My ethnographically-based research concerns better understanding refugees’ conceptions of privacy, and applying their concerns to larger theoretical, policy and design concerns around the topic.
Digital-era academic and legal discussions closely associate privacy with the management of personal information. These and earlier conceptions have valued privacy for its role in facilitating taking a ‘break’ from social pressures, facilitating democratic participation, and helping to manage different aspects of one’s public life. Altogether, these have tended to view privacy as an extension of claims to individual freedom within the domestic space, and as a tool for managing one’s social life by selectively revealing and concealing information appropriate to difference audiences – for example, selecting who can see what items on a social media profile. This largely assumes the individual to be a rational actor within a stable social structure.
Many refugees who have recently arrived in Europe use mobile phones for navigation and everyday communication, and have concerns around data security. Yet they have challenging relationships to the assumptions that underlie ‘privacy’ as described above. They have left their homes under extraordinarily challenging circumstances, and remain at different stages of a complicated asylum system. Their legal right to settle in safe countries is contingent on demonstrating a lack of other options, and consequently the self-presentation capacities associated with privacy may be viewed with suspicion. This research seeks to better explore refugees’ experiences, applying them to interrogate the role of information management in providing the benefits associated with privacy, ultimately reconsidering what digital privacy might mean for people in the midst of instability.