Lasse Schmidt Hansen

“That’s the System”: An Ethnographic and Theoretical Account of Bureaucratic Decoupling in Welfare Encounters

This dissertation explores how clients on cash-assistance (in Danish, kontanthjælp) experience their encounters with frontline workers. The dissertation finds a new phenomenon that characterizes clients’ frontline experiences: “bureaucratic decoupling.” Bureaucratic decoupling means that clients decouple frontline workers from their official bureaucratic role as ground-level policy-makers. As a result, clients do not hold frontline workers accountable for their decisions. This contradicts the standard assumption in street-level bureaucracy theory: that clients view frontline workers as the “face of public policy” and identify them with the policies they enforce. Therefore, this dissertation adds significant new knowledge to the study of street-level bureaucratic organizations and the way these organizations shape clients’ views and behavior.

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