An eminent sociologist explores how service-for-pay is replacing the support of family members, friends and neighbors, and how this shift is impacting lives.
Hochschild (Sociology/Univ. of California, Berkeley; The Commercialization of Intimate Life, 2003, etc.) approaches her subject from three directions: her personal experience, the stories of providers of an array of services and the stories of people who sought their services. Some of the services, such as child care, have been around for a long time; others, such as online dating and wedding planning, are more recent inventions. The author examines every stage of life, from birth to death. Hochschild interviewed women who act as surrogate mothers for infertile couples, as well as those who hire others to bear children for them; she talked to a man who has made a business of scattering the ashes of the dead. She also looks at people who help women select a wedding gown, help a couple choose a baby's name and teach a man how to become a better father. There are even "rent-a-friend" services. Perhaps the most surprising service that she uncovered is that of a wantologist, who “helps you name your goals.” Hochschild’s personal story, which she returns to from time to time, is a far more common one—that of trying to find the right care for an elderly ailing relative. The book, chock-full of quotes from the numerous people she interviewed, has a casual and at times almost gossipy feel, and the author gives short shrift to what all this means and how we are dealing with it.
Anecdote-rich, analysis-poor—more a series of snapshots than sociological study.