Call for papers Socio: The Eclipse of Privacy
The journal Socio announces its call for papers on the theme “The Eclipse of Privacy”. The special section is coordinated by: Isabelle Berrebi-Hoffmann (Lise-Cnam-CNRS) and Arnaud Saint-Martin (Printemps, CNRS-UVSQ). Proposals for contributions (title, a two-page summary and bibliography) must be sent to Socio before April 15, 2015. The completed articles of accepted proposals are due on September 2, 2015.
For the last few years, the limits on privacy rights, to freedom of expression and with respect to legitimate controls by democratic states, are the subject of global controversies in the intellectual, political, legal, media and activist spheres.
This special section of the journal Socio explores social scientific perspectives concerning a specific debate: the redefinition of the borders between the private and the public, a question already current, in a separate but no less active way, in many areas (law, the Internet, gender studies, ethics and philosophy.).
At the heart of public and media debates, there is both surprise and intellectual hesitation before what appears as an unexpected and even problematic separation of the private and the public. From Edward Snowden to the theft of the private photos of celebrities by hackers, there is a multiplication of troubling questions. What is private in our private lives when the borders seem to disappear in the name of transparency and total exposure? What does “protect private life” mean when the online display of the private and hyperconnected publicity appears nearly inevitable? Where does the freedom to choose not to allow any aspect of oneself appear, end? In any given case, with respect to what more or less fundamental right? The friction between national norms and laws and global, or sometimes merely North American, practices and organizations, remains to be studied with respect to the redefinition of fundamental rights like freedom of expression and the right to a private life.
At the same time, in the name of human and individual rights, states legislate in spaces that were until now outside of the law, like intra-family relationships or the legal status of the human body and of the individual. Whether it is with respect to the rights of children, or spousal violence, artificial procreation, the limits set on the buying and selling of organs and bodies, the sexual rights of the disabled, prisoners or the elderly, a new conception of the role of law and of the state is increasingly debated in the democracies, suggesting new limits to the private spaces that were so strongly institutionalized in the 19th century.
This special section of the journal Socio welcomes articles that, from empirical cases or from semantic, historical or legal perspectives, consider the reconfiguration of the distinction between the private and the public. Articles analysing the controversies in light of the problematic described above will be as welcome as sociohistorical and comparative articles, as well those describing and analysing, for instance, the sites and actors that circulate recent norms or transnational legal debates.
1- A sociology of borders and categories
The importance of the displacement of the borders between the private and the public domains is not new in the humanities and social sciences. A long tradition from Arendt through to gender studies, in social philosophy, anthropology and sociology has been concerned with this question around themes and categories which, if diverse, nonetheless all make reference to the idea of the transformation of borders, which are created and socially constructed over time.
Classical sociology seized the issue early. Through processes of individualization, urbanization, the emergence of the individual person and of a more pronounced individual self-consciousness, modern society is inextricably bound up with sociohistorical analyses concerned with the emergence of the borders between what is public and what is intimate, belonging to the private sphere. Whether it has to do with secrets (Simmel 1909), emotions (Halbwachs 1947), the critical mind and individualism (Durkheim 1898), self-consciousness (Mead 1934) or in considering the subject as part of the study of the development of civilization (Elias 1939, 1987), sociologists have long questioned the imbrication between human history and the necessity of a frontier between the political and the public on the one hand and the private and intimate on the other. Always in movement over time, the social sciences have had to repeatedly reconsider the discipline with respect to the respective parts of the social and of the private spheres – like the family, the body, health, heritage, property, procreation, sexuality…– which, depending on the era and the society co-construct and align on one side or the other of the border between the domestic and the political/public, the “oïkia” and the “polis”, in Arendt’s terms (Arendt 1958; Ricoeur 1983).
The “wall of private life”, specific to the French 19th century, thus marks a time in the historical construction of the private (Duby et Ariès 1985), which is debated in a global way by the contemporary social sciences. This debate may be concerned with denouncing the exit of emotions from politics and the “tyranny of intimacy” (Sennett 1979) or with the governance of the individual (Foucault, 2004, especially pp.354-365) or with the exclusion of women from the public sphere (Fraisse 1995), or with affirming the blurring of borders because of our “second modernity” (Beck 2001, Giddens 1991, 2002) or with analysing the tri-secular individualization that culminates today in a society made up of individuals whose singularity is on display (Martuccelli 2010; Singly 2005) – a display of singularity that sometimes even includes the intimate (Berrebi-Hoffmann, 2009 ; Clam, 2007 ; Mura-Brunel et Schwerewegen, 2004). The back and forth and circulations between private and public spaces (Hirschman, 1982 ; Fraisse, 1997), the commodification of intimacy (Hochschild, 2003 ; Zelizer, 2005), the exposure of the self (Butler, 2007), the privatization of the public space as an appropriation of the self (Castel et Haroche, 2001 ; Schwartz, 2002) illustrate contemporary efforts to differently name a transformed reality.
The scale of the transformations today justifies this volume, which seeks to bring together recent works that, on the one hand, explore the evolution of categories and of borders by, for instance, semantic and sociohistorical comparative approaches and, on the other hand, analyse recent controversies through empirical studies.
By way of illustration, case studies may be concerned with the social worlds that have taken up the redefinition of the right to a private life in terms of fundamental liberties in a supposedly universal and global world.
