Against Privacy Essentialism

50 Pages Posted: 14 May 2024

See all articles by Daniel J. Solove

Daniel J. Solove

George Washington University Law School

Date Written: May 13, 2024


In this essay, Daniel Solove responds to Maria Angel and Ryan Calo’s critique of his theory of privacy. In their article, Distinguishing Privacy Law: A Critique of Privacy as Social Taxonomy, 124 Columbia Law Review 507 (2024), Angel and Calo note that although “Solove’s taxonomic approach appears to have exerted an extraordinary influence on the shape and scope of contemporary privacy law scholarship,” this approach “fails to provide a useful framework for determining what constitutes a privacy problem and, as a consequence, has begun to disserve the community.”

Solove argues that Angel and Calo wrongly view Solove’s conception of privacy as boundaryless and arbitrary, want the term “privacy” to do work it is not capable of, fail to show how the approach leads to bad consequences, and propose alternative approaches to conceptualizing privacy that fare worse on their own grounds of critique.

For the most part, Angel and Calo and several other critics of his theory view privacy in an essentialist manner. Their privacy essentialism involves their commitment to understanding privacy as having clear boundaries to demarcate it from other concepts and a definitive definition with a proper authoritative foundation.

In this essay, Solove argues against privacy essentialism. This way of thinking unproductively narrows thought, creates silos, leads to the overly narrow or overly broad failed attempts at conceptualizing privacy, stunts the development of the field, and results in constricted and impoverished policymaking. Solove argues that privacy essentialism leads to a dead end, and it merely provides the illusion of certainty and clarity.

Keywords: privacy, Solove, theory of privacy, taxonomy of privacy, essentialism, pragmatism, Wittgenstein, definition of privacy, concept of privacy

JEL Classification: K00

Suggested Citation

Solove, Daniel J., Against Privacy Essentialism (May 13, 2024). GWU Legal Studies Research Paper Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Daniel J. Solove (Contact Author)

George Washington University Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States
202-994-9514 (Phone)


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