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The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in Modern America

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9780674737501: The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in Modern America
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Every day, Americans make decisions about their privacy: what to share and when, how much to expose and to whom. Securing the boundary between one’s private affairs and public identity has become a central task of citizenship. How did privacy come to loom so large in American life? Sarah Igo tracks this elusive social value across the twentieth century, as individuals questioned how they would, and should, be known by their own society.

Privacy was not always a matter of public import. But beginning in the late nineteenth century, as corporate industry, social institutions, and the federal government swelled, increasing numbers of citizens believed their privacy to be endangered. Popular journalism and communication technologies, welfare bureaucracies and police tactics, market research and workplace testing, scientific inquiry and computer data banks, tell-all memoirs and social media all propelled privacy to the foreground of U.S. culture. Jurists and philosophers but also ordinary people weighed the perils, the possibilities, and the promise of being known. In the process, they redrew the borders of contemporary selfhood and citizenship.

The Known Citizen reveals how privacy became the indispensable language for monitoring the ever-shifting line between our personal and social selves. Igo’s sweeping history, from the era of “instantaneous photography” to the age of big data, uncovers the surprising ways that debates over what should be kept out of the public eye have shaped U.S. politics and society. It offers the first wide-angle view of privacy as it has been lived and imagined by modern Americans.

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About the Author:

Sarah E. Igo is the Andrew Jackson Professor of History and Director of American Studies at Vanderbilt University.

Review:

“Masterful (and timely)...Privacy is clearly a protean concept, and Igo deftly reviews the definitions that scholars have offered in their efforts to cage its elusive essence. She judges these attempts helpful but less than conclusive. Her own ambitious solution is to embrace privacy’s multifariousness. In her marathon trek from Victorian propriety to social media exhibitionism, she recounts dozens of forgotten public debates...Utterly original.”David Greenberg, Washington Post

“A mighty effort to tell the story of modern America as a story of anxieties about privacy... Igo is an intelligent interpreter of the facts...She shows us that although we may feel that the threat to privacy today is unprecedented, every generation has felt that way since the introduction of the postcard.”Louis Menand, New Yorker

“[An] excellent new book on privacy in America...Igo follows the different ways in which Americans have been scrutinized―in the home, school, and workplace; by the state, the press, and marketing firms, corporations and psychologists, data aggregators and algorithms...Her book can...help us better understand our own debates over privacy today.”Katrina Forrester, Harper’s

“A masterful study of privacy in the United States.”Sue Halpern, New York Review of Books

“Engaging and wide-ranging...Igo’s analysis of state surveillance from the New Deal through Watergate is remarkably thorough and insightful.”Katie Fitzpatrick, The Nation

“A highly readable new history of privacy in America [that] offers insight into the ways attitudes have evolved as different forms of identification, and different expectations of privacy, have emerged.”Katrina Gulliver, Reason

“Luminous... For a century and a half, people in this country have been arguing at high volume about privacy... Today, we are watched as never before, through surreptitious governmental data collection and through corporate profiles of our desires and habits. Yet we also divulge private matters aggressively, seeking freedom through publicity.”Dissent

“Monumental...In vigorous, smooth-flowing prose, case by case and landmark by landmark, Igo tells this story with an authority and insight no previous comprehensive account has achieved...The Known Citizen is the best history yet to appear of the long road leading to that unprecedented privacy crisis, and she concludes by observing that no matter how altered the modern landscape is, we cannot do without privacy.”Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Review

“While most studies of privacy dwell on laws, court decisions, and other regulations, the premise of Igo’s book is that we might gain a better vantage point if we think about privacy as part and parcel of a larger culture...Igo tracks shifts in popular expectations about privacy across disciplines, decades, and media forms.”Palmer Rampell, Public Books

“Igo brilliantly interrogates the long history of privacy’s much-heralded demise and its shape-shifting meaning in the modern United States...A tour de force of cultural history that maps out privacy’s sprawling legal, social, and moral terrain with tremendous insight and verve...This is a major achievement and an essential guide to the competing and often contradictory dynamics of exposure and recognition in our intensively mediated society.”Josh Lauer, American Historical Review

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