Bernardo Zacka

presents

When the State Meets the Street:
Public Service and Moral Agency

This event includes a book signing

Date

Feb
16
Friday
February 16, 2018
3:00 PM

Location

Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138

Tickets

This event is free; no tickets are required.

Harvard Book Store and the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics welcome BERNARDO ZACKA—junior research fellow at Christ's College Cambridge and imminent MIT assistant professor—for a discussion of his debut book, When the State Meets the Street: Public Service and Moral Agency.

About When the State Meets the Street

When the State Meets the Street probes the complex moral lives of street-level bureaucrats: the frontline social and welfare workers, police officers, and educators who represent government’s human face to ordinary citizens. Too often dismissed as soulless operators, these workers wield a significant margin of discretion and make decisions that profoundly affect people’s lives. Combining insights from political theory with his own ethnographic fieldwork as a receptionist in an urban antipoverty agency, Bernardo Zacka shows us firsthand the predicament in which these public servants are entangled.

Public policy consists of rules and regulations, but its implementation depends on how street-level bureaucrats interpret them and exercise discretionary judgment. These workers are expected to act as sensible moral agents in a working environment that is notoriously challenging and that conspires against them. Confronted by the pressures of everyday work, they often and unknowingly settle for one of several reductive conceptions of their responsibilities, each by itself pathological in the face of a complex, messy reality. Zacka examines the factors that contribute to this erosion of moral sensibility and what it takes to remain a balanced moral agent in such difficult conditions.

Zacka’s revisionary portrait reveals bureaucratic life as more fluid and ethically fraught than most citizens realize. It invites us to approach the political theory of the democratic state from the bottom-up, thinking not just about what policies the state should adopt but also about how it ought to interact with citizens when implementing these policies.

Praise

"When the State Meets the Street reads as one might imagine a collaboration between Bernard Williams, Richard Sennett and James Scott could turn out. If there can be such a thing as an instant classic, this book is one." —David Owen, University of Southampton

"In this refreshing study, Zacka finds in the commonplace decision-making of street-level bureaucrats an implicit but coherent moral structure. When citizens experience the state through street-level encounters, the author shows, they are subject to moral reasoning no less than when elected officials expand or contract social welfare policies, or bring a nation to war." —Michael Lipsky, author of Street-Level Bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Services

"Beautifully written, tightly argued, and totally original." —Michael Piore, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Bernardo Zacka
Bernardo Zacka

Bernardo Zacka

Bernardo Zacka is a junior research fellow in political theory at Christ’s College, Cambridge and, starting in fall 2018, will be an assistant professor of political science at MIT.

Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138

Walking from the Harvard Square T station: 2 minutes

As you exit the station, reverse your direction and walk east along Mass. Ave. in front of the Cambridge Savings Bank. Cross Dunster St. and proceed along Mass. Ave for three more blocks. You will pass Au Bon Pain, JP Licks, and TD Bank. Harvard Book Store is located at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Plympton St.

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Event Series: Friday Forum

Harvard Book Store's Friday Forum series takes place on Friday afternoons during the academic year as a way to highlight scholarly books in a wide range of fields, with a particular focus on local scholars. Friday Forums take place at 3pm in Harvard Book Store.

Event Series: Ethics in Your World

The “Ethics in Your World” series, presented with Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, features leading thinkers taking on tough problems that matter to us all. Learn more about the Safra Center at ethics.harvard.edu.

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Featured event books will be for sale at the event for 20% off. Thank you for supporting this author series with your purchases.
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