Sennett studied at the University of Chicago and Harvard. In 1969 he received his PhD and left for New York, where he established the Institute of the Humanities as part of the University of New York (cooperating with Susan Sontag and Joseph Brodsky) in the seventies. In the eighties he worked as an advisor for UNESCO and was president of the American Council of Work. In addition, he lectured at Harvard during this period. In the mid-nineties, Sennett started to divide his time between the University of New York and the London School of Economics. He is affiliated with MIT and Trinity College in Cambridge. Sennett is married to sociologist Saskia Sassen.