PRIVACY's Research – University of Copenhagen

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PRIVACY's Research

PRIVACY’s collaborative research programme is driven by a vision of an integrated interdisciplinary approach in which a team of schol­ars collaborate, challenge and inspire each other in a joint pursuit of the legislative, religious, social, cultural and architectural aspects of a shared set of cases.

PRIVACY’s scholarly potency stems from its pioneering site-based and interdisciplinary analysis.

Interdisciplinary collaboration

PRIVACY aims to develop an interdiscipli­nary approach equipped to grasp, e.g., architectural, religious, legislative, political and educational demarcations of priva­cy in an inte­grated way. Shared responsibility across aca­demic hierarchies is a token of PRIVACY’s vision for in­teractive research education.

The research team brings to­gether extensive source ex­pertise, familiarity with European archives, mastery of modern and ancient languages as well as field-inherent skills and ap­proaches to privacy.

Architecture: Urban plans, buildings and rooms frame privacy, creating secrecy and shelter; chapels and cabinets stage prayer, study and intimacy, and are amplified by interiors and furnishing; alcove beds and privies (toilets) wall off bodily needs; rural retreat offset urban life.

Re­ligious cul­ture: Early Modern believers favour privacy­ (material and/or mental retreat) as a site for pious fo­cus, and privacy is often presented as place particularly fit for prayer and insight. But privacy also evades control and prompts suspicion of heresy or sin, leading to efforts to regulate the private sphere by means of church discipline.

Law: Early Modern law defines conditions for property, sexual conduct, mar­riage, inheritance and rulers’ claims to their subjects’ work, property and lives (conscrip­tion, mo­nopoly of vio­lence within penal law).

History of Ideas: In Early Modern society, privacy is seen both as a threat and as a positive value. A new ideology of marriage and family favours intimacy and domesticity, but also enforces state and community control. In politics, privacy often equals secrecy: it is a latent threat to civic stability and vital for the ruler. Privacy can frame self-knowledge and liberty, but is also subject to strong regulation.

Site-based analysis

PRIVACY’s primary research focus rests with 11 cases. These cases are rep­resentative types chosen with a view to rele­vant sources and density of privacy is­sues. All cases exemplify urban plans and the exercise of political, legislative and re­ligious power.

Chosen with a view to varia­bles, the 11 cases cover key confessions (Anglican, Catho­lic, Jewish, Lutheran, Reformed) and civic set­tings (capitals, courts, provincial towns). They typify issues related to gen­der, authorities (local/national; religious/political), class, reli­gion (refor­mation, conflict, cohab­itation, athe­ism), education, geography (ports have special privacy issues related to commerce), key theo­reticians (Hobbes, Conring, A. Smith) and civic ideals (the ‘pious realm’, ‘Enlighten­ment’). Such factors shape the esteem for – and distrust of – privacy together with, e.g., ideas of home and fami­ly, the emer­gence of the po­lice, parish and state registers, freedom and con­straints regarding prop­erty, belief, sexual conduct and bodily habits.

Each case is studied by a case-team, involving ex­perts of architecture, reli­gion, law and political ideas at all levels of scholarly maturity. The case-teams trawl let­ters, laws, political manuals, newspa­pers, sermons, architectural plans, diaries, contracts, commu­nity records for notions of privacy, hunting for indicators such as words with the root ‘priv-ʼ: in privato, privy, Privat-(per­son/andacht etc.), privauté etc. as well as bounda­ries drawn in relation to, e.g., confidentiality, security, family, body, self.

Wider perspective

PRIVACY will generate a form of historical analysis fit to inform scientific ap­proaches to cur­rent privacy issues. We aim to create durable sci­entific effects by mobi­lizing knowledge of historical notions of privacy as a resource for research on contemporary issues that require subtle responses beyond mere technology: handling of personal data, concerns with human in­tegrity in health care or social seclusion et al.

This mobilization will be driven by extracts of in­sights into deep complexities in historical notions of privacy; e.g. tensions between global and local objectives, individuals’ obligation to several communities or fluid views of human dignity.

We test such extracts and their wider scientific potential at  Challenge seminars, where PRIVACY’s team meet with invited experts for discussions of topics such as surveillance, privacy rights, medical ethics, work-life balance or social cohesion, to pose mutual research challenges.