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Cops, Teachers, Counselors

Stories from the Front Lines of Public Service

Steven Maynard-Moody and Michael Musheno

Publication Year: 2003

Whether on a patrol beat, in social service offices, or in public school classrooms, street-level workers continually confront rules in relation to their own beliefs about the people they encounter. Cops, Teachers, Counselors is the first major study of street-level bureaucracy to rely on storytelling. Steven Maynard-Moody and Michael Musheno collect the stories told by these workers in order to analyze the ways that they ascribe identities to the people they encounter and use these identities to account for their own decisions and actions. The authors show us how the world of street-level work is defined by the competing tensions of law abidance and cultural abidance in a unique study that finally allows cops, teachers, and counselors to voice their own views of their work. Steven Maynard-Moody is Director of the Policy Research Institute and Professor of Public Administration at the University of Kansas. Michael Musheno is Professor of Justice and Policy Studies at Lycoming College and Professor Emeritus of Justice Studies, Arizona State University.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

List of Stories

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

The place was different but the moment was the same: for Michael it occurred in a police patrol car; for Steven it was in the meeting room of a vocational rehabilitation office. The moment was when each of us collected our first story, and we knew we were hearing and, in our mind’s eyes, seeing governing at the front lines. We were entering the ...

Part 1. Two Narratives of Street-Level Work

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1. Dealing with Faces

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pp. 3-8

A western police officer asserts that both rules and her “own value system” are in play in deciding what to do. A western vocational rehabilitation counselor also acknowledges rules, referencing a “cookbook method” of decision making, but points to “what people need” as central to doing her job. A midwestern middle school teacher reveals a ...

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2. State Agents, Citizen Agents

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pp. 9-24

How do street-level workers make sense of their world and account for what they do? These questions guide our inquiry and lie at the heart of scholarship on the state and its workforce. Much of the existing literature converges on a viewpoint of street-level workers that focuses on how they apply the state’s laws, rules, and procedures to the cases they ...

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3. Story Worlds, Narratives, and Research

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pp. 25-35

The purpose of our research is simple, even elemental: to collect and examine street-level workers’ everyday work stories to uncover their judgments as they see them. This simple goal belies the challenge of the interpretive task because these stories are often ambiguous and multilayered: they reference both ...

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4. Physical and Emotional Spaces

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pp. 36-50

... “Tough Neighborhood” is not much of a story. It has only one character, Joe, and no discernable action or plot, but in just a few lines it paints a social portrait of teaching in an urban middle school. This story sets a stage on which difficult and despairing decisions are made about real kids in all-too-real situations. We know this story: the teacher is drawn to the likeable but troubled kid from a broken home, the inexorable transgressions and punishments, dropping out, the ...

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Part II. Enacting Identities in the Workplace and on the Streets

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pp. 51-54

Street-level workers care as much about who a person is as about what the person has done. Identity matters as much as acts. By identity, we mean how we come to recognize ourselves and each other through group belonging.1 All of us belong to certain groups: this is to say that we occupy subject positions. For example, street-level workers belong ...

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5. Workers Unite: Occupational Identities and Peer Relations

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pp. 55-63

Back when I was an income-maintenance worker, we went through computer conversion when we converted all of our files and put them on the computer. We had all gone through training— and for some a couple of weeks training—and we came back and all had like over two hundred on our caseload. So we ...

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6. Organizational and Social Divisions among Street-Level Workers

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pp. 64-76

There is a young woman that I have been working with for about a year now. She is really severely physically disabled— average cognitive ability, but has minimal use of her body. The family have very little money, and her parents have been unemployed off and on all the time. ...

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7. Putting a Fix on People: Identity, Conduct, and Street-Level Work

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pp. 77-92

I ran into a prostitute named [Angela], and she’s thirty-nine years old, she’s a white female, and she has no teeth. According to her, a black guy beat her up one time and knocked her teeth out. And she’s a chronic alcoholic, and not only that, she’s pregnant. I had contact with her once and I made the effort to calling a pilot program that we have here called Care Seven. ...

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Part III. Normative Decision Making: Moralities over Legalities

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pp. 93-95

Street-level decision making is complexly moral and contingent rather than narrowly rule bound and fixed. A fundamental dilemma—perhaps the defining characteristic—of street-level work is that the needs of individual citizen-clients exist in tension with the demands and limits of rules. This does not mean that rules do not permeate all aspects ...

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8. Who are the Worthy?

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pp. 97-106

... To this point, “Parking Lot Therapy” describes a routine case handled routinely. A client with a work injury and the goal of returning to work is given appropriate treatment. He returns “to work in his profession,” the efficiently achieved and desired end of a case. This is a textbook vocational rehabilitation case, a success for the client, the voc rehab ...

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9. Responding to the Worthy

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pp. 107-122

This is an incident that occurred about three years ago. I was working as a detective at a school. . . . It’s a predominantly white school—I would say 99 percent white. Even [Flores], one of the two suspects in the case I’m going to describe, though she had a Hispanic name, seemed white. . . . It’s an upper-middleclass ...

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10. Street-Level Worker Knows Best

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pp. 123-138

This story is kind of an example of—it reminded me of this yesterday because [the vocational rehabilitation counselors] were talking about how in some organizations some people are angry at us because they feel that we decide for the client what they are going to do and we don’t let them do what they want to, and our answer to that is, “Well, sometimes we don’t let them do what they want to because it would not be practical or it would not be feasible.”1 ...

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11. Getting the Bad Guys

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pp. 139-152

have known this guy, [John], for probably five years now. He’s a quad. He was one of those wild kids who thought the world was his, and if you drink enough and take enough [drugs]—well, he got really loaded and tried to ›y his car over some trees, and it didn’t quite make it, so now he is a quad. The catch is, he still thinks if he wants it, he should get it—and he ...

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12. Streetwise Workers and the Power of Storytelling

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pp. 153-165

Street-level stories are powerfully descriptive: they take us into the storytellers’ worlds, both real and imagined. Through the storytellers’ words, we experience the physical and emotional context of their work. We meet the students, clients, criminals, victims, bystanders, coworkers, and bosses who populate these story worlds. Street-level stories, like other narratives both grand and mundane, help us understand ...

Appendix A. Methodology

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pp. 167-177

Appendix B. Entry Interview

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pp. 179-180

Appendix C. Questionnaire and Exit Interview

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pp. 181-187

Appendix D. Story Cover Page

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pp. 189-190

Appendix E. Story Codes

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pp. 191-192


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pp. 193-204


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pp. 205-213


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pp. 215-221

E-ISBN-13: 9780472023875
E-ISBN-10: 047202387X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472068326
Print-ISBN-10: 0472068326

Page Count: 216
Illustrations: 5 drawings, 1 table
Publication Year: 2003

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Human services personnel -- United States.
  • Social workers -- United States.
  • Police -- United States.
  • Teachers -- United States.
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