Sarah E. Igo, The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy In Modern America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2018. Xii + 592 pages. Hardcover. $35.00.

AuthorIsom, McKenzie L.
PositionArticle 12

The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy In Modern America is the latest book from historian Sarah E. Igo, in which she traces the long history of privacy and its changing definition throughout much of the twentieth century within the United States. Igo argues that to understand privacy, we must disabuse ourselves of the notion that privacy has and continues to have a static definition. Instead, personal ideas and feelings surrounding privacy have generally experienced a degree of fluidity that was largely dependent upon broader societal and social factors. Igo thus attempts to approach privacy from a more personal level by focusing on how American citizens have understood and grappled with the notion of privacy as it evolved. From Victorian-era notions of propriety to Laud Humphreys' tearoom study to the social media boom of the twenty-first century, Igo provides an exhaustive account of how citizens have tackled the fine line between privacy and the desire to broadcast intimate details of one's life into the greater public domain.

Igo asserts that the inherent need to be known in part stems from the fact that knowledge of a person, over the course of the twentieth century, became increasingly tied to modern notions of citizenship and American identity. To be known, via Social Security, racial, sexual, even medical categorizations, or through political and religious affiliations, was to be a part of a broader national collective. Of course, these categorizations came with a degree of privilege and hierarchy. Heterosexual white Americans could exert the right to privacy, effectively enabling them to dictate how their private information was disclosed. Members of the LGBTQ+ community, people of color, and those within lower-class brackets did not have these privileges extended to them, and in their case, often had their private information distributed to lasting and damaging effects.

Thus, Igo's book provides a broader understanding of privacy and identity within modern America by moving away from traditional works on privacy that tend to focus on the state's increasing presence in its citizen's everyday lives. However, Igo's approach to understanding privacy at a more personal level by looking at citizens' responses to the widening gap between the private and the public throughout...

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