Public Service, Private Delivery: Service Workers and the Negotiation of Blurred Boundaries in a Neoliberal State

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Neoliberal restructuring blurs the state/market boundary in introducing the position of ‘private state workers’: employees of for-profit providers who deliver publicly funded, state-prescribed services. Despite their prevalence, these workers have received scant scholarly attention. Addressing this gap, this article studies Employment Goal Planners (EGPs) employed at private for-profit providers of activation services in Israel. Drawing on extensive ethnographic observation and in-depth interviews, it argues that far from detached ‘mercenaries’, private state workers are committed actors who advance a distinct vision of public service delivery suited to the neoliberal state. These workers navigate their liminal position along an ever-shifting state/market divide by intertwining contemporary market tropes onto outdated schemas of state work. While the literature commonly views the market as an imposition on public service workers, this study finds that the market can also serve as a resource for inspiring alternative public service ethics and work models.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1060-1077
Number of pages18
JournalWork, Employment and Society
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This study was supported by the Israel Science Foundation, grant #115-2008.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2021.


  • Israel
  • boundary work
  • neoliberalism
  • outsourcing
  • privatization
  • public services
  • restructuring
  • service workers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Accounting
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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