"They are underpaid and understaffed": How clients interpret encounters with street-level bureaucrats

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Scholars have explored the nature and consequences of administrative burden but less is known about how citizens interpret costly encounters with the state. This qualitative study of 85 child care subsidy recipients applies attribution theory from psychology to illustrate how clients develop causal explanations for administrative burden. The findings show that clients either blamed negative experiences on bureaucrats-viewing workers as in control of their behavior, or the bureaucracy-blaming factors related to the subsidy system. In rare instances, clients viewed the bureaucracy as intentionally discouraging claims. We observed some variation by race/ethnicity and study sites. Examining clients' causal explanations of administrative burden helps clarify how clients' interpretation of costly bureaucratic encounters influences future claims, their perceptions of the state, and their political participation.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Barnes, CY; Henly, JR

Published Date

  • April 1, 2018

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 28 / 2

Start / End Page

  • 165 - 181

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1477-9803

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1053-1858

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1093/jopart/muy008

Citation Source

  • Scopus