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The Bureaucrat and the Poor: Encounters in French Welfare Offices

The Bureaucrat and the Poor: Encounters in French Welfare Offices (Hardback, New edition)

By Dubois, Vincent

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Are Welfare offices anonymous bureaucratic machines or the locus of neutral service relationships? Showing how people experience state public administration, this book provides a realistic view of French welfare policies, institutions and reforms and, in doing so, dispels both of... read full description below.

ISBN 9781409402893
Barcode 9781409402893
Published 28 September 2010 by Taylor & Francis Ltd
Format Hardback, New edition
Alternate Format(s) View All (1 other possible title(s) available)
Indent title (internationally sourced), usually ships 4-6 weeks

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Full details for this title

ISBN-13 9781409402893
ISBN-10 1409402894
Stock Available
Status Indent title (internationally sourced), usually ships 4-6 weeks
Publisher Taylor & Francis Ltd
Imprint Ashgate Publishing Limited
Publication Date 28 September 2010
Publication Country United Kingdom United Kingdom
Format Hardback, New edition
Edition New edition
Author(s) By Dubois, Vincent
Category Social Classes
Social Issues
Social Welfare & Social Services
Number of Pages 228
Dimensions Width: 159mm
Height: 235mm
Spine: 14mm
Weight 544g
Interest Age 19+ years
Reading Age 19+ years
Library of Congress Public welfare - France, France - Social policy - 1995-, Human services - France
NBS Text Social Sciences: Textbooks & Study Guides
ONIX Text College/higher education;Professional and scholarly
Dewey Code 362.944;362.5560944
Catalogue Code Not specified

Description of this Book

Welfare offices usually attract negative descriptions of bureaucracy with their queues, routines, and impersonal nature. Are they anonymous bureaucratic machines or the locus of neutral service relationships? Through showing how people experience state public administration, The Bureaucrat and the Poor provides a realistic view of French welfare policies, institutions and reforms and, in doing so, dispels both of these myths. Using Goffman's framework to demonstrate the complex relationship between welfare agents, torn between their institutional role and their personal feelings, and welfare claimants, this research analyses the face-to-face encounters that occur. Through placing these relationship within the broader context of social structures and class, race and gender relationships, the reader will understand both the social determinations of interpersonal bureaucratic relationships and their social functions. Increasing numbers of welfare claimants, coupled with mass unemployment, family transformations and the so-called 'integration problem' of migrants into French society deeply affect these encounters. Staff manage tense situations with no additional resources - some become personally involved, while others stick to their bureaucratic role; most of them alternate between involvement and detachment, assistance and domination. Welfare offices are now, more than ever, a place for 're-socialisation', where people can talk about their personal problems and ask for advice. On the other hand, bureaucratic encounters are increasingly violent, symbolically if not physically, and are often used as a means of regulating the poor.

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Awards, Reviews & Star Ratings

