Hochschild highlights new individualized service jobs like “wantologist”

Sociologist Arlie Hochschild has written a new book, The Outsourced Self: Intimate Life in Market Times, that explores the rise of jobs to meet our individualized needs:

Don’t know what you want out of life? No problem. Hire a wantologist!

This new profession actually exists in 2012. Just fork over a little cash (a couple hundred an hour or so) and this individual will help you figure out your most important goals in life – and help you get closer to achieving them.

Sound like a bunch of hooey? Consider Esther James, a wantologist in San Jose, California. She has a PhD in psychology from NYU, practiced for twenty years as a Jungian psychologist, trained as an executive coach – earning $250 an hour – and has now transitioned into full-time life coaching in the wake of the economic downturn, as she explained to sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild.

Hochschild, based at the University of California, Berkeley, profiles James and many other personal service providers in an enlightening new book, The Outsourced Self, which describes how the market has risen to meet the needs of increasingly harried and needy Americans…

Hochschild puts these out-of-the-blue service professions in the broader context of a society right now that “undermines community, disparages government, marginalizes nonprofits, and believes in the superiority of what’s for sale.” As she told The Fiscal Times in an interview, “The wantologist’s profession is fledgling at the moment, but it’s very real – it’s its own speciality. I’ve seen the ‘wantology workbooks.’ I’ve talked to the clients. Services like this are only going to proliferate. A lot of things that seemed weird yesterday aren’t weird today.”

The themes of this book sound similar to Hochschild’s previous books, The Managed Heart and The Second Shift, that also address the intersection of individuals and a changing social context. In this new book, it sounds like Hochschild is arguing that we lose something as a society when important individual tasks are outsourced to free up the time for us to do “better” things.

The interview with Hochschild is worth reading in full but there would seem to be another aspect to this shift that is not addressed. Wouldn’t these sorts of services primarily cater to those with the economic resources to pay for it? Hochschild mentions how dating websites could also fall into this category (and these are relatively accessible) but in order to hire a life coach or personal organizer or “wantologist,” you would have to have some extra money. Or, perhaps these services could be quickly becoming “necessary,” meaning that people have to cut back elsewhere in order to achieve certain priorities. For example, this might include a family that feels it is a necessity to hire a college application consultant for their high school student since college is such an important decision and predictor of chances later in life. If these services are becoming more normal, than it could be another marker between social classes: can you afford to outsource some of the mundane or necessary tasks of lives off to others? And who is expected to work in these service jobs? Perhaps this is simply a more palatable, market-based solution to the issue of the wealthy hiring servants in the past.

This also reminds me of two other things:

1. Could this be viewed as an example of extended cognition, the idea that we as humans are effective at utilizing other resources to tackle certain issues for us (even as basic as writing ideas down on paper so we don’t have to devote extra brain space to remembering these things) and freeing ourselves for other things?

2. A.J. Jacobs wrote about an experiment in personal outsourcing (with more detail in his book The Guinea Pig Diaries: My life as an Experiment).

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