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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

Table of contents

List of Stories
Acknowledgments for the First Edition
Acknowledgments for the New Edition
Part 1. Two Narratives of Street-Level Work
1. Dealing with Faces
2. State Agents, Citizen Agents
3. Story Worlds, Narratives, and Research
4. Physical and Emotional Spaces
Part II. Enacting Identities in the Workplace and on the Streets
5. Workers Unite: Occupational Identities and Peer Relations
6. Organizational and Social Divisions among Street-Level Workers
7. Putting a Fix on People: Identity, Conduct, and Street-Level Work
Part III. Normative Decision Making: Moralities over Legalities
8. Who Are the Worthy?
9. Responding to the Worthy
10. Street-Level Worker Knows Best
11. Getting the Bad Guys
12. Streetwise Workers and the Power of Storytelling
Part IV. Reframing Frontline Inquiry
13. Encounters, Agency, and Pragmatism
14. Three Narratives: Citizen-Agent, State-Agent, Knowledge Agent
Appendix A. Methodology
Appendix B. Entry Interview
Appendix C. Questionnaire and Exit Interview
Appendix D. Story Cover Page
Appendix E. Story Codes


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.

Read: Author Q&A | May 26, 2022