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PHDPR9100 Street-Level Bureaucrats and Organisations


The street-level bureaucracy perspective addresses the present question of what happens when politics meets reality. In different welfare state context as well as different policy areas answers to this question are important to search for. Street-level organizations (SLOs) form the operational centre of the welfare state, operating at the interface between policies on the page and policies in practice. The study of SLOs is at the cutting edge of new policy and management research that is investigating the development and implementation of social and labour market policy. The field builds on Lipsky’s seminal work (1980) on street-level bureaucracy, which has influenced diverse types of research on public policy, management, sociology, and politics. Research in this field investigates the policy-making role of front-line organizations and those who work in them. It recognizes that front-line organizations play an active and crucial role in determining about ‘who gets what, when and how’ (Lasswell 1936). In this sense, the behaviour of street-level organizations might be seen as the ‘continuation of politics by other means.’ The course draws on on-going research and international collaboration on questions such as: what kinds of developments of governance and managerial strategies seek to influence the work of street-level organizations and how do these strategies influence policy delivery? How do labour market and social policies target unemployed and marginalised populations and the organizational practices through which they are realized?

The purpose of this PhD course is to use the street-level perspective to challenge current PhD projects and to discuss the question of policies on the page as opposed to policies in practice relevant for these projects. The course introduces the PhD students to different approaches and discussions within street-level bureaucracy research within the social sciences.

The course is essentially theoretical, aiming to introduce the students to different street-level perspectives as well as qualifying them to use these perspectives to address questions of politics and practice relevant for the individual PhD project.

Target Group

The course is aimed at PhD students.

Required prerequisite knowledge

To benefit from this course, the students/student should have a general understanding of the research field of street-level bureaucracy and preferable some experience with studies that include empirical work on street-level work.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the course, the student has the following outcome defined as knowledge, skills and general competence:


The student has

-       A solid understanding/knowledge of the field of street-level bureaucracy research and the theories behind.

-       A stronger knowledge and analytical perspective of the street-level bureaucrat (not least social worker) as a translator and transformer of policy

-       A solid understanding and capacity for autonomous thinking on key issues related to street-level bureaucracy research


The student is

  • Able to recognize different understandings/theories and its practical implications on street-level bureaucracy work.
  • Able to enable and qualify analyses of phenomenon’s related to the varying forms of street-level practice in the welfare state.

General competence

The student is

  • Able to transfer the acquired knowledge and skills into their own work
  • Able to conduct studies of street-level organisations and transfer this into impact on policy, organisational and professional Developments
  • Able to introduce students to the literature and research that stems from Lipsky’s work and has developed to this day to a vast and rich tradition


The course deals with several important issues in street-level research. First, the course deals with the history and development of the street-level bureaucracy tradition. Secondly, the course investigates several examples of empirical research within this tradition introducing the students to the vast empirical ground that street-level research covers.


  • The black hole of Democracy
  • Coping strategies across time and Space
  • The street-level as a resource for positive feedback, reflection and reform of the welfare state
  • The street-level as individual, organisational or homogenous across Fields
  • Translating policy on paper to policy in practice
  • Analytical approaches to policy analysis that are open to the street-level perspective  

Teaching and working methods

The language of instruction is English, and all discussions, presentations etc. will be in English. The course will combine lectures on general theoretical and methodological issues from street- level bureaucracy with lectures reviewing and discussing substantive research and literature. However, a substantial part of the course will be dedicated to address the research projects of the students using the street-level perspective to push the research ideas, methodological considerations and analyses further. Student presentations are pivotal in discussing analytical options and theoretical inspirations for the development of the students own research.

The number of students is limited to max. 20. Each student is expected to play an active part in the course (please refer to section “Work Requirements”). The course literature is expected to be read before the course.

Practical training

The students will gain practical training in academic discussions on others and own work related to street-level bureaucracy research. This include presentations and active involvement as discussants.

Coursework requirements

Participation is mandatory, and students are expected to attend all days teaching. Absence from part of the teaching can only be accepted in special cases, upon application. In the event of absences that are not approved, students will lose their right to have their paper assessed.


