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Deciding on tax evasion – front line discretion and constraints

Karen Boll (Department of Organization, Copenhagen Business School, Frederiksberg, Denmark)

Journal of Organizational Ethnography

ISSN: 2046-6749

Article publication date: 13 July 2015




The purpose of this paper is to analyse everyday reasoning in public administration. This is done by focusing on front line tax inspectors’ decisions about tax evasion.


The paper presents ethnography of bureaucracy and field audits. The material stems from fieldwork conducted in the Central Customs and Tax Administration.


The paper shows that the tax inspectors reason about tax evasion in a casuistic manner. They pay attention to similar cases and to particular circumstances of the individual cases. In deciding on tax evasion, the inspectors do not just administer the laws; they also enact a policy of fair-mindedness. Doing this they are constrained by time and man-powers, but also enabled by various organizational devices.

Research limitations/implications

The tax inspectors that the author followed were carefully chosen and acted in accordance with procedures. The ethnography should be understood in relation to this set-up.


The originality of the paper is that it shows that ethnography can open the territory of everyday reasoning in public administration. Also, it shows the discretionary room that any front line tax inspector navigates in. This is significant as revenue collection often is described as formal and dominated by a legal steering in which rules are univocal.



Research for this paper was kindly supported by the Central Customs and Tax Administration. The author offer thanks for the help in gaining access. The author also wish to thank warmly the informants who took their time to talk to me about their work.


Boll, K. (2015), "Deciding on tax evasion – front line discretion and constraints", Journal of Organizational Ethnography, Vol. 4 No. 2, pp. 193-207.



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