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The Outsourced Self: Intimate Life in Market…
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The Outsourced Self: Intimate Life in Market Times (2012)

by Arlie Russell Hochschild

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Years ago in a sociology course, we discussed the mythology of convenience. In particular, the myth versus the reality of the washing machine. A convenience that was suppose to help reduce the amount of time required to do laundry that ended up increasing it. As a child, we didn't have washing and dryer in the home. So we had to go to the Laundromat once a week. That meant we had "school clothes" (which would get removed and hung up immediately upon getting home from school and "play clothes" which often got worn every day for a week unless they got so dirty mom couldn't stand to look at us anymore. And once a week, we'd go off to the Laundromat and spend a couple of hours doing laundry.

When we finally got a washer and dryer, things slowly changed. Play clothes no longer got worn every day of the week, because it was so easy to do a load of laundry. School clothes didn't need to be hung up and worn a second time before getting washed. Over time, the once a week for two hours job of doing laundry because an every day task.

From this perspective, I came into Alrie Russell Hochschild's The Outsourced Self.

Hochschild provides an amazingly intimate look at the commercialization of our family lives. Interwoven with her own personal narrative about her quest to find a live-in care giver for her elderly aunt Elizabeth, Hochschild discusses everything from matchmaking services to wedding planners to professional nameologists that help you select baby names to marriage counselors, nannies, party planners, and "wantologists" who help you figure out what you really want.

In all cases, one of the underlying themes is how our modern conveniences have made us more busy, not frazzled, and more in need of "professionals" to take care of tasks our parents, aunts, uncles, friends, and neighbors once did. As Hochschild navigates the often Byzantine realm of life coaches, rent-a-friend services, surrogate motherhood, and more, we bear witness to a society full of people who have lost the ability to trust their own instincts over the marketplace when it comes to finding a balance in life. Many of the individuals profiled in the book are otherwise successful career people who, despite their financial success, can't find the confidence to tackle family issues without the help of a consultant.

The author has a wonderful ability to dig to the root of the matter. Particularly on the subject of elder care in America, I found myself crying several times as her interview subjects shared their personal experiences as both consumers and service providers. I found myself growing angry at the strange disconnect between the wealthy consumers and their undocumented nannies or the surrogate mothers in India who rented their wombs to rich couples in exchange for enough money to feed their own families. Every personal profile hits the raw nerves beneath the shiny marketplace of the self.

The overall presentation is thoughtful and insightful. This isn't an exposé designed to rile people up or push an agenda. In many ways, this is the story of one woman trying to understand where the idea of family and community ends and the marketplace begins, and finding no clear answers. ( )
  juliedawson | Feb 7, 2013 |
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You might say this book began on those August mornings when I was a child picking pigweed from the corn rows in my grandmother's vegetable garden on a gently sloping hill in Turner, Maine. (Introduction)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 080508889X, Hardcover)

Amazon Exclusive: Barbara Ehrenreich Reviews The Outsourced Self
Barbara Ehrenreich is the best-selling author of Nickel and Dimed.

It's a rare and brilliant book that helps us see ordinary life in a whole new way. Take the business of children's birthday parties. When my children were little, I'd put on their parties myself--making the cake, setting up the party games, presiding over the subsequent chaos, and cleaning up the mess. Forty years later, my daughter arranges for "professionals" to create and manage her children's parties. The nationwide chain called The Little Gym, for example, runs a 90 minute party for $225, including invitations, paper goods, and leadership by a "qualified birthday leader plus an assistant." Parents watch the whole thing from the sidelines.

As Arlie Russell Hochschild shows, birthday parties are only one way we've "outsourced" our personal lives. We might seek on-line match-making companies to find a mate, paid relationship advisors to navigate the dating process, wedding planners if the process is successful, perhaps a surrogate mother to bear the children, then child-raising experts to advise on parenting issues--not to mention special consultants to arrange care for the older generation. In other words, that vast and impersonal entity--the market--is penetrating our most intimate relationships and managing the great turning points in our lives. Those who can afford to pay them are increasingly dependent on outside "experts," "coaches," and of course "birthday leaders."

Is this the dystopian outcome dreaded by social scientists since the 19th century? Or is it a rational adjustment to a busy and complex world where no one has time to make their own party favors? Hochschild is definitely drawn to the old, self-reliant, ways represented by her own grandparents, but she is a sociologist, not a scold. The Outsourced Self goes on to explore the ways people manage to redraw the lines between public and private and maintain a modicum of autonomy. I won't say Hochschild will "make" you think: She's such a keen observer and delightful writer that she makes it fun to think. --Barbara Ehrenreich

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:55:11 -0400)

Drawing on hundreds of interviews and original research, Hochschild follows the incursions of the market into every stage of intimate life and reveals a world in which the most intuitive and emotional of human acts have become work for hire.

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