As with a number of other articles on this site, this is meant to be in the spirit of an exploration, bringing together a number of different aspects of a broad topic and seeing if any sense can be made of it all.
At one level, this is a matter of simple semantics: whatever one understands words like ‘private’ and ‘public’ to mean – but language matters as words shape an understanding of things, even things as tenuous as ideas – and those understandings can have everyday impacts on how people operate in the world – which, themselves, if repeated, begin to act as structurings within which things become taken as normal.
There are a number of elements around which understandings of public/private can be organised:
- People designing things or doing things – in public/ in private
- Things belonging to; consumed by people – as individuals (private); as society (public)
- Organisational structures … private company/ public company … private/in common
- Management of services to people – arranged as privately-purchased/ arranged as publicly funded
- Different political conceptions around privatisation and nationalisation – the amount of control attributed to State processes or to market processes
It is the last two of these that will be taken as the starting point, if only because political debates around public/private still occur with some vigour.