"Knowing" the rules: administrative work as practice

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181 Citations (Scopus)


This article presents a theory of administrative work as practice. Building on a rich narrative of a mid-level administrator in the Dutch Immigration Office, four core elements of administrative practice are identified: contextuality, acting, knowing, and interacting. Taking cues from practice theory and ethnomethodology, the author argues that the visible aspects of administrative work (decisions, reports, negotiations, standard operating procedures, and - on a higher level of institutional abstraction - structures, legal rules, lines of authority, and accountability) are effectuations, enactments of the hidden, taken-for-granted routines: the almost unthinking actions, tacit knowledge, fleeting interactions, practical judgments, self-evident understandings and background knowledge, shared meanings, and personal feelings that constitute the core of administrative work. Taken together, contextuality, acting, knowing, and interacting make up a unified account of practical judgment in an administrative environment that is characterized by complexity, indeterminacy, and the necessity to act on the situation at hand.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)643-656
Number of pages14
JournalPublic Administration Review
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes


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