Transformation of the public/private divide (2018), University of Copenhagen

Course Description and Objectives

One of the most significant features of the modern liberal state, as it developed during the 19th and 20th centuries, is the distinction between the public and the private. Yet, during the last two decades this distinction has become blurred. Public-private partnerships, private security companies, outsourcing of key welfare state functions, private intelligence, in addition to the quickly changing expectations and experiences of the digital media are only the most visible faces of this transformation. What are the sources of this transformation? What sort of implications does it have for fundamental rights, social relations, citizenship and governance. Does it provide individuals with more opportunities or limit their freedom? Does it weaken democratic governance, while strengthening commercial interests?

The course will introduce the student to the classical political theoretical debates on the relation between the private and the public, the individual and society, the role of political and commercial institutions, and the regimes of law and values that structure the experience of the public and the private. It will examine the historical stages of this transformation and analyse its political, economic, and social consequences. The overall aim is to explore and understand the nature of these transformations, including the both new institutional forms and new forms of political subjectivity that have emerged beyond the conventional distinction between public and private actors. It will ask what new insecurities emerge and how the risk landscape evolves.

The course explores how current developments in the understanding of risk and security structure and define the relationship between private and public authority by looking at, for example, the role of public-private partnerships, homeland security strategies on resilience, CSR, and the debate on the use of private security companies. It will attempt to open paths for understanding the private/public distinction as fundamentally contested and ask how the distinction channels power and structures experience, and thus show how profoundly political the construction of this distinction essentially is.

The course consists of 4 main components

1. The origins and genesis of the private-public distinction in liberal political theory.

2. The on-going transformation of the public-private distinction, including current challenges and debates.

3. Political, economic, and social consequences.

4. Exercise: Group paper: analysing a selected case of private-public contestation or public-private partnership.


Introduction and overview - September 3rd

What is the public/private divide and how does its transformation matter today?

Weintraub: ’The theory and practice of the public/private distinction’


The individual, society and state: Classical theories - September 17th

How do early modern understandings of society and state prefigure the public/private divide?

Hobbes: from Leviathan

Locke: from Two Treatises of Government

Mill: from On Liberty

Rousseau: from The Social Contract

Kant: ‘An Answer to the Question: 'What is Enlightenment?’


The individual and public opinion - September 24th

Lippmann: from The Phantom Public

Dewey: from The Public and its Problems

Papacharissi: from A Private Sphere: Democracy in a Digital Age


The bourgeois public sphere - October 1st

What historical properties accompany the emergence of the European bourgeois public sphere?

Anderson: from Imagined Communities.

Habermas: ‘The public sphere’

Optional reading

Habermas: from The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere.

Negt & Kluge: from Public Sphere and Experience


Critique of the bourgeois public sphere - October 10th

What governs inclusion in and exclusion from the European public sphere?

Fraser: ’Rethinking the public sphere: A contribution to the critique of actually existing democracy’

Latour: ‘From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik or How to Make Things Public’

Rasmussen: ‘Internet and the political public sphere’

Gobetti: ‘Humankind as a system’

Optional reading

Mansbridge (2017) The Long Life of Nancy Fraser's 'Rethinking the public sphere’


Politics of the public sphere - October 22th

What are the social, economic and political forces determine the scope and limits of the public sphere?

Arendt: from The Human Condition

Rawls: ’The idea of public reason revisited’ (excerpts)

Schmidt: from The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy

Mouffe: ‘Deliberative democracy or agonistic pluralism’


The self and the digital public sphere - October 29th

How do digital technologies impact the practices, formats and functions of 'the public'?

Castells: ‘The new public sphere’

Tjalve: ‘Designing (de)security’

Andersen: ‘To Promise a Promise’


Humanitarianism between the public and the private - November 5th

What are the implications for traditional refugee protections of the use of digital technologies for refugee management?

Spearin: ’Private security companies and humanitarians’

Leander & van Munster: ‘Private security contractors in the debate about Darfur’

Østensen: ’In the Business of Peace. The Political Influence of Private Military and Security Companies on UN Peacekeeping’

Lindskov Jacobsen: ‘Experimentation in Humanitarian Locations’


Maritime piracy and private security companies - November 12th

Does the presence of private security companies challenge existing regulatory regimes and accountability mechanisms in the domain of maritime security?

Bueger: ‘Practice, pirates and coast guards: The grand narrative of Somali piracy’,

Percy & Shortland ‘The Business of Piracy in Somalia’

Mineau ‘Pirates, Blackwater and Maritime Security’


Surveillance, privacy and security - November 19th

How do digital surveillance practices impact the security of the individual?

Marx: from Windows to the Soul
Etzioni: from The Limits of Privacy.

Nissenbaum: from Privacy in Context.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Chapter 3


Identity in Internet 2.0 - November 29th

How is the internet governed?

Chadwick: from Internet Politics

Lessig: from Code and other Laws of Cyberspace

Reed & Tobin: The inevitable rise of self-sovereign identity


Public-private partnerships (PPP): The E.U. - December 3rd 

What is gained and what is lost in public-private partnerships?

Buse & Walt: The World Health Organization and Global Public-Private Health Partnerships

Dunn-Cavelty & Suter: Public-Private Partnerships are no silver bullet: An expanded governance model for Critical Infrastructure Protection.

European Commission: Public-private partnerships in Horizon 2020

European Commission: Communication on Public Private Partnerships- FAQs

European Commission: EU industrial leadership gets boost through eight new research partnerships

OECD: Public governance of public-private partnerships.