On this Past Present Podcast episode, Nicole Hemmer, Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, and Neil Young discuss life coaches.
- Life coaching is big business these days, but there’s still some confusion about what life coaches actually do. Natalia drew from the sociologist Arlie Hochschild’s work on the outsourcing of intimate labor to argue that life coaches are often stand-ins for a reliable friend or professional mentor. Niki noted this was most visible in new services like “Rent-a-Mom.”
- Niki cited Julie Golia’s research on the rise of advice columns as a helpful way for understanding life coaches. Like Golia’s advice columnists, life coaches fulfill and professionalize social functions that once played out in close-knit communities. Neil noted that in a “Bowling Alone” era, life coaches provided an individualized experience of professional authority within a larger culture of community breakdown and anti-institutional sentiments.
- Natalia recommended Susan Faludi’s Stiffed for thinking more about the gendered politics of self-help and Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided for a critical take on the life coaching industry.