Privacy as a Social Mechanism for Maintaining Inconsistency Between Identities

  • Smadar Ben-Asher Kaye Academic College of Education Ben-Gurion University of the Negev; Mandel Center for Leadership in the Negev
  • Ran Wolff University of Haifa; Yahoo Labs
Keywords: privacy, social representations, social identity, identity conflicts, social mechanism


Whereas in the past the issue of privacy has been examined from legal and philosophical

perspectives, the present study attempts to examine the social mechanisms that define the

boundaries of privacy by means of Social Representations Theory. Social representations

simultaneously refer to the actions of both individual and group, and consequently

belonging to several social groups means the coexistence of discrete and at times

conflicting social representations. As long as the representations are not confronted with

their dissonance and inconsistency – oftentimes due to privacy – they can coexist. The

issue emerges in conflict situations wherein the individual has to choose a mode of action

from several incompatible possibilities. The argument on which the present article is

based is that privacy serves as a social mechanism whose purpose is to enable individuals

to shift between inconsistent identities. We shall present three test cases to illustrate how

society, by means of its agents, constantly sets and destroys boundaries of privacy. These 

cases illuminate a complex system that functions in a dialectic of interrelations that apply

pressure in two directions: the individual on society, and society on the individual. The

innovation proposed in the present article is in viewing privacy as a mechanism for

maintaining inconsistency between identities. Central to this is the shared interest of both

group and individual to enable the coexistence of the individual’s different identities,

whose social representations are incompatible.

Author Biographies

Smadar Ben-Asher, Kaye Academic College of Education Ben-Gurion University of the Negev; Mandel Center for Leadership in the Negev

SMADAR BEN-ASHER is a specialist psychologist. She is head of the Kaye Academic College

of Education educational counselors program, a faculty member of the Mandel Leadership

Institute in the Negev, and an adjunct lecturer at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev training

programs for psychologists and counselors. Her academic specialization is research of the social

representations discourse of groups in Israeli society.

Ran Wolff, University of Haifa; Yahoo Labs

RAN WOLFF is a computer science graduate of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology.

He is a faculty of the Information Systems department at the University of Haifa and a research

scientist at Yahoo Labs – Haifa. His main topic of interest is data mining algorithms. However,

he has multiple publications on the issue of preserving privacy during data mining.