A penetrating look at how government workers make sense of their work, ascribe identity to the people they encounter, and account for their decisions and actions
The new edition of Cops, Teachers, Counselors furthers the exploration of forces that shape the contours of frontline work. This line of inquiry is at the heart of street-level bureaucracy research, a field of study cutting across disciplines, including public administration, political science, social work, law and society, education, and criminal justice. The oft-cited 2003 edition pioneered a qualitative method of inquiry using workers’ own voices and storytelling about fairness in the delivery of services. This NSF-supported field research reveals the ways workers engage in moral judgments, more than implementing laws and policies, to account for their decisions and actions.
The new edition wraps an expanded framing around the original chapters, while maintaining a lively, approachable presentation style. It takes on a more enriched perspective of legality than the original, while retaining a focus on frontline work as a powerful source of cultural ordering. In addition to examining workers’ stories of encounters, attention is given to the agency of the governed during interactional moments, the power dynamics in play during both interpersonal and group encounters, and patterns of practice that converge across distinctive service domains. The original edition describes two narratives that shape frontline workers’ decisional judgments and the interplay between legality and morality: the state-agent and citizen-agent narratives. This edition adds the knowledge-agent narrative that stresses the importance of professional and field learning to decisional judgments.
The book examines routine encounters of cops, teachers, and counselors with diverse publics when questions of justice and fairness are at play. This new edition speaks to contemporary issues at a time when frontline workers gained broad recognition for their heroic contributions to communities during the Covid 19 pandemic, as well as sustained condemnation for their embodiment of the brutal expression of racialized state power in police actions. The authors conclude with a focus on the significance of place and trust in building social inclusion on the frontlines of public service.
Steven Maynard-Moody is Professor, School of Public Affairs & Administration at the University of Kansas.
Michael Musheno is Professor Emeritus of Law at the University of Oregon and Professor Emeritus of Justice and Social Inquiry at Arizona State University.