American Labor: “The Mind at Work” by Rose

Pages: 4
Words: 1016


The Mind at Work: Valuing the intelligence of the American Worker examines the mental aspect of work, which is sometimes considered mindless. Rose portrays waiters, hairstylists, plumbers, construction workers, welders, and car assembly line employees in vignettes. This academic and sophisticated work reads like a captivating novel. Reading his vignettes follows Marcel Proust’s advice of looking at the world of labor with fresh eyes. Rose observes a long history of contempt for individuals who make a career through physical work. This hatred makes people value blue-collar jobs with more dignity than technical jobs such as carpentry. While Rose tries to bring out the hidden prejudices towards the energy-demanding jobs, certain aspects of culture are portrayed. The following paper will show how art, social status factors, and history have been used to compare the reputation of technical workers against that of sedentary workers.


Art entails the visual object or experiences people have created by consciously expressing their skills or imaginations. Art can be expressed through painting, photography, installations, or drawing. Skill is evidenced by the various occupations that people hold, including carpentry, plumbing, or even electrical engineering in the current society. In the book, art is portrayed by the execution of the projects, such as display cases and kitchen cabinet projects which are the manifestation of carpentry art. For instance, he writes, “As students take on projects like the display case or the kitchen cabinet, they often find themselves at the current limits of their ability” (Rose 98). This part shows that technical jobs manifest art in the modern world. Additionally, Rose portrays skills in plumbing when he mentions, “It does look good, clean and tidy,” describing the magnificence that the plumbing students did on the toilet (Rose 100). The current art is modifying the traditional one through the addition of technology and more complex cognitive abilities such as material mathematics. Material mathematics allows plumbers, carpenters, and even electrical engineers to calculate dimensions, thus avoiding the wastage of materials, unlike traditional art.

Modern arts have given birth to professions capable of changing human hair into an elegant and meaningful piece of craft. Rose describes Vanessa, who works in a trendy salon in a job that entails cutting people’s hair in ways that display creativity. Rose displays in the styling hair professional, which is evidenced in other polytechnic professions, is the low space requirement. For instance, Rose describes Venessa’s salon as “a small barber’s chair by the window, where you’d imagine a breakfast table” (Rose 103). Despite low space requirements, hairstyling as a form of art leads to creating a sassy and freshened look, “She wants the cut freshened, wants it sassy” (Rose 104). Generally, modern skills have allowed the transition from traditional board painting to body art where parts like the head can be artistically shaved or plated, like in Venessa’s client’s case.

Social Status

Social status is the relative rank that a person holds when duties, attendant rights, and lifestyles are ranked based on the social hierarchy and the honor such individuals receive. His book shows that most people value white-collar jobs involving sitting in offices and scrolling computers and dislike those involving going to the field, such as plumbing. This type of social status is even evident in Polytechnique schools, such as those of plumbers, where Mr. Gunthier claims that most students do not like handling dirty toilets, “I know these boys don’t like to handle dirty toilets” (Rose 221). Rose describes the meetup between Taylor and Schmidt in the book, where the latter is a factory employee while the former is a science researcher. Taylor tries to offer Schmidt $1.85, claiming to have given him a privilege by adding some dollars higher than the usual $1.15 they receive in the factory, “Of course, you want $1.85 a day—everyone wants it” (Rose 220). This interaction shows how technical workers hold a low social status compared to white-collar jobs.


History is integral in any given culture as it holds numerous functions. One of the roles of history in a culture is to show how past societies’ ideologies, systems, and governments existed and how they changed. Rose illustrates the significant changes that happened to technical works, which helped workers form a distinctive picture of the proposed visual house, “and engineers developed a variety of picture books, charts, and model displays that classified and illustrated basic mechanisms” (Rose 124). When this history is traced, the growing complexity in technical professions can be appreciated as it is the same history that shows the incorporation of technology in these works. Currently, much of the technical work entails incorporating technology such as electronic clippers, which ease the work such as for those who work in offices. Rose appreciates the evolution of technology in vocational jobs when he states “The work that currently captures our fancy involves high technology, electronic media, and “symbolic analysis” (Rose 124). Generally, history can help individuals trace societal changes, such as introducing technology in the art that relied on basic mechanisms.


The Mind at Work: Valuing the intelligence of the American Worker presents art, social status, and history as some of the aspects of culture in various ways. The book portrays art by discussing the final products of carpentry and plumbing, such as toilets and cabinets. The book shows the contempt that individuals working in sedentary professions have for blue-collar jobs, indicating a lowered social status for the latter. The main lesson from the book is that both vocational and desk-bound jobs are equally important as both of them involve the use of technology and brains. History in the book has facilitated the tracking of changes in vocational employment, making these professions equal to the white-collar ones which use technology the most. Along with this lesson, this work of literature has changed my attitude towards vocational jobs as previously, I used to think they were not crucial as office jobs. Nevertheless, I can use this lesson to educate my colleagues in the healthcare profession that they need to treat patients from all occupations equally. This education can be during seminars or board meetings.

Work Cited

Rose, Mike. The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker. New York: Viking, 2004. Print.