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Statisticians as back-office policy-makers: counting asylum-seekers and refugees in Europe

Ustek Spilda, Funda (2020) Statisticians as back-office policy-makers: counting asylum-seekers and refugees in Europe. Science, Technology and Human Values, 45 (2). 289 - 316. ISSN 0162-2439

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Identification Number: 10.1177/0162243919882085


Street-level bureaucracy literature ascertains that policies get made not only in the offices of legislatures or politicians but through the discretion bureaucrats employ in their day-to-day interactions with citizens in government agencies. The discretion bureaucrats use to grant access to public benefits or impose sanctions adds up to what the public ultimately experience as the government and its policies. This perspective, however, overlooks policy-making that gets done in the back offices of government, where there might not be direct interaction with citizens. Furthermore, it treats discretion as inherently anthropogenic and ignores that it is exercised in relation to sociotechnical arrangements of which bureaucrats are a part. In this paper, based on extensive ethnography at national statistical institutes and international statistical meetings across Europe, I make two arguments. The first is that, statisticians emerge as back-office policy-makers as they are compelled to take multiple methodological decisions when operationalizing abstract statistical guidelines and definitions, thus effectively making rather than merely implementing policies. This is the “discretion” they employ, even when they may not interact with citizens. The second argument is that the exercise of discretion is sociotechnical, that is, it happens in relation to the constraints and affordances of technologies and the decisions of other bureaucrats in their institutions and others.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2019 The Author
Divisions: Media and Communications
Subjects: J Political Science > JV Colonies and colonization. Emigration and immigration. International migration
Date Deposited: 15 May 2019 14:54
Last Modified: 27 Jun 2024 07:54

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