Everyday Aesthetics and 5S (part one)

Taking inspiration from Saito’s book (Yuriko Saito, “Everyday Aesthetics”, 2007), I would like to emphasize that there are two aesthetic categories: the Western traditional and philosophical concept of the beauty given us by art and the sublime, such as Rembrandt, Bach or Michelangelo, while in the East such a grand-scale aesthetics has been less conspicuous and everyday aesthetics is more “fit” for ordinary life.

We are always engaged in preserving the environment, starting from our own bodies, making tidy our room or desk, our little garden, our city or country. In Toyota, a method called “5S” (Seiri Seiton Seiso Seiketsu Shitsuke) has been conceived to give a methodology to factories and operational areas to keep tidy one’s work environment.  A periodical check can keep track of the progress (or regress) and we can be satisfied or not of the situation.

What is remarkable here is that the ideogram 躾 (Shitsuke-Self-discipline) is made of two modules, with a left part indicating the body, and the right part meaning “beauty”.  In the Chinese character (kanji) for “discipline” it is already written that a self-disciplined person has a “nice body”.  Think of a well-trained athlete or a swimmer: his or her body is nice to see, since the harmony of the muscles and the movements during the competition make us perceive a moment of beauty expressed by the body and its movements. In this case we could talk of an embedded and built body, which is different from simple body building, because a well trained body is functional to something, not only for the joy of self-admiration.

Of the five “S”, the most difficult is the last one, and while the other four “S” are instrumental to clean and tidying up a place o situation, the shitsuke is directed towards our inner self, not the work place.  It is subjective, not objective, and here the tacit knowledge of the worker and his will come on the surface.  A self-disciplined artisan, or a skilled worker is self-disciplined and needs few external control and direction.

Mary Douglas, in her book “Purity and Danger” (Routledge, 2002)  says that “dirty” and “messy” are context dependent and culturally constructed (Saito, p.154).  The concept of “dirt” is constructed upon some kind of ordered system: dirt is something “out of place”.  “In our modern society, dirt avoidance is a matter of hygiene or AESTHETICS” (emphasis added).  In other terms, we construct everyday aesthetics qualities out of our culture and hygienic concepts.

Later on, Mary Douglas built a Cultural Theory of Risk, which asserts that structures of social organizations endow individuals with perceptions that reinforce those structures in competition against alternative ones.

“Two features of Douglas’s work inform the basic structure of Cultural Theory. The first of these is a general account of the social function of individual perceptions of societal dangers. Individuals, Douglas maintained, tend to associate societal harms—from sickness to famine to natural catastrophes—with conduct that transgresses societal norms.
This tendency, she argued, plays an indispensable role in promoting certain social structures, both by imbuing a society’s members with aversions to subversive behavior and by focusing resentment and blame on those who defy such institutions.

The second important feature of Douglas’s work is a particular account of the forms that competing structures of social organization assume. Douglas maintained that cultural ways of life and affiliated outlooks can be characterized (within and across all societies at all times) along two dimensions, which she called “group” and “grid.”
A “high group” way of life exhibits a high degree of collective control, whereas a “low group” one exhibits a much lower one and a resulting emphasis on individual self-sufficiency.
A “high grid” way of life is characterized by conspicuous and durable forms of stratification in roles and authority, whereas a “low grid” one reflects a more egalitarian ordering.”

Regarding the first feature, the mayor of Tokyo, immediately after the March 11th Tohoku earthquake in Japan said that it was a “Heaven punishment”, and he had to withdraw the assertion the day after. In Japanese culture, as well as in many others, there is the saying 行いがいい(okonaiga ii)or 行いが悪い(okonaiga warui, which means “the Behavior was good (or Bad), therefore this happened (to you or me).

The second feature of Douglas’s work tells us about control, collective or individual, and of ordering within that particular society.

I think that in modern society various forms of control and ordering coexist, and that the competition of one group or another is to be studied in well-chosen boundaries.  The profit-oriented organization is one of these, as well as the public administration of a country.

There is always present a reflection of personal character and moral values in the order or cleaning we make, and all cultures have found a balance between total control over natural processes and a wholesale submission to them (Saito, p173).

Aesthetics is therefore another door to enter a culture and find out what people that share that particular culture think (and value and communicate) about the degree of order is appropriate in the particular context.

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One Response to Everyday Aesthetics and 5S (part one)

  1. Diego Pellecchia 2 agosto 2011 at 01:32

    I’m glad you took inspiration from this book. Saito is crystal clear in her discussion of the moral value of everyday aesthetics.


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