2- The digital world confronted with politics
International debates related to the possibilities of the internet and the digital conjure up new terms in legal and intellectual spaces, like the “right to forget”, the “protection of personal data” or again, of “privacy”. At the same time, new actors situated at the trans- or supra-national levels impose themselves at the heart of processes of developing fundamental rights (the case of Google has been cited many times as proof of these developments); the “free” communities, for their part, organize worldwide consultations with experts and political personalities, between Europe and the Americas. For the moment, existing legal and ethical norms contradict each other and exist in state of indecision. For example, is Edward Snowden a “whistleblower” or a traitor to the state? With respect to political representatives: does this represent a guilty voyeurism or a legitimate intrusion in public life, given careers that are in any case, subject to exposure?
Diverse social groups, human rights activists, hackers and net activists, moral and intellectual authorities each therefore assure, by different and even competing perspectives, the control of a question that is nevertheless the same for all: what, today, is private in the private? Private in the public? Public in the private? Do we need to rethink social, political legal categories? Or just redefine the limits and the borders? And who, incidentally, can legitimately decide such questions? What about the norms, laws and regulations of the past and to come? Is it necessary to protect “personal information”, the right to a private life on the net? Is the internet a public space, a private space? What is the risk or danger of “general surveillance” or of the totalitarian threat? The debate about “the end of private life”, therefore unfolds in that the new technological possibilities must be rethought in our democratic spaces (Sciences, 2015 ; Pasquale, 2015).
Importantly, national rights do not agree upon the simple notion of the “right to a private life”. A fundamental freedom written into the constitution of the United States, the right to a private life (“privacy”) does not exist in British law today and the French situation is, also, specific. Legal, activist and normative debates thus unfold in a global space and a political and legal arena where the question of normalization exists at several levels. Can we discern a culturally variable tolerance for surveillance in countries that are preoccupied with the question of the right to private life? A globalization of definitions and norms? An importation of a dominant American model? In what ways is the right to a private life and anonymity being questioned today? Is it a fundamental right? Who are the actors who, in debating, define and redefine what is private in the private or public in the private?
Empirical case studies of specific actors or controversies that involve a redefinition of private and public spaces are particularly welcome. For instance, case studies may consider organizations, parties or activist movements, transnational legal debates or again, the creation and the circulation of categories like the idea of “privacy”, of “anonymity” and of “the right to be forgotten”.
3- A “common” space, a third space between the private and the public?
Beyond the problematic of the conditions for the existence and the practice of a fundamental liberty which is now in question, another vein of discussion today turns towards the emergence of a third space between the private and the public, a zone of the “commons”. This intermediate sphere between the public and the intimate, at once private and public, allows us to think through, for example, the spaces of social networks. Equally, the notion of the “commons” may allow us to better understand communities and forms of collective action, including production, proper to the cooperative economy.
The notion of the commons, if it is back in fashion, in particular since the work by Elinor ostrom is, of course, not new in economics. In political philosophy, the idea goes still farther back. The grammar of the commons, intermediate between the individual and the public, is characteristic of the political organization of ancient Greece (Macé 2012), like “collective” rights, present up until the 18th century in a number of European countries (Thompson, 2014).
If the idea is used today, sometimes in ways very remote from the difficulties of regulating the conflicts lived in these third spaces, some work has, however, begun to re-formulate the questions of our public-private divisions through the prism of the notion of the common good or the commons. Thus, Amitai Etzioni (2009) has sought to reflect on the new representations of private life (“hyperprivacy”) that must be limited in order to maintain a general interest that arises from the common good. This then poses the question of a redefinition of the limits of individual liberty proper to individual rights that underlie our private-public division inherited from the Enlightenment. The question of free access to shared spaces is, however, in tension with this idea. Social networks, communities, the places that are rooted in the common — are they spaces of sharing or of a “privatization of public space” for the profit of the few? What modes of regulation are possible, legitimate? The question arises with respect to the internet, with the controversies around the hegemony of Facebook or of Google, as in law. Is there an intermediate idea between the private and the public being invented, whose use is still being formulated and experimented by each of us? Today, what actors and organizations construct these intermediate spaces between the private and the public, where the uses, norms and regulations, remain to be explored?
For instance, articles from sociological or ethnographic case studies or sociohistorical and/or legal investigations about the contemporary pertinence of an intermediate space part-private/part-social are welcome to reflect upon the controversies concerning the impact and transformations that, for example, social networks introduce with respect to public and private lives.
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Berrebi-Hoffmann, Isabelle (dir.), 2009, Politiques de l’intime. Des utopies sociales d’hier aux mondes du travail d’aujourd’hui, Paris, La Découverte.
Butler, Judith, , Giving an Account of Oneself : A Critique of Ethical Violence
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Clam, Jean, 2007, L’intime : genèse, régimes, nouages, Paris, Ganse Arts et Lettres.
Duby, Georges et Aries, Philippe, 1985, Histoire de la vie privée, Paris, Éditions du Seuil.
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Hochschild, Arlie Russell, 2003, The Commercialization of Intimate Life, Notes from Home and Work, Berkeley, Los Angeles et Londres, University of California Press.
Macé, Arnaud, 2012, Choses privées et chose publique en Grèce ancienne- Genèse et structure d’un système de classification, Grenoble, Éditions Jérome Million.
Martuccelli, Danilo, 2010, La société singulariste, Paris, Armand Colin.
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Pasquale, Frank, 2015, The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information, Cambridge, Harvard University Press.
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Zelizer, Viviana A., 2005, The Purchase of Intimacy, Princeton et Oxford, Princeton University Press.
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