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The Commercialization of Intimate LifeReview - The Commercialization of Intimate Life
Notes from Home and Work
by Arlie Russell Hochschild
University of California Press, 2003
Review by Edward Johnson, Ph.D.
Jan 5th 2004 (Volume 8, Issue 2)

Arlie Russell Hochschild is a sociologist, at the University of California at Berkeley, whose well-known books--The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling (1983), The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home (1989), and The Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work (1997)--have explored the impact of modern life on the ways in which we manage our emotions and our time.

Her new volume is a good introduction to her concerns. It collects scattered scholarly essays, from the past three decades, covering among other things American (and Japanese) advice books for women, Indian mother-daughter relationships, the eavesdropping of children, gender codes, gratitude, globalization and child-care, and the sociology of emotion. The essays originally appeared in various specialist journals and anthologies, but Hochschild's prose is, on the whole, clear and engaging, as one might expect from the popularity of her earlier books.

These essays are not, however, mere popularizations, but undertake to define pieces of a complex picture of contemporary life at home and on the job. Throughout the author emphasizes the importance of giving and receiving emotional nurture in a culture where that value has been undermined by sexual politics, by the increasing demands of work and the "outsourcing" of many traditional elements of the family, and by the resulting commercialization of intimate life.

Hochschild's approach is that of a feminist who is cautious about women's "success" in recent decades. "American culture," she complains, "incorporated what of feminism fit with capitalism and individualism, but it resisted the rest" (254). It may have accepted the principle of equal pay for equal work, but if women are making progress by "assimilating to old-time male rules" (29), is this the kind of equality women really want? She worries that women may have leapt "from the frying pan of patriarchy into the fire of capitalism" (148).

In the nineteenth century, she supposes, "female homemakers formed a moral brake on capitalism." She has no nostalgia for the Victorian era, but as women have been drawn into the work force, increasingly on the same emotional terms as men, she thinks the result has been "a harshness of life that seems so normal to us we don't see it." To replace that harshness, Hochschild recommends a society that "rewards care as much as market success," one that does not undermine "a nonmarket public sphere" (8).

In other words, Hochschild is concerned, like many critics, about global capitalism's turning everything in human life into a commodity, something that can be bought or sold. Even price-less things end up, thanks to the economist's notion of "opportunity cost," being measured against the profit that could have been made. The triumph of capitalism, or at least the unchecked greed of our gilded age, has accompanied the gradual decline of alternative standards for judging human action: religious creed, civic code, or family loyalty.

"We buy something at the store. We bring it home. We compare what we have at home with what we bought. That comparison leads us to reappraise what we have at home." (42) We gradually acquire a new set of standards and a new understanding (or misunderstanding) of our desires. "Exposed to a continual bombardment of advertisements ... workers are persuaded to 'need' more things. To buy what they now need, they need money. To earn money, they work longer hours." (209) Capitalism thus becomes a self-supporting cultural system, which overwhelms local customs everywhere (144, 209). Hochschild thus offers a critique of "consumerism," but one connected to a critique of changes in family life.

The problem, as she sees it, is that "Capitalism ... competes with the family." What she calls the "time bind" is at the heart of the problem. "Americans are putting in longer hours than workers of any other industrialized nation," she says (145). That means less time for raising children, less time for homemaking. She argues that "work is becoming a little more ritualized and sacred ... while the family is becoming less so" (203). In part, this may have a practical basis, as she notes that "a good number of workers I interviewed had worked for the company for twenty years or more, whereas they were on their second or third marriages." To these workers, work was "their major source of security. They were getting their pink slips at home." (206) But she sees a deeper ideological foundation for the change, and often speaks of "the religion of capitalism."

Work not only competes for time with the family, it also changes the nature of family time by making the ideal of efficiency normative in the private sphere as well (145). In telling concrete examples, such as a magazine ad for instant oatmeal pitched at "moms who have a lot of love but not a lot of time" (141), or an Internet ad for a personal assistant that raises the question of "what activities seem to us too personal to pay for" (30), Hochschild's keen sociologist's eye discerns the consequences of accommodations people have made to the new realities.

She points out how we increasingly seek care from experts, how families separate their self image of being caring and close from their actual, too busy lives, and how overcommitted family members have "packed one activity close up against the next, eliminating the framing around each event, periods of looking forward to or back upon an event, which might have heightened its emotional impact" (146).

The result of the changes in the modern management of time and emotion, in Hochchild's view, is a crisis of care. She distinguishes four models of care: (a) the patriarchal "traditional" model (homemaker mother), (b) the delusional "postmodern" model (working supermom), (c) the "cold modern" model (impersonal institutional care), and (d) the "warm modern" model, "in which institutions provide some care of the young and elderly, while women and men join equally in providing private care as well" (214). She sees the United States as currently "moving steadily toward a synthesis of the postmodern and cold modern models, while Norway, Sweden, and Denmark still lead the world in establishing a warm modern model" (222).

Modern American life affirms the moral ideal of sexual equality, but in a way that weakens the ideal of "emotionally rich social bonds" (15). Her positive "warm" program for saving the latter boils down to three factors: "male sharing of care at home, family-friendly workplace policies, and social honor associated with care" (270, cf. 222). Sometimes she suggests that the first two factors may be necessary for the third, as the way to raise the value of care is "to involve fathers in it" (196). This in turn requires, among other things, employer flexibility. She offers Norway as a model in providing a year's paternity leave (at 90 percent pay) for all employed men. (She puts a positive spin on the fact that four out of five Norwegian men take "over a month.")

In modern American advice books, Hochschild observes, "women are encouraged to be cooler while men are not urged to become warmer." But such a cooling would only "conserve the damage capitalism did to manhood instead of critiquing it" (27). Of course, she does not deny that "capitalism has, through the creation of a middle class, removed many people from the hardships of poverty and, in so doing, stabilized family life." But, she insists, "the dynamism of capitalism coupled with a state that--by European standards--does little to protect workers from market fluctuations or changing economic demands and offers few provisions to aid in family care, makes America a somewhat harsher, if freer, society in which to live" (259).

Many contemporary signs indicate that Hochschild's concerns are likely to figure prominently in the next decade's politics, as American men and women try to discover whether it is really possible to make our lives less harsh, and no less free.


2003 Edward Johnson


Edward Johnson, Ph.D., Department of Philosophy, University of New Orleans


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