Ancient and modern public services: cross-disciplinary provocations

David Hall & Tue Anh Nguyen

Ancient and modern public services: cross-disciplinary provocations

Small Group Project 2022-23

Public services are at the heart of current academic and political debates on the proper relationship between the state, markets and democracy. They are also central to the ways in which countries have responded to Covid, and discussions of public policy for dealing with climate change, especially the importance of collective action. There is also an historical debate about the interpretation of widespread and growing evidence of the development of public services such as water supply, urban planning, and roads, in ancient civilisations across the world, and the relative role of collective action and authoritsrian rulers. These debates are related because both concern the efficiency or otherwise of public sector production of just services. 

The thesis of the project is that the evidence from ancient civilisations can be better interpreted as rational collective action delivering public goods, rather than as authoritarian political acts; and that this is relevant for current debates as it supports the view that public services can and do have an social and economic rationale.

The proposed methodology is for the care group (Hall and Nguyen) to set up cross -disciplinary dialogue with historians and archaeologists expert in the civilisations, and with young scholars in the relevant region, to explore how the current political economy questions on public services can inform, and be informed by, the historical frameworks used in analysis of ancient civilisations, including the potential for challenging post-colonial frameworks and for cross-regional generalisations. Both sets of discussions will be brought together in a joint, public, webinar. 

The main outcomes will be the webinar and a journal article, and also feeding into Hall and Nguyen’s broader plans for a book and a teaching module on public services.

Contacting Fellows

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