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Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality

The Outsourced Self: Intimate Life in Market Times

 The Center was proud to welcome distinguished scholar Arlie Hochschild on September 20th for her lecture, “The Outsourced Self: Intimate Life in Market Times,” based on her research for her new book of the same title. Dr. Hochschild is a Professor Emeritus of Sociology at UC Berkeley, and has won numerous awards, including the 2000 Public Understanding of Sociology Award and the American Sociology Association’s Jessie Bernard Award, which described her work as changing “the contours of knowledge in the social sciences and in public life.” Dr. Hochschild’s talk was the first of the Gray/Wawro Lectures in Gender, Health, and Well-being of the 2012-13 academic year. 

Hochschild book

Hochschild’s talk centered on the emerging phenomenon of outsourced labor that is traditionally performed by the self or within familial economies. She began by discussing the lines we all draw between those activities of care that we perform ourselves and those for which we seek professional services. Recently, a host of new “expertise-based services” have arisen that, for a price, perform tasks we would normally complete ourselves: professional baby-proofing, potty trainers, birthday planners, dog walkers, doggie daycare, dating websites, and even gravesite maintenance.  The movement of these activities from a personal to a professional economy signals a new rise in the faith of the market, Hochschild argued. 

Hochschild headshotHochschild sees this invasion of the market in personal life as partially an effect of women’s increasing participation in the workplace. Many of the tasks professional services now complete were traditionally performed by women. Their transition from home to workforce opened a space for the workforce to come home. 

This growing dependency on the market, however, substitutes an impersonal economy for personal care, Hochschild explained. Those lines we draw between personal care and professional hire have changed substantially in the past couple decades, and unfortunately, these lines are often synonymous with those we place between emotional investment and detachment. Even those of us who do not hire dog walkers, potty trainers, or life coaches are still affected by this new economy: we think differently, understand these core elements of care differently. At the end of her lecture, Hochschild argued that the solution to a society increasingly seeking market-based solutions for personal activities and responsibilities is balance—a balance between the market and everything else. 


Melanie Gray and Rosemary HennessyThe Center would also like to thank Melanie Gray and Mark Wawro for their continued and renewed support of the study of women, gender, and sexuality at Rice. Before Hochschild’s lecture, the Center Director, Dr. Rosemary Hennessy, presented Melanie with a framed poster of the year’s Gray/Wawro Lectures. Please join us for next year’s lectures, which include Byllye Avery’s “The State of Women’s Health Today: An Unfinished Agenda” on February 7th and Katrina Karkazis, “‘Gender Verification’ Policies in Elite Sport: Eligibility, ‘Fair Play,’ and the Question of Medical Need” on April 4th.