The Poverty of Privacy Rights. By Khiara M. Bridges. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2017.

Date01 June 2019
Published date01 June 2019
The Poverty of Privacy Rights. By Khiara M. Bridges. Stanford,
CA: Stanford University Press, 2017.
Reviewed by Heidi Affi and Patrick Schmidt, Department of Political
Science, Macalester College
Inequality is on the global agenda, marking the contemporary era
with heightened concerns about deprivation and alienation. But
for poor mothers in the United States, Khiara Bridges powerfully
observes in The Poverty of Privacy Rights, none of this is new.
American law and culture has long marginalized mothers who live
in poverty, stripping them of their privacy, their dignity, and even
their children. For those who had not known this, after reading
Bridges’ rich account, it can scarcely be forgotten.
Bridges acknowledges that readers might find in her book
ample evidence of a moderate claim, one very comfortable to
scholars of law and society: that poor mothers’ privacy rights are
ineffective. For women dependent on state aid and subjected to
pervasive policing by both criminal and child welfare systems, pri-
vacy rights are unable to counterbalance the presumptions made
about their liberty and their adequacy as parents. Bridges wants
readers to accept a stronger claim, however: that poor mothers do
not possess privacy rights. The key is society’s moral construction of
poverty, which assumes that poor people are behaviorally and
morally deficient. For poor mothers in a society that cherishes
motherhood as a public good, their perceived, frequently racial-
ized deficiencies inevitably affect their children and justify law’s
harsh treatment. The mistrust of poor mothers is so unshakeable
that “their inability to shield themselves from regulation is ... their
existential condition” (84), not merely the result of a bargain with
the government for benefits. Bridges poses her strong claim as “a
challenge: ... to think about why we have been seduced by a nar-
rative about equal rights when everyday, lived reality suggest that
nothing could be further from the truth” (29).
A scholar of both law and anthropology, Bridges employs a
mix of approaches. She first introduces her claims against the
backdrop of the classic philosophical accounts of legal rights,
before examining the cultural discourse of the deserving and
undeserving poor (Chapter 1). One effect of this narrative
emerges in an examination of the “unconstitutional conditions
doctrine,” the jurisprudence governing when the state’s require-
ments on the receipt of benefits may burden other rights
(Chapter 2). The pattern, Bridges shows, is unmistakable:
whereas the Court has found values worth protecting when it has
614 Book Reviews

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT