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Becoming digital – passages to service in the digitized bureaucracy

Anja Svejgaard Pors (Department of Management & Administration, Metropolitan University College, Copenhagen, Denmark)

Journal of Organizational Ethnography

ISSN: 2046-6749

Article publication date: 13 July 2015




The purpose of this paper is to examine the impact of e-government reforms on street-level bureaucrats’ professionalism and relation to citizens, thus demonstrating how the bureaucratic encounter unfolds in the digital era.


The paper is based on an ethnographic study of frontline work at a citizen service centre in a Danish municipality, and draws on empirical material generated through observations, field notes, interviews and policy documents.


The paper shows that e-government changes the mode of professionalism in citizen service from service to support. An ethnographic account of how digital reforms are implemented in practice shows how street-level bureaucrat’s classic tasks such as specialized casework are being reconfigured into educational tasks that promote the idea of “becoming digital”. In the paper, the author argues that the work of “becoming digital” in client processing entails two interconnected changes in frontline agents’ practice: de-specialization of the task and intensified informality in relation to citizens. As a result, the frontline agent works as an explorative generalist whose professional skills and personal competencies are blurred.


The study contributes to ethnographic research in public administration by combining two separate subfields, e-government and street-level bureaucracy, to discern recent transformations in public service delivery. In the digital era, tasks, control and equality are distributed in ways that call for symmetrical and relational approaches to studying street-level bureaucracy. The argument goes beyond technological or social determinism to find a fruitful intermediary position pointing at technological change as having both constraining and enabling effects.



Pors, A.S. (2015), "Becoming digital – passages to service in the digitized bureaucracy", Journal of Organizational Ethnography, Vol. 4 No. 2, pp. 177-192.



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