Becoming Bureaucrats

Becoming Bureaucrats: Socialization at the Front Lines of Government Service

Zachary W. Oberfield
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Becoming Bureaucrats
    Book Description:

    Bureaucrats are important symbols of the governments that employ them. Contrary to popular stereotypes, they determine much about the way policy is ultimately enacted and experienced by citizens. While we know a great deal about bureaucrats and their actions, we know little about their development. Are particular types of people drawn to government work, or are government workers forged by the agencies they work in? Put simply, are bureaucrats born, or are they made?InBecoming Bureaucrats, Zachary W. Oberfield traces the paths of two sets of public servants-police officers and welfare caseworkers-from their first day on the job through the end of their second year. Examining original data derived from surveys and in-depth interviews, along with ethnographic observations from the author's year of training and work as a welfare caseworker,Becoming Bureaucratscharts how public-sector entrants develop their bureaucratic identities, motivations, and attitudes. Ranging from individual stories to population-wide statistical analysis, Oberfield's study complicates the long-standing cliché that bureaucracies churn out bureaucrats with mechanical efficiency. He demonstrates that entrants' bureaucratic personalities evolved but remained strongly tied to the views, identities, and motives that they articulated at the outset of their service. As such, he argues that who bureaucrats become and, as a result, how bureaucracies function, depends strongly on patterns of self-selection and recruitment.Becoming Bureaucratsnot only enriches our theoretical understanding of bureaucratic behavior but also provides practical advice to elected officials and public managers on building responsive, accountable workforces.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0984-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. CHAPTER 1 Bureaucratic Socialization
    (pp. 1-21)

    Though it has more than four letters, “bureaucrat” is a bad word.¹ It evokes Kafkaesque paperwork and government workers who are out of touch, rule-obsessed, and heartless. Despite the word’s cultural resonance, and its usefulness as a rhetorical device (Safire 1978), the myth bears little resemblance to reality: publicsector workers aren’t the alienated, rigid lot of our imagination. In fact, there is considerable variation in bureaucratic thought and behavior across governments and inside particular agencies (Brehm and Gates 1997; DeHart-Davis 2007; Goodsell 2004; O’Leary 2010). Some bureaucrats are unpleasant, rule-focused, and motivated by a pension; others are friendly, comfortable bending...

  4. CHAPTER 2 Disposition and Institutions
    (pp. 22-38)

    In his study of police officer development, Van Maanen (1974, 84) quotes a police chief as saying, “The day the new recruit walks through the doors of the police academy he leaves society behind him to enter a profession that does more than give him a job, it defines who he is. For all the years he remains, closed into the sphere of its rituals . . . he will be a cop.”¹ Desmond (2006), in his study of wildland firefighting, argues that firefighters are drawn to their work, and feel comfortable doing it, because they view themselves as “country...

  5. CHAPTER 3 The Long View: How Veteran Workers See Their Worlds
    (pp. 39-55)

    As they enter bureaucracies, new public workers meet peers, are told how to think and act by instructors, and begin their work. Various ethnographic studies suggest that this process is formative for entrants (Conti 2009; Kappeler, Sluder, and Alpert 1998; Macvean and Cox 2012; Rubinstein 1973; Wanous 1992). For example, in a study of police socialization, Rubinstein (1973, 127–28) notes, “While he is learning to do his work, he is also defining for himself the nature of his place on the street, discovering the contradictions inherent in his position as a guardian of the ‘public’ peace and the ambiguities...

  6. CHAPTER 4 Entry: An In-Depth Account
    (pp. 56-86)

    A group of welfare caseworker trainees sat nervously on the first day of training. We talked quietly among ourselves and took in the sights and sounds around us. The state office building in which we sat was modern, with clean carpeted hallways and inspirational posters about the benefits of work. Eventually two trainers walked up to the front of the room. They welcomed us and began to inform us about the day’s events. About fifteen minutes into their presentation, a harried trainee rushed into the room apologizing for his lateness. The problem, he explained as he sat down at his...

  7. CHAPTER 5 In the Service of Others? Motivation, Altruism, and Egoism
    (pp. 87-112)

    After he had worked for two years inside the welfare department, I asked Terrell what was driving him to stay in his job. Without missing a beat he responded, “I would say that it really is just to have a job and have income come in. You know what really? I just go to work and do what I’m guided to do to get through the day. I’m not really big on serving the clients ’cause a lot of it is BS. But right now my main motivation for being there is really just an income.” As readers will recall...

  8. CHAPTER 6 Bureaucratic Identity: Rules and Loyalty
    (pp. 113-139)

    After two years on the force, Phillip, a white police officer who had previously served in the armed forces, described his approach to policing: “You gotta have a dual personality like you’ll know when the good, honest, hardworking people you’re dealing with, and I treat them like a good, honest person should be treated. But when I’m dealing with a crackhead, or if I’m dealing with somebody that I just locked up for something else, they’re usually a bunch of assholes and so you tend to be an asshole to them too.” Phillip’s comments align nicely with the logic of...

  9. CHAPTER 7 Attitudes: Social Problems, Race, and Deservingness
    (pp. 140-163)

    The first time that we spoke, Mary talked at length about other caseworkers whom she had observed.

    What I have seen is some of the [caseworkers] are very biased in their thinking. . . . And because of their way of thinking they treat people kind of bad. But you have other workers who the clients are so many, and the caseload is so high, that they just gotta get it done, get it done, get it done. So they’re just disconnecting themselves from the person under the record number because they’ve just gotta get it done. . . ....

  10. CHAPTER 8 Change and Continuity at Government’s Front Lines
    (pp. 164-178)

    Bureaucrats play an essential role in public policymaking because they decide what rules mean and how they are applied in practice. As they make choices about how to respond to people and situations, their behavior follows a logic of appropriateness—they think about who they are as members of an organization, what type of situation they are facing, and what people like themselves should do in such a situation (March 1994; March and Olsen 2006). Because the logic of appropriateness construct is a general decision-making theory, and does not put forward a holistic account of bureaucratic psychology, this book argues...

  11. APPENDIX A. Research Design
    (pp. 179-198)
  12. APPENDIX B. Recruitment And Job Requirements
    (pp. 199-200)
  13. APPENDIX C. Measurement and Analysis
    (pp. 201-210)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 211-216)
    (pp. 217-230)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 231-234)
    (pp. 235-236)