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Contact: Jo Procter, college news director; phone: (413) 597-4279; e-mail

Craft & Consciousness: Experiencing and Studying Work in New York City

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., Nov. ?, 2005 — How does your job shape the way you think? Relate to people? Approach the ethical issues and dilemmas that inevitably arise in every profession?

The “Craft & Consciousness” course offered during the fall semester as part of the Williams in New York program encourages students to examine and wrestle with these and other questions that arise in the world of work.

“I feel that there is very often in people’s minds and in people’s experience a disconnect between schooling and work in the world,” said Williams College Sociology and Public Affairs Professor Robert Jackall. He is director of the Williams in New York program and teaches the Craft & Consciousness course.

“One of the broader purposes of the whole program and of this particular to show people that education is a continuous process, that one can learn at an intellectual level from the work that one does,” Jackall said. “And the way of getting that is by looking at how people work and how that work shapes them.”

Williams in New York is a one-semester experiential education program combining immersion in fieldwork with traditional scholarship and contemplation. Each of the six Williams in New York students this semester have field placements in which they do some work traditionally associated with interns but also have the opportunity to get much broader exposure to the organizations in which they are placed. Placements range from Dodgers Theatrical to ABC News Special Events to the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

“One of my own professional interests is precisely ‘How does craft shape consciousness?’ ” Jackall said. “I’m teaching them to treat occupations/organizations as a field site and therefore to study the structure of the organization, the authority relationships, the social interactional styles, the kinds of personalities that emerge and on which premiums are placed and so on. All of these are the questions that they’re asking.”

Lily Gray, ’07, is working at the Manhattan Institute, a think tank. “I am getting a better sense of the relationship between the individual and his work,” she said. “At the same time that occupations can attract certain types of people, they exert a shaping influence on the people who live in them. There is a reciprocal process of the individual defining the craft and the craft defining the individual.”

Craft & Consciousness expands on this fieldwork through a discussion seminar hosting men and women from a wide range of professions, many of them Williams graduates. Speakers have included independent filmmaker Robert Margolis, ’78; businessman Herbert A. Allen, ’62; and John Kifner, ’63, senior correspondent for The New York Times.

“I interview these people in public with the students,” Jackall said. “And the students then get engaged in the conversation, to talk about [the speakers’] work and how their work has shaped them, usually by focusing on the dilemmas that their work poses for them.”

“The second purpose of the seminar is to draw alumni and alumnae of Williams College into the ongoing intellectual work of the institution,” he added. “And one of the questions I always ask is ‘How did your liberal arts education affect your career?’ ”

Jackall hopes to get the Williams in New York students thinking about their remaining time in college, deepening their self-understanding and developing enduring habits of mind that will serve them well during their careers.

These seminars take place at the Williams Club in Manhattan, where the Williams in New York program is based. The students live on the top floor of the Club. Often Williams alumni and alumnae who are passing through the Club attend and participate in the discussions.

W. Christine Choi, ’91, attended the seminar featuring Detective Mark Tebbens and Detective Garry Dugan of the New York City Police Department.

“I was thankful for the opportunity to listen in.,” she said. “The detectives' testimonials gave me tremendous insight on — and opened up fresh questions about — the nature of investigation and memory and the balance of truth-seeking with getting the job done.”

The three other courses that students in the Williams in New York program are taking include “Fieldwork in New York,” mentioned above. For this course, Jackall has set up field placements in the three areas of studies offered by Williams College: Humanities and the Arts, Social Sciences, and the Medical Sciences and Public Health. Students are also taking “Arts and the City,” taught by Professor of Arts and Theatre Jean-Bernard Bucky, and “Slow Motion Riot: The Social Life of the Metropolis,” taught by Visiting Professor of Sociology Philip Kasinitz.

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