As if recovering from the binge of market triumphalism that crested in 2008, the Zeitgeist is now unleashing a steady stream of new works on cooperation. The rediscovery of this aspect of our humanity is long overdue and incredibly important, given the deformities of thinking that economics has inflicted on public consciousness. So I was excited to learn that the distinguished sociologist Richard Sennetthad written a new book about cooperation, Together: The Rituals Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation (Yale University Press).
The pleasures of a book by Sennett is its extreme erudition, lightly worn and combined with a thoughtful personal voice and political conscience. Sennett, now 69, teaches at the London School of Economics and New York University, after a lifetime of studying urban culture, class consciousness, labor and politics. Together eschews the social science jargon that imprisons so many of Sennett’s colleagues, offering an engaging, far-ranging and subtle meditation on how human beings learn to cooperate. He draws upon evolutionary science, sociological research, a life of field research, and his personal experiences as a celebrated political cosmopolitan.
The great value of Together is its creation of a fresh vocabulary for thinking more systematically about how cooperation occurs, and does not occur, in contemporary life. This is quite a radical act considering the general orientation of economics and public policy, which tend to presume that we are all individuals living in isolation, as disconnected libertarian monads. It's utterly false, of course, but we do not have a very developed or precise public narrative for asserting the opposite. Sennett supplies one.