Sarah Igo

The Known Citizen

A History of Privacy in Modern America

Harvard University Press 2018

New Books in American StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Intellectual HistoryNew Books in LawNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network August 28, 2018 Lilian Calles Barger

Sarah E. Igo is an associate professor of history at Vanderbilt University and the author of The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in...

Sarah E. Igo is an associate professor of history at Vanderbilt University and the author of The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in Modern America (Harvard University Press, 2018). Igo provides a legal and social history of the idea of privacy and how it was first evoked, challenged, written into law and reinterpreted by ordinary citizens in the age of mass marketing and social media. Once the right of elite citizens to protect their reputations, the growth of the bureaucratic state, communications technologies, and the inquiries of experts brought the issue of privacy into view for many more Americans. First defined by legal experts as the “right to be left alone” in bodily, mental and emotional aspects, by the end of the twentieth century privacy came to mean the right to control one’s public narrative. Americans have swung from seeking seclusion in increasingly secure homes to tell-all public confessions, reflecting a dilemma between the desire to left alone and the need to be known. Igo has shed light on why Americans are so conflicted about privacy, navigating the treacherous terrain of the state, the market and their own desire for connection, security, and visibility.

This episode of New Books in American Studies was produced in cooperation with the Society for U.S. Intellectual History.


Lilian Calles Barger, www.lilianbarger.com, is a cultural, intellectual and gender historian. Her most recent book is entitled The World Come of Age: An Intellectual History of Liberation Theology, Oxford University Press, 2018.

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