Full Draft Dissertation Seminar of Rafaela de Quadros Rigoni: care and order: workers’ discretion and drug policies in Amsterdam (Netherlands) and Porto Alegre (Brazil)

Category: PhD| research

4 Sep 2014

RafaelaPolicy usually does not happen the same way in the streets as it is planned to be on paper. Rather than interpreting these differences in terms of mistakes or implementation problems, this study proposes to look at variations as results of inevitable and strategic decisions street level workers take in order to turn paper policy into practice. Paper policy rules, goals and regulations engage with workers’ discretionary territories, where workers exercise their own judgements on both problem definitions and possible solutions. Using a street level bureaucracy approach this study assumes that workers’ discretion has a central role in understanding the processes through which public policies come into grounded existence. However, it challenges the two current explanations of workers’ discretion as determined by unintended spaces in organizational rules (Lipsky 1980) or individual clients’ characteristics (Maynard-Moody and Musheno 2000), by proposing a more integrated and nuanced approach.

To illustrate these processes the research focuses on the field of policies towards so-called problem drugs (crack cocaine and heroin).  Historically, many governments have supported repressive policies involving enforcement of prohibitionist laws, and (only) abstinence models of treatment, aiming at eradicating drugs from society(Marlatt 1998). This public order approach treats drug use as a criminal issue, to be treated with punishment and repression. The global debate on drug policies has expanded to include public health and citizenship rights considerations, which focus on reducing harms caused by drug use and trade rather than expecting to completely ban it.

Amsterdam (in the Netherlands) and Porto Alegre (in Brazil) are offered as interesting cases to analyse how these different approaches are negotiated and decisions are made by street level workers. The research focuses on  social, health and law enforcement State supported workers to analyse the dilemmas workers encounter in their daily interactions with drug users, and how they develop strategies to cope with them. Ethnographic techniques were used to gather testimony and directly observe eighty street level workers from 40 different services in the health, social and law enforcement sectors were interviewed in depth, combined with 800 hours of observation of their activities between February 2010 and March 2011.

The research found workers making strategic decisions through processes of interpretation, comparison and negotiation. Inspired by Foucauldian studies on governmentality (e.g. Dean 2010), the conclusions suggest workers’ decisions are driven by dynamic processes linking their personal perceptions of societal values on drug use, managerial and resource constraints, and relational networking experiences with other workers inside and outside their immediate organizations and users. In these processes, different meanings and practices of public health and public order are continuously created in Amsterdam and Porto Alegre with their very different histories of, and resources for, drug interventions. But there are similarities in the underlying processes patterning how discretion is exercised and the experiences of users caught between care and order.

 The FDS Committee consists of:

Chair Professor dr. Irene van Staveren
Promotor Professor dr. Arjun Bedi 
Promotor, University of Amsterdam Professor dr. Dirk Korf
Co-promotor Dr John Cameron     
Senior External Discussant Professor dr. Tony Evans 
Senior Internal Discussant Professor dr. Des Gasper
PhD Discussant Ms Angelica Maria Ocampo Talero


When: 5th September  2014

Time: 13:00 – 15:00

Venue: Room 4.39




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