David Lowry Pressly Receives the 2021 Leo Strauss Award

The Leo Strauss Award is presented annually by the American Political Science Association (APSA) to honor the best doctoral dissertation in political philosophy.   

Lowry Pressly is a postdoctoral fellow at Brown University’s Political Theory Project. His philosophical work currently focuses on questions of privacy, oblivion, and the value of being obscure to others and to oneself. His book on privacy (forthcoming from Harvard University Press) argues against the cultural and economic forces of transparency and datafication for the vital role of ambiguity, inarticulacy, and obscurity in human life. A second book on the stranger is underway. In addition to his academic work, his essays, fiction, and criticism appear widely and have received several awards. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University.  


Citation from the Award Committee: 

“Being Unaccountable: Privacy, Self, and Society” provides an illuminating and original contribution to our theoretical and practical understanding of what privacy is and why it is valuable. At a time when technological developments — social media, facial recognition, location tracking, digital collection of personal data, public video surveillance — are shifting social practices, generating ambivalence and disquiet, David Lowry Pressly’s “Being Unaccountable” is an important and timely exploration of privacy’s meaning and value. 

Beginning with a historical examination of nineteenth-century concerns about invasiveness with the invention of photography and continuing through a sustained philosophical analysis of concepts such as recognition, agency, and self-knowledge, “Being Unaccountable” finds grounds for rights to privacy, to being forgotten, and to being a stranger in an interest in being unaccountable. Pressly argues that being unaccountable is valuable both as a necessary condition for the exercise of agency and as a good in itself. Engagingly written and clearly argued, Pressly’s account expands our theoretical understanding of what our social, legal, and political practices of privacy ought to be and why, while also deepening our perspective on why individuals have reason to be wary about overexposure. 

“Being Unaccountable” is rich with insights and offers valuable perspective not only for political theorists and philosophers, for legal scholars, social theorists, and social scientists, but also for anyone grappling with the vexing and pressing questions of why and how we ought to value and protect our own and others’ privacy. 


APSA thanks the committee members for their service: Julie L. Rose (Chair), Dartmouth College; Jennifer Forestal, Loyola University, Chicago; and Dr. Philip A. Michelbach, West Virginia University.