Deirdre Mulligan & Colin Koopman, A Multi-Dimensional Analysis of Theories of Privacy

Deirdre Mulligan & Colin Koopman, A Multi-Dimensional Analysis of Theories of Privacy

Comment by: Harry Surden

PLSC 2010

Workshop draft abstract:

The concept of privacy, despite its centrality for contemporary liberal democratic culture, is remarkably ill-understood.  We face today an almost dizzying array of diverging and conflicting theorizations, conceptualizations, diagnoses, and analyses of privacy.

These multiple senses of privacy provoke uncertainty about the concept and attendant charges of ambiguity and vagueness.  Despite the uncertainty of privacy being a cause for concern, we argue here that the conceptual plurality of privacy with which we are faced today positively answers to the dynamic and diverse functions that privacy performs in our culture.  In order to appreciate the positive benefits of privacy’s plurality, however, we need to undertake inquiries into the various ways in which our conceptions of privacy differ from one another.  Our primary claim is that the multiple dimensions along which concepts of privacy vary demand careful scrutiny and evaluation.

Short of that, we may too easily find ourselves overwhelmed with an abundance of claims concerning privacy, and this abundance may induce a dizzying rather than a dynamic uncertainty.  The article proceeds as follows.  Section 1 presents an introduction to the plurality of privacy.  Section 2 argues on behalf of a multi-dimensional taxonomy for privacy theories that would enable us to work with privacy concepts in a more nuanced manner than is typical.  Section 3 presents a categorization of extant theories of privacy according to this taxonomy and Section 4 explicates these theories.  Section 5 offers a brief conclusion about the potential upside of our multi-dimensional approach.