Through the Eyes of Bureaucrats: How Front-Line Officials Understand Administrative Justice
University of Groningen - Faculty of Law
April 1, 2009
ADMINISTRATIVE JUSTICE IN CONTEXT, M. Adler, ed., Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2009
Over the years, empirical studies have suggested that street-level bureaucrats' own perceptions of law and justice play a significant role in administrative decision-making (Kagan 1978; Mashaw 1983; Maynard-Moody and Musheno 2003). These studies underscore the idea that street-level beliefs are essential to understanding the modern state. Yet, thus far this idea has not been developed further in most of the administrative justice literature. This paper attempts to fill this void and asks: How do front-line officials understand administrative justice? It aims to contribute to the development of a theoretical framework for analyzing administrative justice. More in particular, the paper seeks to study street-level beliefs by further developing the analytical concepts of 'legal consciousness' and 'legal alienation'. First, the paper will introduce two different conceptions of legal consciousness. While the first conception asks: 'How do public officials experience (legal principles of) administrative justice?' The second conception focuses on: 'What do public officials themselves experience as (important principles of) administrative justice?' Next, both conceptions will be applied in an exploratory case study which focuses on the work of front-line officials in the Netherlands. Based on this case study, the paper will then focus on the fact that front-line officials often appear to be alienated not only from their work and their clients, but also from the law. This section will ask: how can we understand the concept of 'legal alienation' and how may it be employed in a study of administrative decision-making? Next, the paper will discuss three ways in which a focus on street-level beliefs may contribute to the study of administrative justice. In the final section, it will be concluded that front-line officials not only play an important role in the formulation and implementation of public policy, but also in the realization of normative ideals of administrative justice.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 44
Keywords: administrative justice, street-level bureaucracy, legal consciousness, implementation, administrative law
JEL Classification: D73, K0
Date posted: April 2, 2009
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