top of page

Voluntary Organizations as New Street-level Bureaucrats:

Voluntary Organizations as New Street-level Bureaucrats: Frontline Struggles of Community Organizations against Bureaucratization in a South Korean Welfare-to-Work Partnership

Social Policy & Administration issn 0144–5596

DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9515.2012.00856.x

Vol. 47, No. 5, October 2013, pp. 565–585

Suyoung Kim

Department of Social Welfare, Seoul National University, Seoul, South Korea


In recent years, the role of voluntary organizations in welfare partnership has received considerable critical attention from scholars working in the field. While mainstream debates have valued state–voluntary sector partnership as participatory governance, critical studies have argued that it leads voluntary organizations to serve as a shadow state. The present study, however, contends that partnership does not necessarily entail participatory welfare or the complete subordination of the voluntary sector to the state’s bureaucratic system. Rather, as new street-level bureaucrats, voluntary organizations can exercise a degree of autonomy on the frontline despite the bureaucratic constraints engendered by partnership. Through an ethnographic analysis of Korean community organizations engaged as frontline agencies in a welfare-to-work partnership, this study unveils how the former have recreated democratic and inclusive environments in a particular policy setting by organizing non-work activities and transferring administrative authority to recipients. Delineating such street- level practices, this article demonstrates that state–voluntary sector partnerships may be sites of struggle where voluntary organizations continuously strive to actualize participatory governance in diverse and indirect ways.


Bureaucratization; New street-level bureaucrats; Participatory governance; State-voluntary sector partnership; Welfare-to-work

bottom of page