Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 36 (2):400-427 (2016)

Privatisation has occupied the attention of theorists of different disciplines. Yet, despite the multiplicity of perspectives, the typical arguments concerning privatisation are instrumental, relying heavily on comparing the performance of a public functionary with that of its private counterpart. This article challenges this approach for leaving unaddressed other important consequences of shifting responsibilities to private entities. More specifically, privatisation cuts off the link between processes of decision-making and the citizens, and therefore erodes political engagement and its underlying notion of shared responsibility. The effects of privatisation are not restricted to the question of whether public prison is better or worse qua prison than its private counterpart or whether private forestry is better or worse qua forestry than its public counterpart. Rather, they extend to whether stripping the state of its responsibilities erodes public responsibility. For privatisation is not only the transformation of detention centres, trains, tax inquiry offices, forestry operations and so on, considered one service at a time. It is also the transformation of our political system and public culture from ones characterised by robust shared responsibility and political engagement to ones characterised by fragmentation and sectarianism
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DOI 10.1093/ojls/gqv029
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