Journal Article

Professionals, Managers and Discretion: Critiquing Street-Level Bureaucracy

Tony Evans

in The British Journal of Social Work

Volume 41, issue 2, pages 368-386
Published in print March 2011 | ISSN: 0045-3102
Published online June 2010 | e-ISSN: 1468-263X | DOI:
Professionals, Managers and Discretion: Critiquing Street-Level Bureaucracy

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Social workers are classic street-level bureaucrats. This article provides a critical examination of Michael Lipsky's account of discretion within street-level bureaucracies. While concurring with the main thrust of Lipsky's critique of management control of discretion, I argue that he gives insufficient attention to the role of professionalism in his analysis and the impact this has on the relationship between front line managers and workers and the nature of discretion. I employ a qualitative case study of adult social work within a local authority to illustrate and develop this argument. The study, which draws primarily on interviews with local managers and practitioners, suggests that the professional status of social workers influences both the nature of their discretion and the way in which this is managed. I conclude that Lipksy's work needs to be augmented by an understanding of the role of other perspectives, such as professionalism, in examining manager–worker relations and discretion in the street-level bureaucracies within which social workers practise.

Keywords: Discretion; case study; street-level bureaucracy

Journal Article.  7373 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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