1st Edition

Meanings of Public and the Future of Public Services

By David A. McDonald Copyright 2023
    170 Pages 4 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    170 Pages 4 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Critically assessing meanings of the term "public", this book situates the emergence and expansion of "public services" within market-based forms of production and consumption.

    It highlights the potential for making public services more progressive within market societies, but underscores their ongoing capture by private interests and emphasises the inherent limits of reform within a "bourgeois public sphere". The author explores opportunities for more expansive forms of non-marketized public services, examining emerging debates on the theory and practice of equitable, participatory and sustainable forms of publicness that go beyond mere ownership. The book then asks how we can build a robust international "pro-public" movement that juggles universal needs with local context.

    With a focus on essential public services such as water, electricity and health, the text is global in its scope and written for a broad audience. It will be useful for those interested in social and public policy, public services and public administration, political theory, economic geography, social movements, sustainability and development.

    Chapter One: What’s Public about Public Services?


    Chapter Two: Our Bourgeois Public Sphere

    Chapter Three: The Curse of the Continuum


    Chapter Four: Redefining Public Services

    Chapter Five: Within, Against and Beyond the State

    Chapter Six: Measuring Success

    Chapter Seven: Building a Global Pro-Public Movement

    Appendix: Global Manifesto for Public Services


    David A. McDonald is Professor of Global Development Studies at Queen’s University, Canada, and Director of the Municipal Services Project.

    "This is an impressive and insightful account of one of the fundamental policy failures of our time: privatisation and public service delivery. Locating public services within the long sweep of capitalism and its relations to private appropriation, McDonald points to an alternative agenda beyond elite and corporate interests. This is a clarion call for democratically owned and run public services in the common interests of society and not governed by market-based dogma’."

    Andrew Cumbers, Professor of Political Economy (Management), University of Glasgow

    "David McDonald’s book provides a timely and carefully elaborated contribution to the long-standing debate about the significance of publicly funded and run essential services. The author addresses crucial questions, that have acquired renewed interest in recent years, such as "what is public?" or "how public are public institutions and practices?". Grounded in empirical research carried out in dialogue with relevant actors (including social movements, workers unions, NGOs, and others) the book will be surely welcome by researchers, students, and worldwide activists struggling for the emergence of a more human and just social order, where the access to goods and services essential for human life is universally available and enshrined as a public duty. "

    Jose Esteban Castro, Emeritus Professor, Newcastle University

    "The neoliberal state never went away. But continuing crises of finance, environment and pandemic mean it is overtly interventionist on an unprecedented scale – raising questions over what, when, how, why and most importantly, for whom? This book is not, and cannot be, the last word on these issues but it certainly is the most compelling starting point for the struggles and debates ahead over the future of public services."

    Ben Fine, Emeritus Professor, Department of Economics, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)

    "David McDonald convincingly demonstrates that in times of celebrating the private, it is not only politically right but socially and ecologically essential to foreground the public again if we are truly concerned with equitable, universal and sustainable access of all to essential services like water, health, energy, and the like. "

    Erik Swyngedouw, The University of Manchester