Street-level bureaucrats in times of cutbacks

Former students will know the emphasis I place on Lipsky’s work on street-level bureaucracy.  I was recently asked to write something about the book and its value for a journal, Teaching Public Administration.  Re-reading the book was illuminating, partly because it reminded me of why I find it so useful as a framework for thinking about practice.  But I saw more in it as well.  It was written in the midst of the financial crisis of the late 1970s and early 1980s and, in this context, the emphasis on rationing and the balancing of the competing demands of clients and management come across more acutely.  But it also connects well to other themes that will be familiar to students studying more contemporary policy developments.  Indeed, perhaps the work is more relevant and useful today than it has ever been?

The article is at:


3 Responses to “Street-level bureaucrats in times of cutbacks”

  1. 1 Kevin February 27, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    When did this blog become a means of blatant self promotion? That said, it worked. I will now go and read your article.

  2. 2 mikerowe February 28, 2012 at 5:44 am

    Fair comment – but if it is, at least in part, about the subject of pubklic administration and the MPA at Liverpool, the article indicates something about the ideas behind the programmes etc. And I would also rather see the blog (and the article) as promoting Lipsky’s work!

  3. 3 jackcoutts February 29, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    I enjoyed reading (blog and article) about your re-reading of Lipsky and also being reminded of some of the other writers you cite.

    As you know I was not an immediate admirer – my initial interpretation of his key work closely resembled your description of Maynard-Moody and Musheno’s argumentative assessment of SLBs, part judgemental, part flattering, although I did eventually recognise that his analysis goes so much further. I agree with the core of your appraisal of his enduring value and its current relevance.

    I found it particularly interesting to consider how the functioning of SLBs is shaped in the context of dilemmatic policy spaces (Hoggett, Newman & Clarke) and by network-heirarchy-market governance influences (Thompson, Mitchell, Levacic). The environment they operate in is such a key determinant of the scope and nature of their influence, for good or for bad. And the present-day dismantling/reinvention of public services has to be the biggest challenge yet to frontline workers and managers.

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