Deviance in the Sociologist’s Assumptions About Privacy

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4 Responses

  1. Fhalyshia Orians says:

    Hey there! I’m taking an ethics class focused on how our ethics are affected by technology this semester,and one of its requirements is to read and comment on a relating blog post every week.
    Recently in class we’ve been discussing the notion of privacy on the internet: what defines privacy, and to what degrees we are entitled to it. The various views you gave in your post, although specifying more intimate forms of privacy rather than technological, are still interesting ways of thinking about privacy and are applicable to internet privacy as well.
    The notion that secrecy is inherently negative because, if the thing itself wasn’t shameful or negative in some way by society’s definition, then it wouldn’t need to be kept secretive in the first place was a fairly logical rationalization to me at first. If I am doing nothing illegal or morally reprehensible, why should I care that my email provider can access and share the contents of every email I have ever sent or received? But then I went on to think that if society’s definition of wrong was different than that of my own, how would I be affected by this lack of privacy? Just because the information that is gathered and stored about me through my various uses of today’s technology isn’t obviously affecting me, it doesn’t mean it couldn’t be. What society tolerates depends on that society’s culture, and these societal norms don’t necessarily match the personal ethics of every individual. So what this really seems to come down to is a question of individual versus the whole; privacy protects the individual from potential punishment for adhering to their own moral principles, while it prevents the governing body from completely enforcing their own. Who has the right to what, and where is the line drawn?

  2. Frank says:

    Very smart post, and you’re clearly exposing deep flaws in current discussions of privacy.

    I have one suggestion as to a “neutral” concept of privacy—perhaps emphasizing that Goffman’s “offstage” is a way of creating spaces where individuals don’t have to compete with one another–for approval, for acting decorously, for politeness, etc.

    That’s a natural extension of Peppet’s “unraveling privacy” argument. The house-spouse who doesn’t get all dolled up while cleaning the toilet is, fortunately, privileged not to have people looking at him/her while doing so.

    The inhumanity of reality TV shows like Big Brother lies in part (as Mark Andrejevic shows) in the inhuman insistence of constant competition or pressure for attunement to social norms in all moments of existence (eating, sleeping, flirting, etc). And the rise of anti-heroes (like Honey Boo Boo mom June) perhaps reflects a demotic transvaluation of values, a rebellion insisting: “if you’re going to watch us every minute of the day, infantilizing us, we may as well act like toddlers.” This is a natural response to “an immense and tutelary power” which no longer bothers to “secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate,” but merely wants to mock, contain, correct, and scold.

    • Ari Waldman says:

      Thanks, Frank. Very insightful. I like your take on Goffman’s offstage. Thinking about it not as a space, but as a space between competing individuals feeds directly into the theory I hope to unravel this month in these posts. Let’s see if it works!

  3. Emma D. says:

    I found this post very insightful. I think this discussion really points out how privacy can mean so many vastly different things to different people. I was intrigued by the concept of privacy as defined by the act of hiding something because of the connotations I see as being involved. The idea of hiding brings to mind the concept of deviance, as you discuss later on in the post, which I don’t think is always a part of the situation when someone wants privacy or to be private. I connected in some ways to the discussion of the connection between privacy and space because often the first thing that comes to mind when I think of privacy is the ability to be alone or have space to oneself. As a college student living in an apartment I am regularly incredibly grateful that I have the ability to go to my own room and be alone. I appreciate time to myself and quiet for doing things such as studying or reading. I see this situation as an example of a way that I enjoy privacy, but I don’t see it as involving any type of deviant behavior. Most of the time when I am on my own I am not doing anything differently than if someone else were there as well, like for example if I was sharing my room with a roommate, but I enjoy the ability to carry out these actions in solitude. I find that it actually feels better to do these same things on my own. Because of this personal understanding that I have I also struggle to level with a definition of privacy that necessarily involves secrecy. To use the same example, everyone in my apartment may know that I am in my room doing homework, but I still feel a sense of privacy involved in the situation despite the fact that there is no secrecy about my actions. I feel that sense of privacy simply because I have a space to myself where I can be alone. I am still working on pinning down the specifics about my feelings related to privacy, and I appreciate all of the questions that this post raises and the various potential definitions of privacy that are provided.