About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

#106: The Outsourced Self

The Outsourced Self: Intimate Life in Market Times
by Arlie Russell Hochschild
(New York: Metropolitan Books, 2012)
"From the famed author of the bestselling The Second Shift and The Time Bind, a pathbreaking look at the transformation of private life in our for-profit world.

"The family has long been a haven in a heartless world, the one place immune to market forces and economic calculations, where the personal, the private, and the emotional hold sway. Yet as Arlie Russell Hochschild shows in The Outsourced Self, that is no longer the case: everything that was once part of private life—love, friendship, child rearing—is being transformed into packaged expertise to be sold back to confused, harried Americans.

"Drawing on hundreds of interviews and original research, Hochschild follows the incursions of the market into every stage of intimate life. From dating services that train you to be the CEO of your love life to wedding planners who create a couple's "personal narrative"; from nameologists (who help you name your child) to wantologists (who help you name your goals); from commercial surrogate farms in India to hired mourners who will scatter your loved one's ashes in the ocean of your choice—Hochschild reveals a world in which the most intuitive and emotional of human acts have become work for hire.

"Sharp and clear-eyed, Hochschild is full of sympathy for overstressed, outsourcing Americans, even as she warns of the market's threat to the personal realm they are striving so hard to preserve."

Table of Contents:
  1. You Have Three Seconds
  2. The Legend of the Lemon Tree
  3. For as Long as You Both Shall Live
  4. Our Baby, Her Womb
  5. My Womb, Their Baby
  6. It Takes a Service Mall
  7. Making Five-Year-Olds Laugh Is Harder than You Think
  8. A High Score in Family Memory Creation
  9. Importing Family Values
  10. I Was Invisible to Myself
  11. Nolan Enjoys My Father for Me
  12. Anything You Pay For Is Better
  13. I Would Have Done It If She'd Been My Mother
  14. Endings 
  15. The Wantologist
My Take:
Another Second Shift or Time Bind this ain't. I suspect Hochschild's decision to write it was born of her own conflicted, guilt-spiked feelings at seeking a paid caregiver for her elderly aunt, and I think the book might have been stronger and more compelling had it focused on those intimate activities -- child and elder care, for example -- that pretty much everyone needs, and which have increasingly been moved to the market sphere and paid for. That story's been told many times, though, so what we're left with seems less like a thoughtful exposition and discussion-starter and more a voyeuristic "Wow, look at all the crazy, unnecessary stuff the 1% (or maybe just the 0.1 or 0.01%) will pay people to do for them!" Sure, it's interesting and may seem creepy or just weird that someone who's rich enough will spend beaucoup bucks on a kid's birthday party or various aspects of the wedding-industrial complex, but it's hardly a social problem on the order of the second shift.

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