Transformation of the Public-Private divide

Course content

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.


The course “Transformations of the Public-Private Divide” constitutes 7,5 ECTS.



Security Risk Management

SRM students has priority


Learning outcome


Students will have knowledge about the history of the public and private divide and will come to understand how current practices within the field of risk and security challenge and transform this divide.


Student will be able to reflect upon new challenges to the classical political divisions between public and private authority and understand what these transformations influence present experiences and future decision-making in the fields of risk and security.

Teaching takes the form of lecturers and discussions with students.

Course literature is a syllabus of 900 pages set by the lecturer and approved by the Board of Studies.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral examination
Oral examination
Synopsis exam
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
External censorship
Criteria for exam assessment

Criteria for achieving the goals:

  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • Preparation
  • 168
  • Exam
  • 79
  • English
  • 275