NZ Review 'By emphasising the encounters of the least powerful state actors and our least powerful citizens, Dubois presents a different, at once more troubling and hopeful view of the administrative state. Throughout The Bureaucrat and the Poor the emphasis remains on the fragility of social roles: nothing is so fixed as to prove immutable; all is contested and in play. For students and scholars of administration and policy, these are essential insights and well worth the read to appreciate in full.' Steven Maynard-Moody, The University of Kansas, USA 'This first-rate ethnography provides a unique vista point from which to understand how public policy translates into mundane dealings with marginal populations. By mating the theories of Bourdieu, Goffman and Lipsky, The Bureaucrat and the Poor delivers the best analysis yet of the specificity of bureaucratic domination and makes a signal contribution to the comparative sociology of welfare reform in the neoliberal era.' Loic Wacquant, University of California, Berkeley, USA 'A lucid, well-written and well-organised account of everyday bureaucracy at the welfare agency's window, solidly based on observation: first-class empirical sociology, savvy, streetwise, and with a wicked sense of clients' covert tactics. French bureaucrats and their clients are clearly not unique: as Dubois portrays them they look uncannily familiar.' Abram de Swaan, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands 'Vincent Dubois' newly translated The Bureaucrat and the Poor: Encounters in French Welfare Offices provides an ethnographic insider's look at the double role enacted by welfare workers as they encounter their clients. In his ethnographer's role, Dubois follows these street-level bureaucrats up close and personal, and explores the workers' double bodied-ness as they juggle at one and the same time their administrative roles and responsibilities with their human compassion for the misery of the poor with whom they interact and whose lives they are called upon to regulate. The book is an astute study of the interrelationships between social conditions and administrative practices, analysing the impact of welfare policies and practices on the well-being of their implementors, as well as their clients. In addition, it provides a superb illustration of the advantages of an interpretive analytic approach to the analysis of public policies, one that rests on ethnographic methods that are focused on questions of meaning for all concerned in a complex policy and organisational situation.' Dvora Yanow, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands 'Data presented descriptively is very rich, but it is also complemented with thorough commentary and skillful analysis... the expectations are set sky high. The volume by Vincent Dubois fulfills them all.' Qualitative Sociology Review 'This is one of the most exciting books I have read for a very long time. Dubois does not miss the opportunity to demonstrate French sociology at its best... very readable... Readers may learn a lot from this book - about bureaucracy, lack of empathy, insufficient help, etc, but also about how clients/visitors use their possibilities, how they develop strategies and how they conquer an institution and use it for other purposes. Now and then we forget the will to struggle against injustice and inequality among the repressed or sub-proletarian guests. The recommendation is clear: read the book!' European Journal of Social Work 'For English language readers, the book is useful in critical social policy terms because, whilst referring to some well known authors in the tradition of the Anglo-Saxon academic field such as Lipsky, Goffman, Esping-Andersen and Weber, Dubois also introduces and comments on those scarcely known in the 'Anglo-Saxon scholarly world': French sociologists such as Isabelle Astier, Claude Dubar and Robert Castel who have critically analysed French social policies for decades and whose work deserves to reach a larger international audience... The Bureaucrat and the Poor is a major contribution to the deep understanding of the feelings, career strategies and professional commitment of those whose profession is often described as 'vocational' whilst, in the meantime, they suffer from not being trained nor recognized by the clients or their managers.' Critical Social Policy 'Dubois really immersed himself in the field. Fieldwork included around 900 observations of face-to-face encounters between reception agents and their clients in two benefit offices. The observations were complemented by formal interviews with 22 agents and 120 short interviews with clients in the waiting rooms... The result is a rich and at times complex narrative about the practices of and people in a street-level bureaucracy... it is perhaps the combination of observation and interviews on both sides of the desk where the book makes the most interesting contribution. The personal histories of the various actors make the descriptions of encounters stronger. This combination of perspectives is also why Dubois' book is a strong contribution to the literature on street-level bureaucracy and people processing.' Critical Policy Studies 'This intriguing book, first published in French in 1999, is an excellent translation of the work of a highly regarded political sociologist... effectively combines interactionism informed by the work of Erving Goffman with Bourdieu-style structural analysis of institutions and of the dynamics of social reproduction they contain or foster. The result is a lively, thought-provoking account of bureaucratic encounters and welfare policy implementation. Cogently combining specific examples from observational or interview materials with broader generalizations and (lightly) theoretical elaborations, this study offers a steady flow of frequently counterintuitive and consistently compelling insights that are undoubtedly applicable to a wide range of bureaucratic encounters or poverty-management efforts... unusually compelling and thought-provoking... This study will be of particular interest to students and scholars of bureaucracies and bureaucrats, welfare policy, and state management of social issues. It also provides an engaging illustration of the impact of Erving Goffman's popularity among French social scientists in the 1990s, specifically of the Gallic versions of symbolic interactionism resulting from that encounter.' American Anthropologist 'Dubois seeks to dispel what he sees as the false, oppositional dichotomy that often characterizes understandings of bureaucratic interactions: that of the impersonal bureaucratic agent versus the standard welfare client. In doing so he succeeds at illustrating the complex ways public policy operates at the ground level. This work is particularly useful in comparison to similar studies of neoliberal welfare policy in the United States... Overall, The Bureaucrat and the Poor provides empirical evidence for some of Lipsky's and others' theoretical claims about street-level bureaucrats, as Dubois intends. It makes for a good comparison to similar U.S. studies, and is a solid illustration of the fundamental sociological concept of the interplay between structure and agency.' Contemporary Sociology '... this is a first-rate account of the treatment of the poor in French welfare offices and provides an excellent comparison to similar US studies.' Social Policy & Administration 'Published originally in French in 1999, this English translation includes an introduction by the author specifically written for an international audience, and is accompanied by an insightful introduction by Stephen Maynard-Moody... The Bureaucrat and the Poor is a compelling, fine-grained study of the ways in which front-line workers in two French income security offices produce welfare policy as they interact with citizens over the full range of welfare-type benefits available to them... the reform agenda, in these imperfect public service systems - buffeted by pressures to reduce costs and narrow discretion in the name of improved policy implementation - the production of constructive social orders in policing, classroom teaching, social work and other front-line practices may depend upon the grounding in reality that convincing accounts such as this one provides.' French Politics, Culture & Society

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Author's Bio

Vincent Dubois is Professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of Strasbourg, France.

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