for accommodating readers who may not be familiar with formal language. In a similar fashion, Rose recounts his uncle’s duties and the thinking he used as a factory foreman. This passage functions to give the reader a quick synopsis of the mental tasks required of someone who is not typically considered to be intelligent, despite his impressive problem-solving ability.

Whereas Rose’s strength lies in good storytelling, Matthew Crawford draws upon claims and statements in a way that greatly benefits his essay. For example, Crawford states,And in fact, in areas of well-developed craft, technological developments typically preceded and gave rise to advances in scientific understanding, not vice versa.” Within context, Crawford uses this fact not only to state a trend, but to emphasize the importance of craft to the development of science. It acts as a sort of rebuttal to an implied argument that craft is useless to the advancement of science. This may appeal to certain readers who value science. They are reminded that it is often the practical man who discovers practical solutions to practical problems he finds. These discoveries are often more important than pure theory from inexperienced philosophers. Crawford also is able to communicate how he and others like him value their work. He says, “Shared memories attach to the material souvenirs of our lives, and producing them is a kind of communion, with others and with the future.” Through his claim of personal value and understanding, Crawford shares a potential reward he earns from his craft. This serves to tell his audience why craftsmen do what they do, and why the audience might want to consider doing it themselves. He uses claims like these to send effective messages to the audience.

Claims of fact and value is where Rose lacks the most. When Rose writes, “Although writers and scholars have often looked at the working class, they have generally focused on the values such workers exhibit rather on the thought their work requires- a subtle but pervasive omission,” it weakens his essay. This is because this statement of fact makes it seem as though he wants readers to significantly notice the mental work blue-collar workers do, but to the audience it may appear to be a meaningless thing to focus on. It makes Rose look like he is pushing an opinion of no real importance. It is inefficient to focus on the mental work service workers do because it is not their specialty. Another example is when Rose includes points about the numbers, math, and reading blue-collar workers encounter in their jobs, particularly on pages 6-7. His points begin to fall apart at this point in the essay because he is pointing out the obvious and pretending that his readers are oblivious to the fact that blue-collar workers use very basic everyday skills such as these. It may come across as insulting to the audience. The fact that Rose points out that these workers occasionally read labels and count is not a point he should have dedicated room in his essay for, especially two pages worth. It makes it look as though he has no real points to make, so he is improvising to place importance in something he cares about, but has no good reasons to support it.

In summation, Crawford’s essay holds together in a powerful manner, while Rose’s falls apart at the end. Rose’s biggest shortcoming was his naïve claims of fact that had nothing to offer the rest of his essay. It is also important to note that although Rose relied heavily on his lengthy stories, Crawford’s short alternatives hold similar value. When comparing the storytelling and claims each author used, it is clear that “Shop Class as Soulcraft” is superior to “Blue-Collar Brilliance”.

Works Cited

Crawford, Matthew B. “Shop Class as Soulcraft.” The New Atlantis. The New Atlantis, n.d. Web. 28 Mar. 2017.

Rose, Mike. “Blue-Collar Brilliance.” The American Scholar: Blue-Collar Brilliance Mike Rose. The American Scholar, n.d. Web. 28 Mar. 2017.

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