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Article
Publication date: 11 July 2016

Kjetil G. Lundberg and Liv Johanne Syltevik

– The purpose of this paper is to provide a sociological analysis of everyday interaction on the physical front line of the Norwegian welfare state.

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to provide a sociological analysis of everyday interaction on the physical front line of the Norwegian welfare state.

Design/methodology/approach

The data are from a short-term ethnographic study in the reception/waiting rooms of three local welfare offices. These are important sites for access to benefits and services. The focus is on the situational and interactional aspects: how do people behave and interact with fellow visitors as well as with front line staff in this institutional context? For the analysis, Goffman’s conceptual framework on behaviour in public places is combined with concepts from a theory of access to welfare benefits.

Findings

The analysis shows how people fill these spaces with different activities, and how they are characterized by a particular type of welfare “officialdom”, boundary work and the handling of welfare stigma. Everyday interaction on the front line gives insights into the tensions in an all-in-one welfare bureaucracy and into the implementation of digitalization. The paper concludes that “old” and “new” tensions are expressed and managed at the front line, and suggests that more attention be paid to the new barriers that are developing.

Originality/value

The study contributes an ethnographic approach to a seldom studied part of welfare administration. The waiting rooms in the Norwegian welfare organization are actualized as a social arena influenced by new trends in public administration: one-stop shops, a new heterogeneity, activation policies and digitalization processes.

Details

Journal of Organizational Ethnography, vol. 5 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 2046-6749

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