Book Launch

Book Launch | The Known Citizen

11/07 Wednesday | 6pm

NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge invites you to the launch event for Sarah Igo’s new book The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in Modern America, featuring the author in conversation with Bernard Harcourt and Melissa Murray.

Every day, Americans make decisions about their privacy: what to share and when, how much to expose and to whom. Securing the boundary between one’s private affairs and public identity has become a central task of citizenship. How did privacy come to loom so large in American life? Sarah Igo tracks this elusive social value across the twentieth century, as individuals questioned how they would, and should, be known by their own society.

Privacy was not always a matter of public import. But beginning in the late nineteenth century, as corporate industry, social institutions, and the federal government swelled, increasing numbers of citizens believed their privacy to be endangered. Popular journalism and communication technologies, welfare bureaucracies and police tactics, market research and workplace testing, scientific inquiry and computer data banks, tell-all memoirs and social media all propelled privacy to the foreground of U.S. culture. Jurists and philosophers but also ordinary people weighed the perils, the possibilities, and the promise of being known. In the process, they redrew the borders of contemporary selfhood and citizenship.

The Known Citizen reveals how privacy became the indispensable language for monitoring the ever-shifting line between our personal and social selves. Igo’s sweeping history, from the era of “instantaneous photography” to the age of big data, uncovers the surprising ways that debates over what should be kept out of the public eye have shaped U.S. politics and society. It offers the first wide-angle view of privacy as it has been lived and imagined by modern Americans.

Sarah E. Igo is an Associate Professor of History (as well as Law, Political Science, and Sociology) and Director of the Program in American Studies at Vanderbilt University. She teaches and writes broadly about modern American cultural and intellectual history, with special interests in the history of the human sciences, the sociology of knowledge, and the history of the public sphere. Her award-winning first book, The Averaged American: Surveys, Citizens, and the Making of a Mass Public (Harvard University Press, 2007), explores the relationship between survey data—opinion polls, sex surveys, consumer research—and modern understandings of self and nation. Igo has held fellowships from the Institute for Advanced Study, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Whiting Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and the Mellon Foundation. She has been a visiting scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin and the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale, and is the co-founder of the National Forum on the Future of Liberal Education.

Bernard E. Harcourt is the Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law, Professor of Political Science, Executive Director of the Eric H. Holder Initiative for Civil and Political Rights, and Founding Director of the Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought at Columbia University. His scholarship intersects social and political theory, the sociology of punishment, and penal law and procedure. He has authored several books, including The Counterrevolution: How Our Government Went to War Against Its Own Citizens (Basic Books, 2018), and Exposed: Desire and Disobedience in the Digital Age (Harvard University Press, 2015). He is also editor of several of Michel Foucault’s works, including the 1973 Collège de France lectures, La société punitive (Gallimard 2014). Harcourt is a directeur d’etudes at the Ecole des hautes etudes en sciences sociales in Paris, and has taught at several universities, including, most recently, the University of Chicago, as the Julius Kreeger Professor of Law and Political Science and chairman of the political science department. Harcourt represented death row inmates in Montgomery, Alabama, at what is now the Equal Justice Initiative, and continues to represent inmates sentenced to death or life imprisonment without parole pro bono. He has also served on human rights missions in South Africa and Guatemala.

Melissa Murray is Professor of Law at NYU’s School of Law. Her research focuses on the legal regulation of sex and sexuality and encompasses such topics as marriage and its alternatives, the marriage equality debate, the legal recognition of caregiving, and reproductive rights and justice. Her award winning publications have appeared (or are forthcoming) in several journals including the California Law Review, Columbia Law Review, Harvard Law Review, Virginia Law Review, and Yale Law Journal. She is an author of Cases on Reproductive Rights and Justice, the first casebook to cover the field of reproductive rights and justice. She has translated her scholarly writing for more popular audiences by publishing in the New York Times, Newsweek, the San Francisco Chronicle, Vanity Fair, and The Huffington Post, and has offered commentary for numerous media outlets, including NPR, MSNBC, and PBS. Prior to joining the NYU faculty, Murray was on the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, where she was the recipient of the Rutter Award for Teaching Distinction, and served as interim dean of the Berkeley Law.

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