Twenty-First Century Family Privacy

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationArticle


Family privacy, an important ideology which informs legal and political understandings of the family and its relationship to wider society, emerged in the nineteenth century reflecting liberal views of the family as a private institution requiring protection from an intrusive state.

Whilst there has been much theoretical discussion of family privacy, few scholars have investigated it empirically. The research underpinning this article is the first empirical study to examine whether parents believe the twenty-first century family should be afforded privacy.

This study reveals that family privacy ideology remains relevant to twenty-first century families but requires reconceptualisation. This article uses parents’ own words to formulate a novel, expanded, definition of family privacy, which acknowledges that contemporary families’ privacy is threatened both by the state and by an intrusive digital society.

This study finds that whilst parents may consider privacy important, they nonetheless accept that intervention in family life is necessary to protect children from harm. It thus responds directly to academic concerns that family privacy acts as a barrier to the protection of vulnerable family members.

This article proposes an alternative framework for understanding the family’s relationship to state and society. This framework acknowledges the family’s embeddedness within state and society and its desire to control disclosure of family information. Informed by families’ own experiences, it brings a fresh perspective to arguments that family privacy theory wrongly positions the family within a separate private sphere.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages24
Specialist publicationChild and Family Law Quarterly
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2023

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