Campus - 15.11.2011 - 00:00 

Where Personal meets Commercial

American Professor Arlie Hochschild discusses tasks that were once personal such as planning a child's birthday party have become paid services, and how our view of what is personal and product has changed?

15 November 2011. How do we establish the boundary between our personal life and the market? This was one of the key questions posed by sociology professor Arlie Russell Hochschild when she gave a preview of her upcoming book "Commercialization of the Personal Life" during her guest lecture at the HSG Monday 14 November 2011.

Professor Hochschild discussed her research into the growth industry in personal services, conducting interviews with both service providers and customers. These services consist of everything from dating advice, to wedding planers, to paid surrogate mothers. In each case she looked at activities that were traditionally personal responsibilities, such as walking one's dog, and examined how the task as well as our perception of the it changed when it becomes a commercial service.

Moving the Boundary

Prof. Hochschild began by describing the services that have sprung up in the past few decades where the market has begun intruding on the realm of personal responsibilities. She found that many people are now regularly pay for services it that were historically personal or family oriented.

For example, one can now hire a service to potty train their child, or teach them to ride a bike. While this has traditionally been a family responsibility, modern society offers the chance to outsource it. Prof. Hochschild theorizes this is partly because women are now often working outside the home and are less available. So now the market has now begun to fill that space.

However, once these services are established and there is more acceptance of the market in one's personal life, the border between personal and market begins to slide. As a result, more services pop up such as "Rent a Friend" where an individual can hired for an evening of platonic companionship without putting forth the emotional investment.

"The journey here is to understand the difference between personal life, and the market," said Prof. Hochschild. "How do we establish the boundary between the two?"

Why even have a dog?

During her research, Prof. Hochschild interviewed a professional dog walker. She said, he understood why people hired him to walk their dogs, Monday thru Friday because they probably worked. However, he was upset when people hired him to walk their dogs on weekends. "That was his line between personal and commercial," said Prof. Hochschild " If you don't walk your dog during the week it's because your busy, but not walking it on the weekend means you're not interested in it. So why do you even have a dog?"

According to Prof. Hochschild, each of us establishes different boundaries as to where we are willing to pay and where we must take authorship of our lives. She gave the example of one woman who hired a "Love Coach" to help her write her online dating profile. She was willing to accept the Coach's advice on how to market herself by writing her profile, but was unwilling to accept his opinion on who she should be interested in.

"The line is different for everyone", said Prof. Hochschild, "but there is a point where most people need to take over from the commercial service and establish authorship over their own lives."

KIM Lecture Series

Professor Arlie Russell Hochschild was the first speaker in the the new KIM Lecture series, which is organized by the Cultures, Institutions and Markets profile area of the University of St.Gallen. KIM examines the foundations of cultural orientations, societal structures, organization-related action patterns and economic systems. The profile area sets great store by interdisciplinary approaches. Its research findings are published in academic journals, handbooks and thematic anthologies.

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