Departure is from the proposition that there is no a priori concept of privacy. From this follows that there is no single, correct definition of privacy; we are instead able to focus on the practices and spatial arrangements that have been organized around what is assumed to be privacy. Furthermore, we can begin thinking of privacies in plural, which includes notions of privacy that have been dispensed with over the course of the history. So, rather than begin with privacy itself as a universal or a given, I propose to start with how privacy is enacted in the idea(l)s of built environment, actual and imagined.
The hypotheses of the proposed research project are:
i.) There is no such thing as a universal concept of “privacy.”
ii.) There are multiple practices related to something supposed to be privacy.
iii.) Within the historical span of the proposed project, the notion of privacy was less transfixed than at present; privacy can be considered to have been in formation.
iv.) This would suggest that there are other notions and concepts of privacy, privacies, that did not directly come to inform what we call privacy today.
A General Approach
While privacy today has taken on a relatively uniform meaning – although still ambiguous in terms of right/threat – the project proposed here will attempt to analyse the period when this definition was still open and in formation, and focus on the possible other concepts of privacy that, colourfully put, were weeded out and left by the side of the road that is general historiography. In other words, I propose to explore the multiple facets of what privacy represents, rather than what it is assumed to mean.
The early modern period was a period in which humankind in western Europe came to the conclusion that they ruled their own destiny, and that the order of society was a human, rather than a divine, affair. This realization in turn enabled us to interrogate and consider the order of society in greater depth and to question its organization in different ways. On the one hand, the state becomes, as Foucault hesitantly puts it, “self-conscious,” setting out to develop the art of governance, and where the relation between state and its subjects becomes political, and treatises outlining a social contract influence the conception of sovereignty. At the same time, this was also the era of dreaming large, of utopias and proposed ideal societal organizations, proposing other types of social contracts, other forms of societal order, and, sometimes, other notions of privacy, manifested in other forms of proposed and constructed architecture. It is these other privacies that the project proposed here aims to bring to put the spotlight on and bring in dialogue with present notions of privacy.
For more information, see the Privacy Centre website