Practising empty talk

Compliance and resistance to normative control among caseworkers in the Swedish Public Employment Service




caseworkers, normative control, public employment service, critical management studies


This article draws on theories of normative control and critical management studies to investigate caseworkers’ strategies in correspondence to a new leadership philosophy in the Swedish Public Employment Service called self-leadership. Based on 43 interviews and observations at two local offices, we find that managerial models are arbitrary and cause uncertainty at the local level as caseworkers both comply and resist managerial talk of self-leadership. Based on a distinction between types of and grounds for strategic responses, we identify four subject positions defined as “personal embracement”, “personal detachment”, “professional recognition” and “professional dismissal”. The study shows that newly employed comply through practices of personal embracement, while senior employees resist based on professional dismissal. The article concludes that caseworkers are not docile bodies, who adjust to managerial talk, but derive their identity, engagement and esteem linked to a shared-work identity as organisational professionals. This demonstrates the relevance of closing the gap between street-level bureaucracy and critical management studies to further explore the tension between governing “employees” or “professionals” in contemporary public welfare governance.


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Referera så här

Johansson , Håkan, och Ida Seing. 2022. ”Practising Empty Talk: Compliance and Resistance to Normative Control Among Caseworkers in the Swedish Public Employment Service”. Sociologisk Forskning 59 (3):299–319.




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