Deciding on Tax Evasion: Front Line Discretion and Constraints

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to analyse everyday reasoning in public administration. This is done by focusing on front line tax inspectors’ decisions about tax evasion.
Design/methodology/approach – The paper presents ethnography of bureaucracy and field audits. The material stems from fieldwork conducted in the Central Customs and Tax Administration.
Findings – The paper shows that the tax inspectors reason about tax evasion in a casuistic manner. They pay attention to similar cases and to particular circumstances of the individual cases. In deciding on tax evasion, the inspectors do not just administer the laws; they also enact a policy of fair-mindedness. Doing this they are constrained by time and man-powers, but also enabled by various organizational devices.
Research limitations/implications – The tax inspectors that the author followed were carefully chosen and acted in accordance with procedures. The ethnography should be understood in relation to this set-up.
Originality/value – The originality of the paper is that it shows that ethnography can open the territory of everyday reasoning in public administration. Also, it shows the discretionary room that any front line tax inspector navigates in. This is significant as revenue collection often is described as formal and dominated by a legal steering in which rules are univocal.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Organizational Ethnography
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)193-207
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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