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So How's the Family?: And Other Essays

So How's the Family?: And Other Essays

by Arlie Russell Hochschild

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In this new collection of thirteen essays, Arlie Russell Hochschild—author of the groundbreaking exploration of emotional labor, The Managed Heart and The Outsourced Self—focuses squarely on the impact of social forces on the emotional side of intimate life.

From the “work” it takes to keep personal life personal, put feeling into work, and


In this new collection of thirteen essays, Arlie Russell Hochschild—author of the groundbreaking exploration of emotional labor, The Managed Heart and The Outsourced Self—focuses squarely on the impact of social forces on the emotional side of intimate life.

From the “work” it takes to keep personal life personal, put feeling into work, and empathize with others; to the cultural “blur” between market and home; the effect of a social class gap on family wellbeing; and the movement of care workers around the globe, Hochschild raises deep questions about the modern age. In an eponymous essay, she even points towards a possible future in which a person asking “How’s the family?” hears the proud answer, “Couldn’t be better.”

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this eloquent collection of 13 essays, noted sociologist Hochschild (The Outsourced Self: Intimate Life in Market Times) links public trends—such as free market capitalism, branding, and globalization—to the intimate world of the family. Exploring the impact of social changes on the family unit's emotional state, she studies "online daters, migrant nannies, commercial surrogate mothers" and other modern phenomena, which serve as catalysts for reflection on changes in public discourse from 1900-2007. Her overriding concern is the ongoing struggle between the demands of the marketplace and the needs of families—how people can strengthen bonds to keep their personal lives personal, and how empathy needs to "cross the barriers of class, race, and gender." She highlights the enormous emotional toll (for both mother and child) on female migrant workers from poor countries who leave their own children behind. Grounded in sociology, Hochschild introduces ideas such as an "emotional commons"—a rich, social ecology—for comprehending how the market of wealthy countries in the "Global North" erodes the social fabric of countries in the Global South and East. The book illuminates the challenges of a deregulated, impersonal global economy and offers suggestions for restoring emotional connections. (Sept.)
Times Higher Education - Stina Lyon & Karen Shook

"Via these brief, compassionate and often amusing summaries, the themes presented here add up to an attempt to predict what the future of commercialisation and globalisation holds for the development of our emotional lives." Book of the Week
San Francisco Chronicle - Gayle Brandeis

"When Arlie Russell Hochschild asks, "So How's the Family?" she's not inquiring about your partner and kids. She has her sights on something bigger: the American family, even the global one. In this collection of essays, the noted Berkeley sociologist, author of The Outsourced Self, delves into ways in which the cultural line between market and home has become increasingly blurred as the social class gap has grown wider. The family, it turns out, is not doing so well worldwide, but Hochschild says there's hope."

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University of California Press
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New Edition
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8.80(w) x 5.90(h) x 0.50(d)

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So How's the Family?




Copyright © 2013 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-95678-0


Going on Attachment Alert

At her sister-in-law's parties, Grace Weaver, a lonely 49-year-old divorcee and mother of a 12-year-old child, was looking for a "man to grow old with." Other relatives and friends tried to fix her up, but no dice. For several years now, she had not found "that certain someone," and time was getting on. So she tried a new tack.

I remember waking up the morning after going out to a New Year's Eve party. I felt disappointed I hadn't met any interesting men. I flipped on the television and watched a show on Internet dating. I'd always thought Internet dating would be tacky and leave me feeling icky, overexposed, naked. But then this coach Evan Katz came on saying, "Come on, guys. There's nothing embarrassing about Internet dating." I jotted down his name and wondered if this shouldn't be my New Year's resolution: hire a coach, take control of my life.

She signed up for Match.com for $17.99 a month. She also hired Evan Katz, whose online name was E-Cyrano and whose Web site read: "I am a PERSONAL TRAINER for women who want to FALL IN LOVE." He offered her three coaching packages: Basic, Premium, and V.I.P. She chose the $1,500 Premium package. For this, Evan would write her profile for the online dating Web site, pick her headshot from LookBetterOnline (a photo service for online daters), create an alluring user name, write a catchy subject line, and advise her further on what to talk about on and offline. The entire service consisted of friend-like conversations by phone and e-mail between Grace in New Jersey and Evan in Burbank, California.

In her selection of Evan's Premium package, Grace was deciding how much to put herself in Evan's hands and how much she would do herself. To the extent that she put herself in Evan's hands, she also accepted his guidance about how to feel. He started with how to feel about the very act of hiring him: "Congratulations for hiring me," he said. "Don't feel ashamed." In a separate interview, Evan told me, "I'm everybody's dirty little secret."

Clients kept mum about hiring Evan, he thought, because they felt they should be able to find a romantic partner in a natural way—through friends, family, work, or church. He was right. When she told friends she had hired a love coach, they said, "You're hiring a what?" But Evan told her to feel good about taking matters into her own hands by hiring him. Evan was changing the rule on shame: do not feel it.

He also recommended that Grace be wary of trusting a sense of "falling in love," of rushing into the idea that she had met her soul mate. "If you sense yourself feeling that," he suggested, "it's probably infatuation." Paradoxically, he even warned Grace against the messages in the ads of his fellow love coaches: "Find your soul mate. Find perfect chemistry. Fall in love." "Soul mate" is a retrospective concept, Evan cautioned. "Only when you look back after twenty years together, do you say, 'We've been soul mates all along.'" So Evan invited Grace to reinterpret what she had once defined as "true love" as being "infatuation."

Eager clients project onto their on-screen suitors all the wonderful attributes they so hope to find. So he cautioned Grace: "Keep a check on your dreamboat fantasies. Go slow. Don't be too eager." Grace might wishfully fantasize that the man she sipped wine with by the fire in her brother's living room was "the one," Evan counseled, but this would be a bigger problem when Grace clicked her way through hundreds of profiles of online strangers. Her hopes could be wildly unrealistic, he explained:

Women come into my office with long lists of characteristics they want: the man should be successful, tall, handsome, funny, kind, and family-oriented. Does he like to dance? Is he a film aficionado? A real reader? They want a charismatic guy who doesn't flirt, a successful C.E.O. who's home at 5:00 p.m. Some women price themselves out of the market, and they're very touchy about not wanting to settle for less than the complete list that they believe promises a soul mate and chemistry. Then a lot of people get discouraged and conclude it's impossible to find real love.

Grace could imagine she had experienced a magical moment shared with the man of her dreams, only to discover it was all an illusion. So she needed to work out new terms of emotional engagement. How emotionally attached to an on-screen man should she feel at that first exchange? On the first date? The second? The third? Evan advised her on how attached to let herself feel by comparing dating to work at a job. Dating as work? Okay, Grace said, "I'm an engineer, so it was easy for me to think of dating as work. Just get it done. I know that sounds un-romantic, but that's okay so long as I get to my goal. Evan kept my nose to the grindstone."

We usually think of meeting a person to go on a date—a hike, a picnic, a restaurant dinner, a play—as a voluntary and pleasurable act. Indeed, we imagine pleasure as the very purpose of it. To compare dating a potential partner to the tedious turn of a grindstone is to say, in effect, "Don't expect this to be fun."

Others writing on Evan's online blog also approached dating as work: "I keep plugging away, TableForSix [a service that sets up dinners with other singles], poetry readings, volunteering, it's hard work." Others did not agree: "Looking for love is not like work," one wrote defiantly. But Evan told Grace that dating was work—and that she should not resent it. Indeed, part of the emotion work Evan was asking Grace to do was to try feeling upbeat about the fact that dating was work:

When you're unemployed, what do you do to find work? When you are single, what do you do to find love? I'm not telling clients to spend forty hours a week looking for love, but I tell them, "You can give it three. Do the numbers—and don't resent it."

Another way Evan prepared Grace for the online dating market was by asking her to think of herself as a brand:

The Internet is the world's biggest love mall. To enter it, you have to brand yourself because you only have three seconds. When I help a client brand herself, I'm helping her put herself forward to catch that three-second glimpse, and I'm helping her footnote the rest. A profile could say, "I talk about myself a lot. I go through bouts of depression, and Zoloft usually works." That might be the truth, but it's not going into her brand.