The assessment will be based on the following:

  • A paper written in English, to be presented and discussed during the course, has to be submitted by a set date given by Centre for the Study of Professions  
  • Students shall take part in discussions during the course, prepare and give comments to fellow students’ papers

The paper is assessed by the course responsible and visiting academic contributors to the course. The paper is assessed on the basis of the stated learning outcomes for the course.

The paper should take a point of departure in the research of the student, but needs to address questions of policy into practice or include one or more of the elements from the street-level bureaucracy literature. The paper shall be between 8 and 15 pages (approx. 3200-6000 words), one and a half spaced, with ample margins.

Grading Scale

Pass or Fail

Support materials for assessment/examination



Tuesday the 12th of June, 2.30PM to 5PM
Pilestredet 46, KK-senteret, Room: PA311 & PA314
14.30-15.00  Introduction to the course by Dorte Caswell, Aalborg University
15.00-17.00  Street-level bureaucracy and organization by Evelyn Brodkin, University of Chicago
19.00 Dinner (own expenses)

Wednesday the 13th of June, 2018, 9AM – 5.30PM
9.00-10.30  Michael Lipsky: Street-Level Bureaucracy (open lecture) – Pilestredet 46, Athene
Introduction by director Oddgeir Osland, Centre for the Study of Professions, OMU
10.30-10.45  Coffee break
10.45-12.45  Two parallel paper sessions (chaired by Lipsky, Brodkin, Caswell, Larsen, Molander, Andreassen) – Room: PA311 & PA314
12.45-13.15  Lunch
13.15-14.15  Discretion in the Welfare State, Anders Molander, Oslo Metropolitan University
14.15-14.30  Coffee break
14.30-17.30  Two parallel paper sessions (chaired by Lipsky, Brodkin, Caswell, Larsen, Molander, Andreassen) – Room: PA311 & PA314

Thursday the 14th of June, 2018, 9AM – 4.30PM
Room: Pilestredet 46, Athene
9.00-11.00  Panel on Street-Level Organizations and Political Science Research: Advancing the Field
Panel discussion chaired by Michael Lipsky.
The panel is introduced by 15 minute lectures by: Evelyn Brodkin, Anders Molander, Tone Alm Andreassen and Flemming Larsen
The panel is open to academics in the Field
11.00-11.30  Coffee break
11.30-12.30  Two parallel paper sessions (chaired by Lipsky, Brodkin, Caswell, Larsen, Molander, Andreassen) - Room: PA 311 & PA314
12.30-13.30  Lunch
13.30-15.30  Two parallel paper sessions (chaired by Lipsky, Brodkin, Caswell, Larsen, Molander, Andreassen) - Room: PA311 & PA314
15.30-16.00  Coffee break
16.00-17.00  Two parallel paper sessions (chaired by Lipsky, Brodkin, Caswell, Larsen, Molander, Andreassen) - Room: PA311 & PA314
17.00-17.30  Closing session and feedback – Room: PA311 & PA314


Total 930 pages


Lipsky, Michael (2010): Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Services. 30th anniversary expanded ed. (275 pages)

Brodkin, Evelyn (2012): Reflections on Street-level Bureaucracy. Public Administration Review (10 pages) 

Brodkin, Evelyn (2008): Accountability in Street-Level Organizations. International Journal of Public Administration, 31:317-336. (19 pages)

Molander, Anders (2016): “Discretion in the Welfare State - Social Rights and Professional Judgment, Routledge (90 pages)

Bernardo Zacka (2017): When the State Meets the Street - Public Service and Moral Agency, Harvard University Press. (320 pages)

Maynard-Moody Steven and Michael Musheno (2003): Cops, Teachers, Counselors Stories from the Front Lines of Public Service (216 pages)

Om emnet

PhD programme in the Study of Professions 5 ECTS (participation with paper to be submitted before the course required) Spring 2018 (June 12-14) English

Søk her

Faglig ansvarlig: Flemming Larsen

Dorte Caswell

Administrativt ansvarlig: Karima Bitta

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