Relational Contexts are not Fixed

Moreover, these relational contexts are not fixed but, as with relationships themselves, dynamic: the multiple contexts of our relationships are subject to constant renegotiation and reformulation. This happens, for example, when one or more of the persons constituting a communicative cohort feels his or her “privacy” or private life has somehow been breached by disclosures others have made. A common example of how this works in practice is documented by Stine Lomborg. Lomborg analyzed the communicative interactions of a prominent Danish blogger and her audience. On occasion, either the blogger or one of her readers revealed something that was received as rather too personal, too individually private. This occasioned a renegotiation process that, in response to the violation of the contextual norms of the blog (to use Nissenbaum’s term), more articulately redefined the “line between what is appropriate to share and what is too private”.

Such relational conceptions of privacy are further consistent with a third understanding of selfhood and identity – namely, that of relational autonomy. As the name implies, relational autonomy stands as a middle ground between more strongly individual and more strongly relational senses of self. Recall here that a strongly individual autonomous or free self is the foundation of modern Western conceptions of democratic norms (equality, respect, fairness, justice), rights (life, liberty, the pursuit of property – as well as freedom of expression, privacy, and so on), and thus the defining processes of debate and deliberation. To fully abandon such a self in favor of a purely relational self is thereby to eliminate any grounds for holding to such norms, rights, and processes. Especially, feminist philosophers worry about such a loss: whatever the enormous sins and faults of modern liberalism since the Enlightenment articulation of this freedom and affiliated rights, women’s emancipation and gradual moves toward greater equality have centrally depended on these conceptions.

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