“She isn’t Someone I Associate with Pension”—a Vignette Study of Professional Reasoning
What drives frontline workers’ categorization of clients in rule-based settings with a large room for discretion? The literature on street-level bureaucracy offers a structural description of discretion that emphasizes working conditions, policy goals, personal preferences, client pressure and professional norms. However, in order to explain why frontline workers with the same room for discretion categorize clients differently, a theory of an epistemic understanding of discretion may contribute to this literature. Based on a vignette study of 24 interviews with Danish caseworkers, the analysis shows how professional reasoning, rules, and social stereotypes inform categorization and discretion. The findings indicate that caseworkers’ categorizations of clients are less responsive to clients’ needs and more sensitive to administrative reasoning when clients are associated with stereotypes of need. In addition, the analysis contributes to the theory of categorization and discretion in lower levels of government
Keywords: Categorization, discretion, professionalism, stereotypes of need
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