Transferring emotional capital as coerced discretion: Street-level bureaucrats reconciling structural deficiencies

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The discretion of street-level bureaucrats (SLBs) plays a key role in policy implementation. This study offers a new perspective on the meaning of discretion under social policy reforms, which created new structural deficiencies in the work of SLBs and have raised expectations of policy implementation without offering sufficient policy responses. Under such conditions, the discretion of SLBs should be understood as coerced, more so than as a positive element of freedom and choice. As such, SLBs are forced to employ informal practices and provide alternative resources for their clients. Findings indicate a transference of emotional resources from SLBs to clients, aimed at achieving policy outcomes of economically independent citizens, paradoxically accompanied by an awareness of powerful barriers to such conversion. The study contributes both to the understanding of discretion in policy implementation, in the context of an expanding public service gap, and to theories of emotion manifestation in public administration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)910-925
Number of pages16
JournalPublic Administration
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration


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