Boundaries of Privacy

Dialectics of Disclosure

By Sandra Petronio
Foreword by Irwin Altman

Subjects: Family Studies
Series: SUNY series in Communication Studies
Paperback : 9780791455166, 288 pages, October 2002
Hardcover : 9780791455159, 288 pages, October 2002

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

List of Illustrations



1. Overview of Communication Privacy Management

Theoretical Suppositions


Supposition 1: Private Information
Supposition 2: Privacy Boundaries
Supposition 3: Control and Ownership
Supposition 4: Rule-Based Management System
Supposition 5: Privacy Management Dialectics


Privacy Rule Management Processes


Management Process 1: Privacy Rule Foundations
Management Process 2: Boundary Coordination Operations
Management Process 3: Boundary Turbulence


Organization of the Book

2. Rule Management Process 1: Privacy Rule Foundations

Privacy Rule Development


Privacy Rule Development: Cultural Criteria
Privacy Rule Development: Gendered Criteria
Privacy Rule Development: Motivational Criteria
Privacy Rule Development: Contextual Criteria
Privacy Rule Development: Risk-Benefit Ratio Criteria


Privacy Rule Attributes


Rule Acquisition
Rule Properties



3. Rule Management Process 2: Boundary Coordination Operations

Coordination Operations


Boundary Linkages
Boundary Permeability
Boundary Ownership
Boundary Co-ownership: Private Disclosure Confidants



4. Cases of Boundary Coordination

Collective Coordination Patterns


Inclusive Boundary Coordination
Intersected Boundary Coordination
Unified Boundary Coordination


Dyadic Privacy Boundaries


Relational Privacy Boundaries
Marital and Significant Partner Privacy Boundaries


Family Privacy Boundaries


Boundary Spheres
Family Privacy Rule Orientations


Group Privacy Boundaries


Group Confidences
Reinforcing Group Boundaries


Organizational Privacy Boundaries


Superior-Subordinate Boundaries
Vagueness as Privacy Protection
Employee-Employer Privacy Rights



5. Rule Management Process 3: Boundary Turbulence

Types of Boundary Turbulence


Intentional Rule Violations
Boundary Rule Mistakes
Fuzzy Boundaries
Dissimilar Boundary Orientations
Boundary Definition Predicaments
Privacy Dilemmas



6. Practices and Praxis of Communication Privacy Management

Applications of CPM


Medical Mistakes
Child Sexual Abuse


Conclusion and Future Issues


Author Index

Subject Index

Explores new ways to think about privacy and disclosure.


Offering a practical theory for why people make decisions about revealing and concealing private information, Boundaries of Privacy taps into everyday problems in our personal relationships, our health concerns, and our work to investigate the way we manage our private lives. Petronio argues that in addition to owning our own private information, we also take on the responsibility of guarding other people's private information when it is put into our trust. This can often lead to betrayal, errors in judgment, deception, gossip, and privacy dilemmas. Petronio's book serves as a guide to understanding why certain decisions about privacy succeed while others fail.

Sandra Petronio is Professor in the Department of Communication and School of Medicine at Wayne State University. She is the editor of Balancing the Secrets of Private Disclosures.


"This is a wonderful book! It is wide-ranging in scope, carefully crafted, and scholarly. Sandra Petronio has set the stage for research and theorizing for a generation to come. " — Irwin Altman, University of Utah

"Finally, a book exists that not only lays out the privacy and disclosure literature, but also explains the rules we use to manage our private information. This is a fascinating book that examines the ways we use communication to construct and manage the multiple boundaries that exist in our daily lives. By examining the rules we use to balance our private boundaries, Petronio provides scholars additional insights into the personal management strategies individuals use during interpersonal interactions. " — Jack Sargent, Kean University

"This book provides a coherent approach from which to understand the disclosure process itself, not just disclosure decisions. The inclusion of decision rules and turbulence provides new avenues for further exploration. The holistic picture of how disclosure is managed in relationships will advance understanding of management of private information. " — Kathryn Greene, Rutgers University