Like an object for sale, Grace had a label, Evan explained, and it had to grab attention. About her online profile, he said, "Don't hide behind generalities like 'fun-loving' and 'musical.' Bring out your real self. Put that into your brand." At the same time, he felt it was important to set boundaries on this public "real self" in early e-mail conversations with men. When Grace suggested telling about a stint at a Buddhist monastery where she was asked to clean a bathroom with a toothbrush, Evan replied, "That's a little out there." Grace prepared to emotionally detach from possible responses to that "real Grace" and to put that real Grace out there. That was Evan's counsel: be interested, of course, but stay detached.

Then there were numbers. As Evan explained, even if Grace did not think of herself as, say, a "6" on a 0 to 10 scale, numbers still applied to her. She should know about them because she was in a market and they reflected her market worth:

In the eyes of many men a "10" woman is 24 years old, never married, has a sexy 36-24-36 figure, Nicole Kidman face, warm personality, a successful but flexible career, and a love of gourmet cooking. As a "10" she would score the highest number of male responses on Match.com.

Grace was very pretty and sexy, but she was 49 years old, divorced, and had little time for gourmet cooking. So, Evan surmised, maybe she was a "6." He added, "I see a lot of 5 men looking for 10 women, and that leaves the 4 and 5 women in the dust." So Grace had to try to detach her feelings of hurt pride from "Grace-as-6."

In all of this, Evan counseled Grace to think about her ROI—return on investment—of time, thought, and emotional involvement. If a man was not right for her, she needed to keep an eye on the clock and move on.

Dating as work, dating as branding, dating as becoming a 5 or 6 in the eyes of others, dating as calculating her ROI, this was the market perspective Evan invited Grace to adopt. It called on her capacity to detach feeling from the idea of herself as a brand and as an ROI collector as well as from any given suitor.

In a grocery store, certain tacit feeling rules apply while transacting business: be friendly and pleasant with the checkout clerk. In the time you have, you can talk about the weather, the Dodgers game, or the taste of a new pesto, but do not get deeply involved. The clerk is doing a job and so are you. If you care too much about the clerk, it hurts the transaction, becomes a problem, and makes you seem strange. The basic feeling rule governing market transactions is to stay fairly emotionally detached.

We cannot apply the cheerful detachment we feel for a checkout clerk to a lover, spouse, parent, or child, of course, without something being haywire. However ambivalently, to them we usually feel deeply attached. Between these two boundaries—one demarking "too much" feeling and the other "too little"—flow all our feelings as we encounter the situations of life.

After Grace had written her profile, posed for her photo, and written her subject line, she panicked. As she recounted, "It was hard to push the button. That was my photo, and there are 20,000,000 viewers who are going to see it. What if some creep downloads my photo? I work in a state office building. What if someone walks in and recognizes me? It made me squirm." She had placed herself before strangers, some of whom could pose a terrible danger. People she knew could recognize her and disparage her as "desperate." But Evan told her to plunge ahead. He was the pro, and she trusted him.

Once she began to correspond with potential suitors, Grace kept notes of how many responses she received daily. When she first got on Match.com she was 49 years old, and she was delighted to receive many responses. On her next birthday, she changed her online age to 50; to her horror, the responses plummeted. "It was like my stock price fell overnight. 'What happened?' I asked myself. 'I'm the same person I was a day ago, but my ratings fell by half.'"

Ratings fall in face-to-face encounters, too, of course. Grace might have been braced against a dismissive glance from a man she had met at her sister-in-law's party, but on Match.com Grace was in the "world's largest love mall," as Evan called it; the fall may have been more impersonal, but it was still hurtful. She needed to remain partially detached from any wishful fantasies she projected onto a string of e-mails from a suitor because he, too, was on the market. He might be lying about himself and declaring his undying love to five other women. Was she projecting? she had to ask herself. Evan told the followers of his Internet blog that they often took Internet dating rejections too personally, and they suffered accordingly. One woman, who described herself as "nice, average looking, intellectually fun and creative," wrote, "I am SO SICK of these men who are fives (or lower) who think they're going to wind up with supermodels." She felt over-entitled men were passing her over, and that made her mad. But anger violated Evan's feeling rule: be upbeat and mildly interested but basically detached.

