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31 August 2021
Public and Private in the Twenty-First Century
Writing in 2001, Raymond Geuss lamented that:
We do not really have any effective general framework for thinking about politics apart from liberalism, so the main place that a distinction between public and private occupies in such a general scheme is in the context of a defence of the ‘private sphere’ from encroachment by the public. [Public Goods, Private Goods, 114]
Having described some of the many purposes that the distinction between public and private have and could serve, Geuss condemns the liberal division as addressing ‘the highly parochial problem of a particular kind of society that has thrown itself with a will into a certain very specific process of economic and political development …’
World events since the turn of the century have put further strain upon an already beleaguered understanding of the public and the private. These include the war on terror, the financial crisis, and the Covid-19 pandemic, alongside the rapid rise of social media, state capitalism, geopolitical tension, and rising conflict over gender and race. The editors of this special issue invite reflections on the challenge of historical events since 2000 to our conceptions of, and our putative need for, a distinction between the public and the private.
Questions for discussion include, but are by no means limited to:
- Since the 1970s, feminists have interrogated the liberal public/private distinction, advocating the need for public protection within the ‘private sphere’ to which many women are confined. How do we update these concerns in the light of events this century?
- The Covid-19 pandemic has forced populations throughout the world to retreat to the private sphere. What are the implications of this?
- Does the #MeToo movement, or the exposure of sexual harassment more generally, require a rethinking of the public/private distinction?
- In the light of, for example, new laws against corporal punishment and a growing anti-vaccine movement, do we need the distinction to cognize the duties and rights of parents?
- How has the rise of social media affected traditional conceptions of privacy, publicity and proportionate limits in relations between the public and private spheres?
- The global financial crises of 2008 and 2020 have challenged the traditional distinction through public measures to stimulate the economy. What becomes of the balance between public and private economic interests?
- Do public - private partnerships undermine the legitimacy or security of public services?
- How does state capitalism (i.e., state controlled economic activity) challenge liberal dispositions toward the place of public and private?
- What significance has the war on terror had on the distinction and its usefulness?
- What significance does the distinction hold in African or other non-Western traditions? Need these traditions be updated in the light of events this century? Is there inspiration to be found in these traditions for a renewed public/private distinction?
- Is land reform in post-colonial societies (like South Africa) aided and/or distorted by extant distinctions between public and private?
- How is the public/private distinction related to globalization, or to the retreat we are presently seeing from globalisation?
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The deadline for submissions is 31 August 2021. This issue of Philosophical Papers, comprising both invited and submitted articles, will appear in November of 2021. Manuscripts should be submitted electronically, as a pdf or word-document attachment, to <[email protected]>. Authors should include with their submission their full name, affiliation, and address for email correspondence.
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