How street-level bureaucrats exercise their discretion to encourage clients’ political participation: A case study of Israeli LGBTQ+ teachers

Published date01 January 2024
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1177/09520767221108287
AuthorMaayan Davidovitz
Date01 January 2024
Subject MatterArticles
Article
Public Policy and Administration
2024, Vol. 39(1) 5168
© The Author(s) 2022
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DOI: 10.1177/09520767221108287
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How street-level bureaucrats
exercise their discretion to
encourage clientspolitical
participation: A case study of
Israeli LGBTQ+ teachers
Maayan Davidovitz
Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, New York University, NY, USA
Abstract
Do street-level bureaucrats exercise discretion to encourage clientspolitical partici-
pation? If so, how, and in what way is it demonstrated? This study examines these
questions empirically through 36 semi-structured in-depth interviews with LGBTQ+
(lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) teachers in Israel. Findings reveal that
these street-level bureaucrats encourage clients to participate politically through
strategies they adopt both inside and outside the work environment. In the classroom
their lessons contain political content and expressions of political protest. Outside school
they employ digital media to inf‌luence students. Clientspolitical participation is man-
ifested both jointly with street-level bureaucrats and independently of them.
Keywords
Discretion, LGBTQ+, political participation, policy implementation, street-level
bureaucrats
Introduction
Street-level bureaucrats are policymakers who have a unique impact on the lives and fates
of the citizens they serve (Hupe and Hill, 2007;Lipsky, 2010;Maynard-Moody and
Musheno, 2000). On the one hand, these public servants, such as teachers, counselors,
Corresponding author:
Maayan Davidovitz, Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, New York University, 295 Lafayette
St, New York, NY 10012, USA.
Email: maayandavidovitz@gmail.com
police off‌icers and tax off‌icials, serve as state representatives in charge of implementing
rules, regulations, and procedures (Raaphorst, 2018;Thoumann, 2015). On the other
hand, their unique hierarchical position allows them to identify in the f‌ield the needs of
citizens and to adapt formulated policy to what is required (Gofen, 2014). The decisions
they make for clients, which are determined, inter alia, by the nature of the relationship
between the parties, emphasize the duality and reciprocity whereby each may inf‌luence
the other (Davidovitz and Cohen, 2022a;Keulemans and Van de Walle, 2020).
Street-level bureaucrats affect the lives of clients in different ways. They can determine
how resources are distributed in society and whether or not to promote values such as
social equity, equality, and fairness (Davidovitz and Cohen, 2021a;Hagelund, 2010;
Maynard-Moody and Musheno, 2012;Rice, 2013). They may base the decisions they
make for clients on their own ideological positions (Keiser, 2010), even when these are
counter to the guidelines of their supervisors and may jeopardize their situation in the
workplace (Maynard-Moody and Musheno, 2000). However, the literature has not yet
examined how street-level bureaucrats use their discretion to encourage clients to act so as
to inf‌luence policy outcomes. More specif‌ically, no study has examined whether street-
level bureaucrats may encourage clients to participate politically to inf‌luence public
policy.
My goal in this study is to examine whether street-level bureaucrats encourage clients
to participate politically. If so, what strategies are they adopting for this purpose, and how
is the political participation of citizens ref‌lected? I examine my questions empirically
through semi-structured in-depth interviews with 36 Israeli LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay,
bisexual, and transgender and queer) teachers. Although in recent decades there has been
a signif‌icant improvement in the civil rights of LGBTQ+ people in liberal democratic
western countries, such as the United States (Sabharwal et al., 2019), Canada (Browne
and Nash, 2014), Germany (Davidson-Schmich, 2017), and Israel (Hartal, 2020), this
population still suffers from discrimination and inequality in aspects of their personal and
family lives as well as in the workplace (Sabharwal et al., 2019). In the United States, for
example, although the Supreme Court upheld the right to same-sex marriage in a
2015 decision, LGBTQ+ individuals still labor under an absence of universal workplace
antidiscrimination laws and experience incidents of homophobia, transphobia, and vi-
olence (Sabharwal et al., 2019; Sears and Mallort, 2011). Although in Israel LGBTQ+
individuals are in theory equal under the law, in reality they are often treated unequally,
especially with regard to domestic issues such as parenting (Ilany and Ilany, 2021).
Moreover, in the last decade there have been occurrences of violence and homophobia
(Hartal and Sasson-Levi, 2018).
I argue that since LGBTQ+ street-level bureaucrats may be personally impacted by
state policy, which is inequitable and even discriminatory towards them, they will have a
personal interest in encouraging clients to participate politically to shape public policy in a
way that advances their agenda. In other words, they may use clients as a political channel
to inf‌luence policies regarding LGBTQ+ issues. Teachers are a unique example of street-
level bureaucrats since their pedagogical role allows them to inf‌luence the nature of their
clientscritical thinking and perceptions (Harrell-Levy and Kerpelman, 2010). Thus, this
case study may be particularly relevant for examining the phenomena.
52 Public Policy and Administration 39(1)

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