The Bureaucratic Ethos in Street-Level Work: Revitalizing Weber’s Ethics of Office

Anne Mette Møller*, Kirstine Zinck Pedersen, Anja Svejgaard Pors

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Despite the centrality of bureaucracy to both the theory and the realities of street-level bureaucracy, street-level scholars have rarely engaged with the concept of bureaucracy as such. We argue that Weber’s perspective on bureaucracy represents an indispensable source that may help us align the theoretical foundation of street-level scholarship with its empirical findings and bring attention to aspects of street-level work that are often overlooked. Drawing on a value-based reading of Weber, we propose an ethics of office-approach that allows us to see frontline workers’ discretionary practices as an integrated aspect of their bureaucratic ethos, which enables them to handle complex demands and multiple obligations. The ethics of office-approach further recognizes that their actual possibilities for doing so are related to their training and expertise within specific life orders characterized by different purposes and ethical codes. The approach therefore calls for contextual sensitivity. To develop our argument, and demonstrate the analytical range and usefulness of the ethics of office-approach, we present three case examples based on ethnographic studies of midwifery care, child protection, and citizen services.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPerspectives on Public Management and Governance
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)151-163
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022

Bibliographical note

Published online: 25 February 2022.

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