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He, Dan (2019) Public State, Private Corporation : A Joint History of the Ideas of the Public/Private Distinction, the State, and the Corporation. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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Current liberal discourse relies upon a fundamentally categorical distinction between the public and the private in both the practice and critique of democratic government. A separation of the public/private modes of social organization is quintessential: the state and the corporation are supposed to inhabit separate arenas and act exclusively in the public or private interest. On this premise, broadly based on laissez-faire doctrine, the public/private distinction further attempts to keep governmental regulation of corporations’ activities to a minimum level in order to maximize national wealth and individual liberty. It is evident, however, that these ideas lost much of their practical significance over the course of the twentieth century, with the rise of the welfare entrepreneurial state, and later, the adoption of the neoliberal modes of governance that enacted particularly through privatization. A re-appraisal of the public/private distinction thus becomes necessary in order to bring it into correspondence with the increasing assimilation and cooperation between the state and the corporation in promoting and protecting the public interest. Having juxtaposed the intellectual history of the public/private distinction with those of the state and the corporation in a chronological narrative, this thesis seeks to demonstrate that the state and the corporation was not separated by reference to the public/private distinction until the late eighteenth century. A key marker, it is argued, is to be found in the metropolitan public discourse surrounding the transformation of the East India Company into a local sovereign power in India. A significant segment of public opinion of that time, mostly exemplified in Edmund Burke’s public speeches, held that the governance should be institutionally separated from the commerce to avoid the possible erosion of the public interest by the private interest. The public/private distinction thus turned into an artificial rubric for defining the separate roles and characteristics of the state and the corporation, which in turn served to obscure the complex social interlinkage and the inherent similarity between them. An alternative to this pseudo-distinction, as proposed in the end of this thesis, is to avail a nuanced version of individualism to reconceptualize the relationship between the state and the corporation.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Matthew Craven
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 03 Mar 2020 14:44

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