Contemporary processes of individualization push people to construct single-handedly their own identities. This urge runs counter to a fundament of sociology, which proposes that identities are social products that must be validated through social relations. Based on participant observation and in-depth interviews with life coaches and their clients, I investigate life coaching as a social institution that aims to resolve the paradoxical nature of the desire for self-creation. Locating life coaching in the larger identity-fashioning market, this article illustrates how the artificial nature of outsourced social relations reconciles two apparently contradictory desires: the “need for help” and “wanting to find it on my own.” Three mechanisms are involved: creating an independent social space where identities can be crafted away from significant others; deliberately deemphasizing the coach and intentionally underwriting personal authorship; and encouraging clients to root identities in the social world while promoting an instrumental view of sociality. The article discusses the blurring of boundaries between intimate social relations and utilitarian market logic, and the implications of the ongoing outsourcing of identity support that reinforces the privileged ideal of self-made identities.
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© 2016 Eastern Sociological Society
- late modernity