The reorganization of the bureaucratic encounter in a digitized public administration

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This article examines how an ambitious public sector digitalization strategy, focused on motivating and enabling citizens to take up digital self-service, changes the nature of everyday encounters between citizens and frontline staff in public offices. Based on an ethnographic study from a citizen service centre in a Danish municipality, our analysis shows how the sense of time and space in these encounters is radically changed, and how the relationship between private and public is reframed in this context. In contrast to the idea of digital technologies as a neutral upgrade of the state administration leading to more efficient welfare provision, the article highlights the unintended effects of digitalization, showing how the traditional ideal of bureaucracy reflected in Weber’s legal-rational model, which described bureaucracy as hierarchical, rule-enforcing and impersonal, is reversed. We argue that attention to how digitalization changes daily bureaucratic encounters and the relation between public authorities and citizens, is lacking, both in policy and in the literature on digitalization and e-government.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEphemera: Theory & politics in organization
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)17-41
Number of pages25
Publication statusPublished - 3 Dec 2021


  • management, organizational development and innovation


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