Dealing with disgust: Street-level bureaucrats as agents of Kafkaesque bureaucracy

Muhammad Azfar Nisar, Ayesha Masood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Bureaucracy is deeply implicated in the biopolitical regimes that create and render invisible social waste—individuals classified as abnormal, deviant, or useless—in contemporary societies. According to previous theorists, bureaucracy is able to carry out this critical task through moral distance and reliance on technical efficiency. By specifically focusing on street-level bureaucrats, a unique tier of bureaucracy which is often afforded neither moral distance nor clear directions, this article explains the microprocesses of classification, managing and recycling through which social waste management is carried out in contemporary society. In doing so, this article highlights that in addition to official policies, informal factors like social, organizational, and group norms are critical determinants of bureaucratic behavior in front-line organizations and problematize some of the key assumptions of Weberian bureaucracy. Unlike functional interpretations, we argue that, in some instances, the informal factors influencing street-level bureaucrats are more regressive than official public policies and help explain some of the dystopian features of contemporary bureaucracy and its impact on social inequity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)882-899
Number of pages18
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020


  • Kafkaesque bureaucracy
  • marginalization
  • social waste
  • street-level bureaucracy
  • wasted lives

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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