Outsourcing the Family

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3 Responses

  1. A.J. Sutter says:

    Family functions have long been “outsourced” — think of the domestic servants, wetnurses, governesses, et al. whom we know about from literature and history from many centuries. What seems critical is to consider the good ways and bad ways that current wave of outsourcing differs from these more traditional ones — e.g. more anonymity in the relationships. Also, to consider if there might be better values to promote than economistic ones such as efficiency; e.g., rather than promoting efficiency and individual “core competencies” is there some way to structure “family outsourcing” so that it enhances community, reciprocity and similar “soft” or collective values.

  2. Matt says:

    I’d agree w/ AJ that at least some of this is about new ways of doing old things, and that, in thinking about the issue, that should be one of our main reference points. If we (wrongly) assume this is all a new phenomena, we’ll get the wrong answers. I’d add two more points. First, many of the things mentioned above are largely elite phenomena, at least when done by professionals. (This is true of AJ’s list, too, I think.) I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of people don’t have nannies or house-keepers, let alone personal lifestyle assistants, and couldn’t have them even if they wanted them. The more common thing among people not in the elites would be to have family members do some of these tasks, though comparatively cheap (compared to a nanny or an au pair, I guess) day care is common enough, and prepared food (another aspect) is all over. So, I’d think that any discussion of this phenomena should keep in mind not only AJ’s point, but also that lots of this is an elite phenomena, and that even when there’s overlap, the elites are much more likely, I suspect, to use professionals as opposed to extended family members, and that this has probably long been true, too.

  3. David S. Cohen says:

    Interesting topic Meredith! To me, the term “outsourcing” implies some kind of natural state of affairs that is being deviated from. Thus, the only way we can say that anything is being “outsourced” is if there’s some method, say “insourcing,” that is being disrupted. But, is there such a state of affairs for family life? Isn’t the natural state of what a family is always being contested, always shifting, and always variable even within a particular culture at a particular point of time (along the lines of the end of Matt’s comment)? I assume you’ll deal with this with your posts/article, so I look forward to reading more!