Chapter 17: The public encounter and the ethics of public office
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Researchers of street-level bureaucracy and the sociology of professions often have an ambivalent relationship with and at worst an a priori suspicion towards discretion. Drawing on Max Weber and John Dewey, this chapter develops a public office approach to discretion that provides a conceptual frame for understanding the necessity and value of office-based discretion in public service delivery. Based on field-studies of doctor/patient encounters in increasingly standardized public healthcare settings, the chapter further discusses the value of the casuistic competences of the public officer, especially in the ambiguous and non-standard cases in which there is no easy link between generalized knowledge and the specificity of the case. Lastly, it is suggested that current reorganizations of public service delivery call for further attention to the conditions for exercising frontline discretion. Rather than curtailing public officers' discretionary possibilities, conditions must be enhanced that train and cultivate their ethics of public office.

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