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Becoming Bureaucrats: Socialization at the Front Lines of Government Service, Zachary W. Oberfield

Reviewed by Daniel P. Hawes



Are bureaucrats born or created? This question is at the heart of Zachary W. Oberfield’s book. He seeks to answer this question by examining street-level bureaucrats in two distinct agencies: caseworkers from a welfare office and police officers. Oberfield presents a comprehensive analysis of the training, attitudes, and socialization of these street-level bureaucrats. The book follows entry-level caseworkers and police academy trainees from their first day through their second year as bureaucrats. This allows Oberfield to directly assess the attitudes, predispositions, and motivations of entrants and how these attitudes change over time as a result of socialization, training, and experience.

Oberfield clearly outlines the theoretical basis for his research question. He draws on theories rooted in psychology and sociology as the basis for how individual dispositions and personalities shape preferences and career choices. Within the public administration literature, Oberfield points to research on representative bureaucracy and public service motivations as a theoretical basis for why individuals become bureaucrats. Alternatively, Oberfield presents an institutional perspective, highlighting work on rational systems, organizational socialization, and street-level bureaucracy that emphasizes the importance of training, rules, norms, and codes—both for

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