The Outsourcing of Intimate Affairs

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Lair, Craig Dennis
Ritzer, George
In this dissertation I place the trend of outsourcing what I refer to as "intimate affairs" - those activities necessary to reproduce both physically and emotionally what Habermas (1991 [1962]: 46-47) calls the "intimate sphere" (e.g. the preparation of food, housekeeping tasks, parenting, gift giving, etc.) - within a theoretical context by arguing that this type of outsourcing is best understood from the perspective of reflexive modernization theory. In particular, I argue that the outsourcing of intimate affairs is best seen as resulting from two processes that stand at the heart of reflexive modernization: the disembedding of the social world and the concomitant wave of individualization that has accompanied this development. But more than just reflecting these processes, I also argue that intimate outsourcing can be seen as promoting disembedding and individualization as well. However, this dissertation also addresses a number of issues that, while being central to the debate over this topic, have largely been left unanswered. These include questions of what exactly is outsourcing and how it can be applied to activities such as intimate affairs? It is also includes the question of what is new and/or historically unique about outsourcing in comparison to past practices where intimate affairs were outsourcing. As I show, answering these questions is important for placing this trend in a theoretical context. In this dissertation I also critically evaluate a number of alternative theoretical accounts that have addressed to topic of outsourcing at the micro-level. As I show, while many of these theories have important insights in to this topic, they also have a number of significant limitations in accounting for the outsourcing of intimate affairs. In particular, I argue that most of these theories fail to place this type of outsourcing within a broad enough theoretical context. I show that such a context is offered by the theory of reflexive modernization theory and that many of the particular insights of these alternative theories can be integrated into the reflexive modernization perspective.