Paula Helm, What the Concept of Anonymity in Self-Help Groups Can Teach Us About Privacy

Paula Helm, What the Concept of Anonymity in Self-Help Groups Can Teach Us About Privacy

Comment by: Joseph Hall

PLSC 2013

Workshop draft abstract:

In this paper I’ll confront currently debated privacy theories with empirical data about Alcoholics Anonymous. This will lead me to two arguments: Firstly I’ll point out some serious abridgements concerning the discourse that assumes a natural association of privacy-protection and the value of freedom. Secondly I’ll discuss some requirements that need to be fulfilled before citizens become able to make use of privacy-protection laws in order to feel more free in society. In particular, I’ll discus some basic requirements for people to recover from addiction-diseases. I’ll do this on the basis of my empirical findings. Subsequently I’ll argue for an intermediate step between the association of privacy and freedom. This step can be implemented by differentiating between subjective and social freedom. Subjective freedom in this model is to be understood as the necessary condition for using privacy as a tool for generating social freedom. Having this condition in mind privacy then again can be understood as the necessary condition for building up social freedom.

The data I observe shows that if subjective freedom is not given, privacy-protection rather develops a counterproductive dynamic. As subjective freedom here means not to be captured in an addictive pattern, first and foremost the captivity has to be broken. Therefore addicted people have to go through the process of unclosing their privately kept secrets in order to get help from outside. Only with this help they may develop the power to recover from their addiction. Hence, they first need to give up privacy to gain stability over their pattern, thus building up subjective freedom. In finding subjective freedom in an abstinent life, they can finally use their ‘right to privacy’ for resolving the question of what social freedom may be for them.

For exposing those arguments the basic idea of associating privacy to the value freedom will be contrasted with the relativity of the notion of privacy. The latter can be pointed out by historicization. To this end those historical interpretations will be sketched, which implicitly underlie our emotional responses to ‘privacy’ today.

Against this background a praxis orientated discussion can be introduced. It concerns the effects of the public-private dichotomy when it comes to dealing with crises and dependencies. The concept of addiction will be confronted with its counterpart, the concept of recovery.

On the basis of these considerations the concept of anonymity presented by Alcoholics Anonymous will be introduced. It is the core concept concerning the relationship between privacy and recovery. Anonymity as used and produced by Self-Help Groups can answer the question of how privacy protection can be used by citizens who search for concepts serving for building up subjective freedom within the social grid.

Conclusively we will see why and in which form anonymity can serve as complement for privacy rights advising the idea of differentiating between subjective and social freedom.