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Discretion and street-level bureaucracy theory : a case study of local authority social work

By Antony Evans


This thesis is a critical examination of social work discretion within adult\ud Social Services. The topic is explored through a critical analysis of Lipsky's\ud examination of discretion within street-level bureaucracies. The thesis\ud first outlines Lipsky's analysis of discretion and subsequent research\ud within the street-level bureaucracy perspective, identify the limited\ud analysis of the role of managers and the influence of professionalism on\ud discretion as areas for further consideration. The thesis explores debates\ud about management control and professionalism with regards to social\ud workers' discretion, and how these relate to the continuing relevance of\ud Lipsky's work on discretion. Two key alternative accounts of discretion in\ud contemporary social work are identified: domination managerialism,\ud arguing that managers have achieved control over social work and have\ud extinguished discretion; and the discursive managerialism perspective,\ud which sees managerial control and professional discretion intersecting in\ud different ways in different settings. The thesis examines these arguments\ud in terms of their descriptions of different regimes of discretion, that is:\ud how discretion is characterised; claims about the nature of management\ud control; and the role of professional status. These issues are examined\ud through a study of an older persons team and a mental health team within\ud the same local authority. The study suggests that 'management' is not\ud monolithic, but is an internally differentiated group, and that local\ud managers exercise significant discretion themselves and contribute to\ud practitioner discretion. Furthermore, professionalism as a formal principle,\ud in structuring discretion continues to be significant, but to different\ud degrees in the two different teams. The thesis concludes that the street-level\ud perspective is useful in identifying limitations on managers' ability to\ud control discretion. However) this perspective is also criticised as offering a\ud limited account and neglecting the role of managers and professionalism in\ud explaining the nature of social work discretion in Social Services

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