Street-Level Bureaucracy theory meets different Souths


The Street-Level Bureaucracy (SLB) theoretical framework that has been introduced by Michael Lipsky (1980) focuses on the role of frontline workers in delivering public services. This strand of studies has had considerable recognition from the scientific community, especially in Northern Europe and in the United States of America. The most analyzed topics refer to uses of discretion and coping strategies (Hill 2003; Hupe 2013; Tummers et al. 2015; Raaphorst 2018), the negotiation of professional identity within the bureaucratic encounter (Maynard-Moody and Musheno 2003; Dubois 2010), and the effects of service delivery reforms, such as New Public Management in the 1980s (Brodkin 2011), New Public Governance, and recently, coproduction (Breit et al. 2018; Larsen and Caswell 2020) on street-level work. Several contributions have appeared on the most important public administration journals (Public Administration, Journal of Social Policy). The adoption of SLB theory in Mediterranean countries, Eastern Europe, Asia, South America and Africa is still scarce. Adopting this theory in less studied contexts would advance the field and scientific knowledge on how the specific characteristics of different welfare systems, labour market, institutions, are important in understanding the implementation of services. Regimes are based on different conceptions of citizenship, solidarity and trust that affect service implementation (Rice 2017; Møller and Stensöta 2019). The Special Issue opens the street-level debate, traditionally developed in Northern Europe and in the United States of America to understudied contexts, reasoning on the potentialities and challenges of this approach to understand the provision of public services in contexts where welfare systems are fragmented and leave broad room for maneuver and action to frontline workers (Barberis, Paraciani, and Saruis 2019). The result of a first bibliographical research on the Scopus dataset shows that only in recent times scholars have begun to highlight the potentiality of SLB theory to study the impacts of neo-liberalism, economic crisis, population impoverishment, immigration and emigration processes, development programmes (e.g., NextGenEU, and United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals), and COVID-19 pandemic on frontline workers work practices in underexplored contexts. This is the case of Brazil (Eiró 2019; Lotta 2021), Greece (Exadaktylos et al. 2021; Witcher 2021), Italy (Barberis, Paraciani, and Saruis 2019; Leonardi and Stefani 2022; Raspanti and Saruis 2021), Mexico (Ramirez 2021), Nigeria (Ukeje 2021), Spain (Guidi 2020), and South Africa (Gaede 2016). This Special Issue aims at gathering scholars that study public service delivery with the lens of the SLB theory in different Souths. We use the term “different Souths” to include those contexts that diverge from the most studied in terms of welfare state models, the role of the State, citizens’ trust in the public administration, degree of digitalization, and public administration functioning. The Special issue contribution to the SLB theory is twofold. First, we want to promote SLB theory adoption in countries with very different characteristics from those in which SLB theory was born and developed. A street-level perspective enables the analysis to highlight macro-consequences and tendencies of welfare states from the bottom-up, which do not automatically fit into classical categorisations (Esping-Andersen 1990). Secondly, our goal is to develop new analytical tools relevant for the whole discipline by setting the scene for SLB theory in the Mediterranean countries, Eastern Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa. This could contribute to the theoretical and empirical advancement of the field.

List of topic areas

We welcome papers that adopt the SLB theory to study street-level organizations in different Souths by focusing on:

  • the role of the context in affecting street-level bureaucrats' work practices and possibilities;
  • service delivery from a comparative perspective to problematize the use of SLB theory analytical categories and methodological challenges;
  • the characteristics assumed by the bureaucratic encounter in contexts where the distrust in public institutions is high, and clients often takes public service malfunction for granted;
  • how frontline workers contribute to realize public goals and programs and their role to fill regulatory gaps or resource scarcity.

Both theoretical and empirical contributions are welcomed.

Submissions Information

Submissions are made using ScholarOne Manuscripts. Registration and access are available at:

Author guidelines must be strictly followed. Please see:

Authors should select (from the drop-down menu) the special issue title at the appropriate step in the submission process, i.e. in response to “Please select the issue you are submitting to”.

Submitted articles must not have been previously published, nor should they be under consideration for publication anywhere else, while under review for this journal.

Key deadlines

Opening date for manuscripts submissions: 01/08/2022

Closing date for manuscripts submission: 31/03/2023

Closing date for abstract submission: 30/11/2022

Email for submissions: [email protected] ; [email protected]; [email protected]