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The twilight zone: paradoxes of practicing reform

Bagga Bjerge (Center for Alcohol and Drug Research, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark)
Toke Bjerregaard (Department of Management, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark)

Journal of Organizational Ethnography

ISSN: 2046-6749

Article publication date: 10 July 2017




In many public sector reform processes, employees’ roles as professional experts are shifting toward more entrepreneurial and market-oriented roles, a change that entails a shift in the demands made of these employees. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the reflections, considerations, and experiences of such employees regarding the spaces of possibility open to them in which to act in accordance with this new role.


Two ethnographic studies were carried out in drug and alcohol treatment services and in city and business development in the Danish welfare system.


Although the areas of investigation are not related in their daily practices, the authors trace similar responses to the demands made of their respective employees as their role shifts from that of professional experts to include more entrepreneurial aspects. The authors observe that employees are often eager to align new demands and practices, and the authors identify various challenges in respect of the structural public set-up of these services, which often leaves the employees to operate in what could be described as a “twilight zone” between the public and the private.


While scholars often have accounted for situations where such pluralistic roles create conflict, the authors also answer calls to capture moments of synergy where tensions of role paradox are constructively exploited. In this process of ongoing production, images of hierarchy and bureaucracy, rather than merely casting shadows over more bottom-up process of entrepreneurship, are actively used, alongside images of entrepreneurship, in the mutual construction of different roles and the constantly shifting relationality between them, conflicting or synergetic. The definitions and interpretations of the role of the public sector employee are not entirely fixed, but rather subject to ongoing (re)construction in the daily workings of public organizations.



Bjerge, B. and Bjerregaard, T. (2017), "The twilight zone: paradoxes of practicing reform", Journal of Organizational Ethnography, Vol. 6 No. 2, pp. 100-115.



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