Conference Contribution Details
Mandatory Fields
Khoo, S. and Murphy, M.
SAI Annual Conference
Reimagining the public in the current crisis Giving public goods and public scholarship their due , 7-9 May 2010
National Refereed Conference Paper
Optional Fields
A puzzling feature of Ireland’s current crisis is the frequent attack of all manner of things public in public discourse. This paper argues that current debates about crisis and responses have been based on a thin conception of publicness, despite public accountability and public reform being recurrent themes. In the short term, this has focused on assigning blame and reducing public expenditure. Longer term institutional and regulatory reforms have sought greater public accountability and transparency. However, we contend here that both government and society have adopted a narrow view of public accountability, with too little attention given to political culture and public values. A richer debate is needed beyond the fatalistic acceptance economic determinism, which perhaps reflects the weakness of the public sphere as a democratic space for debating public choices. Wea rgue that one of the serious consequences of the current crisis and response is a crisis of “publicness” itself. The crisis also presents the public with opportunities to question the default model of society-as-economy, and to explore alternatives to the highly inegalitarian, atomized conceptions of the social that are inherent in bubble capitalism, driven by economism, consumerism and the socialization of risk. The economy can be put ‘back in its place’, if public choice is understood not as rational choice,but as  ‘democratic choice’ that can lead to the foregrounding of social and humanistic values over economic rationality’ (Aries 2007, Cheynet 2007 cited in Fournier 2008:533).We aim to address this weakness and contribute a more substantive understanding of what “public” means. Three aspects of publicness are distinguished; a) debates about civil society and the public sphere in Ireland b) how that relates to notions of public goods and the public sector c) how the public are involved in the wider political economy of crisis and response. The paper calls for a fundamental re-imagination of public goods and public sector. It presents a ‘new public goods’ approach (adapting Kaul 2001, 2006) that enables public goods and services to be understood in ways that support solidarity and equality, being inclusive in their provision, participatory in their decision making and fair and just in their consumption. This approach offers humanistic principles of solidarity, equality, participation as counterpoints for public values  andpublic policy. We suggest that a ‘decolonisation of the imagination’ (Fournier 2008:534) is needed, as well as spaces for the economics of the gift and the ethics of care. We conclude that Public Scholarship has a role in leading and informing the re-imagination of publicness and we explore the idea of the ‘second republic’ as a political space that offers narratives and visions of change that can excite public imagination and invigorate both participative and representative politics.
Publication Themes