UC Berkeley Sociologist Questions Trend Towards ‘Intimate Outsourcing’
BERKELEY (KCBS) – The corporate and manufacturing worlds are not the only places where jobs have been outsourced. More and more of us farm out what were once very personal tasks, a trend UC Berkeley sociologist Arlie Hochschild found has deeper impacts than most of us realize.
Hochschild decided to research a phenomenon after she found herself fully immersed in it, scrambling to hire someone who could care for her aging mother on the other side of the continent.
“She didn’t have children. She was a one-room school teacher in a rural Maine town. How was I going to take care of her, make sure she was OK?” Hochschild said.
KCBS’ Susan Leigh Taylor Reports:
She did eventually find just the right person, and acknowledges the necessity of a professional service that barely existed a generation ago when families were less spread out geographically.
“It worked out, and I needed the market. But I found myself in an everything-for-sale world,” she said, and proceeded to catalogue it.
Her book, The Outsourced Self: Intimate Life in Market Times, introduces a bewildering array of for-profit industries—coaches and experts at navigating all variety of interpersonal relationships from parenting to the workplace.
Hochschild found even the most intuitive and emotional of human acts had become work for hire, “name-ologists, potty trainers, wantologists who help us figure out what we want.”
In all fairness, the want-ologist was a trained psychologist who focused on desire. And Hochschild points out that in at least one case, the clinician helped the client realize she didn’t need to buy a bigger house to be happy.
“It really raised for me the question, not of meeting real needs,” she said. “We do have real needs for market services, but what kind of a world are we moving into?”
Hochschild believes the outsourcing of personal services has become a source of malaise in modern life because professionalizing things that had been part of family life has forced a reexamination of what activities give us joy and meaning.
She recounted the story of a father who chose to throw a birthday party for his 5-year-old daughter himself rather than hire a birthday party planner.
“He lived in an upscale world where people were hiring birthday party planners,” she said, adding that a routine part of such packages is a professional entertainer.
“So he put on a 10-gallon hat and pretended to be Crocodile Dundee,” she said. “After a while, he ran out of things to say, and these girls started to fidget.”
Hochschild said even the other parents weren’t sure how to salvage a party for children accustomed to much more structured group activities.
“And a neighbor came up and said, ‘Michael, leave it to the experts. The experts know what 5-year-olds think is funny.’”
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