Privacy Matters

Conversations about Surveillance within and beyond the Classroom
By Estee Beck (Editor) and Les Hutchinson Campos (Editor)
192 pages – Utah State University Press, 2021

Review by Phillip Schlueb,

University of Findlay

Readers Guide:

– Text listed in teal and blown up are my words indicating ideas I find to be particularly important for this review.

– Text in the right hand margin of pages indicate navigation tabs and section chapters

– Click “Home Page – Privacy Matters” at the top left of the screen to return to home page

The continually evolving scope of electronic surveillance called Estee Beck and Les Hutchinson Campos’ attention toward the need “to emphasize in our role as rhetoric and writing scholars that privacy matters precisely because everyone remains entrenched in a data-brokerage system that largely goes unchallenged or modified without active, collective resistance and protest” (p. 8). By this, they mean to portray an idea among their readers that all online interactions of tracking and monitoring are influenced by and continue to influence acts of surveillance and privacy which have a significant impact on people’s habits, bodies, and lived experiences. Due to this inescapable surveillance system in our online interactions, Beck and Hutchinson Campos raise concerns about how this system commandeers our information without being explicitly understood and influenced by the majority of the public which it itself influences. Beck and Hutchinson Campos’ intention in compiling this collection aims to make Privacy Matters serve “as the first book in writing studies to openly call our attention to the importance of starting this conversation” (p. 8). Therefore, Privacy Matters directly calls upon its readers and further researchers to contribute towards and build upon this conversation, with hopes of raising awareness of and engaging people in the change of this surveillance system influencing their lives. 

In the epilogue of Privacy Matters, Danielle Nicole Devoss highlights that this collection demonstrates how “researchers are attending to widespread surveillance and advocating for privacy protections from a unique perspective—one that attends to literacy practices, public writing, and the social construction of knowledge. One that attends to cultural dynamics and rhetorical attentions in an intersectional way. One that contributes to an ongoing conversation oriented toward not just rejecting but negating the notion that any tool, any technology, or any approach can be neutral” (p. 170-171). This perspective which draws from communication studies, intercultural studies, and the ever-present influence of digital surveillance allows the variety of authors included in this collection to reinforce this idea of the non-neutrality of our online activities. Henceforth, Devoss argues for a central tenant of Privacy Matters in that “technologies are not neutral but bring with them traces (sometimes overt, sometimes transparent) of power, preferences, realities, and so forth” (p. 171). Stemming from this understanding of the complexity of underlying influences within our technology, Beck and Hutchinson Campos ultimately argue for further study of “how surveillance and privacy impact our teaching, material experiences, and cultural practices” (p. 8-9).  

These categories of “teaching, material experiences, and cultural practices” additionally provide the organizational structure of Privacy Matters by composing the book in three separate sections respectively. After their introduction to the concepts of surveillance and privacy, Beck and Hutchinson Campos categorize the following chapters in terms of “surveillance and classrooms”, “surveillance and bodies”, and “surveillance and culture”. These sections highlight the work of various computer and writing researchers, each of which emphasizes individual issues created through surveillance, unique examinations in understanding surveillance’s impact on people’s experiences, and approaches toward moving forward with understanding and implementing beneficial changes surrounding such knowledge of surveillance practices.