So when was the coast clear to feel open hearted? Grace wondered. Evan said this:

People get very confused. They want to know when a relationship is serious. A relationship isn't real until you have committed to being boyfriend or girlfriend. Everything prior to that—phoning, emailing, dating, preliminary sex—all that isn't real until you have each committed. I've had clients devastated to realize that they've fallen in love with someone who is still looking online.

All of Evan's lessons about what, when, and how much to feel gave Grace a kind of user's guide to Internet dating, setting out new rules of emotional engagement. With the shrinking of what the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas calls "the life world" and the rise of the "system world" (which includes the market, state, technology, and media), people like Grace find themselves situated at the crossroads where the two meet—even as those spheres are themselves in flux. Increasingly, people ask themselves, Should I prepare for a purely market transaction and emotionally detach? Or am I among friends, family, or community, in which case I should prepare myself to feel emotionally attached? What mix of market and personal should I prepare for, and what measure of attachment?

Grace saw Match.com as a means to an end. Alarm bells went off when she realized that, in the case of two suitors, one after the other, the means—the application of a market way of thinking—got stuck to the end: love. Before she met the man to whom she is now happily committed, Grace had had half-year relationships with two other suitors. Each had ended the relationship because he could not get along with her pre-teen daughter who disliked them both. As each one ended his relationship with Grace, he made the same parting remark.

It was eerie. The first guy said, "I'm getting back on Match.com. It was so easy to find you, there must be others out there just like you." He came back three months later saying, "Oh my God! What did I do? There's no other you out there." I told him, "It's too late. I'm not dealing with someone who thinks people come in facsimiles." It was very weird, but the second guy said exactly the same thing as he left, "It was so easy to find you. I'll find another."

Both of them saw her "like a box of cereal on the shelf," she felt. "Just like me? What were they thinking?" It was as if one could exchange one "6" for any other "6."

A market way of relating to others is brilliantly suited to the purchase of a washing machine, a cell phone, or a hat. The idea of a 1 to 10 rating, a brand, and an ROI—all of these ideas are a good fit with the act of buying such things. But how do they fit romantic love? Grace wondered. Evan offered a market way of thinking as a tool for temporary use in finding a romantic partner, not as an end in itself. But what if some people keep using this tool long after the task has been accomplished? What if they apply ROI, branding, and 1-to-10 thinking to love itself? That was the problem.

Grace didn't want to get hurt but she didn't want to become heartless. So how attached did she dare to feel to a given suitor? To Evan? To herself? As with other Americans today, Grace was moving in a world of increasingly specialized market services—themselves set within a larger cultural remix of market and personal life (see chapter 7). She was calling on rules governing precisely how much or how little to care. No one needed to care about a "6," but Grace wanted an open-hearted man to care about her.


At the most primal level, emotional engagement is a matter of attachment and, as such, a matter of survival. As the University of Chicago experimental psychologist John Cacioppo and his coauthor William Patrick show in their book, Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, human beings share with nonhuman species strong responses to isolation or rejection. According to their research, the more isolated people are, the less well they sleep, the higher their anxiety, the less well-functioning their immune system, and less well-regulated their glucocorticoid response. Isolated individuals show higher rates of sickness and, in older adults, higher rates of death. Not just isolation but loneliness creates a wear and tear on the body. Loneliness is as harmful to health, the authors report, as high blood pressure. It does twice as much harm to health as obesity and the same degree of harm as cigarette smoking. When Cacioppo hypnotized people once to feel lonely and once to feel among friends, big differences showed up in their physiological responses. When lonely, the subjects developed greater reactivity to stress and higher cortisol levels. And people are not the only ones: when isolated from others of their kind, Cacioppo reported, even fruit flies die sooner.

Excerpted from So How's the Family? by ARLIE RUSSELL HOCHSCHILD. Copyright © 2013 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Arlie Hochschild is Professor Emerita of Sociology at UC Berkeley; she is a leading postwar feminist and the author of numerous books, including The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling.

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