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The public/private distinction is one of the fundamental categories of modern social life. Historically, the two functioned as a dichotomous pair both theoretically and practically. During the height of the separation of public and private, ‘private’ was code for the home, personal, and non-professional contexts; ‘public’, on the other hand, stood for the professional world outside the home. This dichotomous treatment of public and private informed many aspects of social life ranging from gender relations and the division of household labor to the development of suburbs as purely residential (private) areas geographically separate from the public sphere of work. Recently, however, this dichotomous vision of the public/private divide has become outdated. It no longer accurately describes the ways in which public and private operate in contemporary social life; where the two spheres were once separate, there is now significant overlap and interaction. This breakdown in the public and private divide has occurred at many levels and has a strong relationship with the development and ubiquity of information and communications technologies such as mobile telephones and the Internet. This paper describes the ways in which public and private are changing and proposes a new way of theorizing the public/private distinction, as a continuum rather than as a dichotomy. This way of thinking about public and private reflects contemporary social life much more accurately than does the dichotomous conception.
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Keywords: ICTs; Web 2.0; social change; sociology; surveillance/privacy

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Sociology,University of Massachusetts – Amherst, 400 Hicks WayAmherstMA01003, USA

Publication date: June 1, 2011

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