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Policy Paper

Privacy as a precondition to social protection: On why there is a need to conceptualise privacy from a Marxist perspective

Author:

Mehek Vajawatt

Abstract

Concerns about privacy and its ambit have never been higher than they are today, in a post-Snowden and post-Cambridge Analytica world. These concerns bring to mind a quote from Franzen written in 1998 – “On closer examination, though, privacy proves to be the Cheshire cat of values: not much substance, but a very winning smile” (Franzen, 1998). It is interesting that ‘privacy’ as normative value is held as a ‘requisite of freedom’ (Douglas, 1952) and essential for ‘an autonomous life’ (Delaney and Carolan, 2008) while the contents of privacy are dismissed for being chimerical. Thus, the value attributed to the ‘right to privacy’ is far greater than the value attributed individually to ‘contents of privacy.’ This difference in normative values allows intrusions into ‘contents of privacy’ justifiable on grounds of a higher norm such as public interest or national security. Having contextualised the debate, I argue in my essay for an alternative conception of privacy, based on Karl Marx. Marxian ideology allows us to take seriously the critique of individualistic privacy notions as well as critically analyse the power imbalances of control and access of a State vis-à-vis an individual. In this essay, I engage with these chimerical characteristics of privacy; examining in the first half its liberal basis and its limitations. In the second half I present a Marxist critique of liberal notions of privacy and an alternative view of privacy. In this analysis, I examine challenges to building state capacity at global, national and regional levels in data protection and governance. The essay concludes with a renewed call for an examination of the liberal basis of privacy and to redefine privacy as a social, collective right instead of an individual one.
How to Cite: Vajawatt, M., 2021. Privacy as a precondition to social protection: On why there is a need to conceptualise privacy from a Marxist perspective. The Public Sphere: Journal of Public Policy, 9(1).
Published on 08 May 2021.
Peer Reviewed

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