The Performance of Citizen’s and Organisational Authority

Nanna Mik-Meyer, Mark Haugaard

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This article explores the interaction of two forms of authority: organisational authority and citizen’s authority. The concept of citizen’s authority derives from Pettit, and organisational authority has theoretical roots in Weber. Citizen’s authority entails the right to be the author of your own life decisions, while organisational authority is the right of an actor to speak on behalf of an organisation. With inspiration from Goffman and Austin, we take a performative ethnographic approach to the analysis of 23 video-recorded consultations with homeless individuals (23), their family members (3) and service providers (43) in three Danish shelters. While those with organisational authority (staff) can prevail over those with only citizen’s authority (clients), they typically refrain from doing so in an overt manner. We demonstrate that social actors are skilled at performing different kinds of authority simultaneously; they draw upon conflicting identities as clients, professionals and citizens in a changing front-stage and back-stage environment. The homeless and staff deploy rules and procedures as well as emotion and laughter in their encounters with each other.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Classical Sociology
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)309-334
Number of pages26
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020

Bibliographical note

Published online: 3. July 2019


  • Citizen’s authority
  • Ethnography
  • (In)felicitous actions
  • Organisational authority
  • Public encounters
  • Video data

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