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Children's services in the iron cage of performance management: street-level bureaucracy and the spectre of Švejkism

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date07/2010
JournalInternational Journal of Social Welfare
Journal number3
Volume19
Number of pages11
Pages310-320
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Recent UK government reforms have introduced a range of measures to regulate practice in child welfare, with professional work increasingly structured into formal processes embedded in information technology. This prompts obvious anxieties about the erosion of professional discretion. Using Lipsky's concept of the street-level bureaucrat, we report on an ethnographical study examining how social workers organise their practice in an atmosphere of performance management. Clear indications of attenuated discretion are revealed, reflecting the shift to a managerial model of control. Of concern is the emergence of a pattern of formally conformant behaviour in which the letter of the organisational law is obeyed but without genuine commitment. Drawing on the anti-hero of Hašek's celebrated satire, we denote this form of passive resistance ‘Švejkism’. While showing up the absurdities of excessive managerial power, such behaviours are ultimately dysfunctional for the organisation; an alternative governance paradigm, based on professional values, is briefly outlined.