More on conditions of work: guilds and industrial revolutions

by CarlD

As the last major profession organized on the medieval guild model (masters, journeymen, apprentices), academia is now going through an Industrial Revolution of its own. In the 17th-18th century, the guild system fell apart completely because the proliferation of journeymen meant that few would ever become masters, although the system was based on the assumption that they would. The result was the proletarianization of the journeyman class and the disappearance of the independent masters. This is precisely what’s happening in academia now. Any distaste we may have for this process is just a form of misplaced bourgeois aspirationism.

From Greg A (of Slawkenbergius), buried in the comments of an old post.


9 Responses to “More on conditions of work: guilds and industrial revolutions”

  1. Once in a while I’ll run into earlier versions of myself online and I’m struck by their utter contempt for the things people tell themselves to make life bearable, true or not. I don’t think I’d have the capacity to write a sentence like the last one there now.

  2. You’re my kind of hemorrhoid.

  3. Carl, Greg, what Greg has written hear is perfectly in tune with remarks about the guild structure of academia that Keith Hart has made on the Open Anthropology Cooperative. May I have your permission to cross-post, if you don’t want to do it yourselves?

  4. Er, this is me, sorry.

  5. Oh, ouch. How worryingly true that do sound…

  6. Ayup. As it happens there’s an interesting discussion of the guild at work (in which no one seems clear on Greg’s point here) going on now at Crooked Timber, re: whether and how History dissertations should be available online.

  7. Of late we can observe distinctly that the German universities in the broad fields of science develop in the direction of the American system. The large institutes of medicine or natural science are ‘state capitalist’ enterprises, which cannot be managed without very considerable funds. Here we encounter the same condition that is found wherever capitalist enterprise comes into operation: the ‘separation of the worker from his means of production.’ The worker, that is, the assistant, is dependent upon the implements that the state puts at his disposal; hence he is just as dependent upon the head of the institute as is the employee in a factory upon the management. For, subjectively and in good faith, the director believes that this institute is ‘his,’ and he manages its affairs. Thus the assistant’s position is often as precarious as is that of any ‘quasi-proletarian’ existence and just as precarious as the position of the assistant in the American university. – Max Weber, “Science as a Vocation” (1918/9)


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