From Groups to Individuals? The Making of Target Publics in the French Administration of Low-Rent Housing

  • Marine BourgeoisEmail author
Part of the Logic, Argumentation & Reasoning book series (LARI, volume 17)


Recent transformations of public policies have led to the emergence of new coordination measures for local governments and to changes in the role of street-level bureaucrats. Previous researches highlight a trend toward individualization of social policies and ever-greater autonomy of bureaucrats. On the basis of an ethnographic study conducted in low-rent housing organizations in two French cities, this chapter provides a critical discussion of the general hypothesis of social policies’ individualization. Through extensive interviews and direct observations of agents at work, it looks into the way target publics are defined and identified in practice. It considers the processes of qualification and categorization according to which frontline workers make their selection, questioning boundaries that are drawn by the administration between the insiders and the outsiders of social housing. This chapter first analyses how housing authorities elaborate rules to deal with legal uncertainties. It also shows how these categories are taken up and actualized by bureaucrats in their everyday practices. More broadly, it sheds light on regularly occurring selection mechanisms which led to a deeper understanding of individualization’s process.


Social landlords Street level bureaucracy Discretionary power Categorization Individualization 


  1. Achterberg, P., Raven, J., & Van der Veen, R. (2013). Individualization: A doubleedged sword: Welfare, the experience of social risks and the need for social insurance in the Netherlands. Current Sociology, 61(7), 949–965.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Astier, I. (2000). Droit à l’emploi et magistratures sociales: vers une politique des situations. Droit et société, 44–45, 143–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ball, J. (2012). Housing disadvantaged people? Insiders and outsiders in french social housing. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  4. Ballain, R., & Benguigui, F. (1995). Loger les personnes défavorisées. Paris: La documentation française.Google Scholar
  5. Barrault-Stella, L. (2011). Une politique auto-subversive: l’attribution des dérogations scolaires. Sociétés contemporaines, 82, 31–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Barrault-Stella, L. (2013). Gouverner par accommodements. Paris: Dalloz-Sirey.Google Scholar
  7. Bourgeois, C. (1996). L’attribution des logements sociaux: politiques publiques et jeux d’acteurs. Paris: Le Harmattan.Google Scholar
  8. Bourgeois, M. (2013). Choisir les locataires du parc social? Une approche ethnographique de la gestion des HLM. Sociologie du travail, 55, 56–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brodkin, E. Z. (2011). Policy work: street-level organizations under new managerialism. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 21(2), 1253–1277.Google Scholar
  10. Caswell, D., Marston, G., & Larsen, J. E. (2010). Unemployed citizen or “at risk” client? Classification systems and employment services in Denmark and Australia. Critical Social Policy, 30, 384–404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Douillet, A.-C., Faure, A., Halpern, C., & Leresche, J.-P. (2012). L’action publique locale dans tous ses états. Différenciation et standardisation. Paris: L’Harmattan.Google Scholar
  12. Dubois, V. (2010a). The bureaucrat and the poor. Farnham: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  13. Dubois, V. (2010b). Politiques au guichet, politique du guichet. In O. Borraz & V. Guiraudon (Eds.), Politiques publiques 2, Changer la société (pp. 265–286). Paris: Presses de Sciences Po.Google Scholar
  14. Dupuy, C., & Pollard, J. (2014). A dethroned king? The limits of state infrastructural power in France. Public Administration, 92(4), 359–374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Durose, C. (2011). Revisiting lipsky: Front-line work in UK local governance. Political Studies, 59, 978–995.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Ellis, K. (2010). Street-level bureaucracy revisited: The changing face of frontline discretion in adult social care in England. Social Policy & Administration, 45, 221–244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Evans, T., & Harris, J. (2004). Street-level bureaucracy, social work and the (exaggerated) death of discretion. British Journal of Social Work, 34(6), 871–895.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Eymard-Duvernay, F., & Marchal, E. (1997). Façons de recruter. Le jugement des compétences sur le marché du travail. Paris: Métailié.Google Scholar
  19. Ferge, Z. (1997). The changed welfare paradigm. The individualization of the social. Social policy and administration., 31(1), 20–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity. Englewood Cliffs: PrenticeHall.Google Scholar
  21. Henman, P., & Fenger, M. (Eds.). (2006). Administering welfare reform: International transformations in welfare governance. Bristol: Policy Press.Google Scholar
  22. Houard, N. (2009). Droit au logement et mixité: les contradictions du logement social. Paris: L’Harmattan.Google Scholar
  23. Hupe, P., & Buffat, A. (2014). A public service gap: Capturing contexts in a comparative approach of street-level bureaucracy. Public Management Review, 16(4), 548–569.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Jenkins, R. (2000). Categorization: Identity, social process and epistemology. Current Sociology, 48(3), 7–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kirschenman, J., & Neckerman, K. (1991). “We’de Love to Hire Them, But...”: The meaning of race for employers. In C. Jencks & P. E. Peterson (Eds.), The urban underclass (pp. 203–232). Washington DC: The Brookinks Institution.Google Scholar
  26. Kirszbaum, T. (2008). Mixité sociale dans l’habitat. Revue de littérature dans une perspective comparative. Paris: La Documentation Française.Google Scholar
  27. Lamont, M., & Molnar, V. (2002). The study of boundaries across the social sciences. Annual Review of Sociology, 28, 167–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lascoumes, P. (1990). Normes juridiques et politiques publiques. Année sociologique, 40, 43–51.Google Scholar
  29. Lascoumes, L., & Le Galès, P. (2007). Sociologie de l’action publique. Paris: Armand Colin.Google Scholar
  30. Lima, L. (2013). L’expertise sur autrui: L’individualisation des politiques sociales entre droit et jugements. Bruxelles: Peter Lang.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lipsky, M. (1980). Street-level bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the individual in public services. New York: Russel Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  32. Maynard-Moody, S. W., & Musheno, M. C. (2003). Cops, teachers, counselors: Stories from the front lines of public service. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Morel Journel, C., & Sala Pala, V. (2011). Le peuplement, catégorie montante des politiques urbaines néolibérales ? Le cas de Saint-Etienne, Métropoles, 10.Google Scholar
  34. Pan Ké Shon, J.-L. (2009). Ségrégation ethnique et ségrégation sociale en quartiers sensibles. Revue française de sociologie, 50(3), 451–487.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Rice, D. (2013). Street-level bureaucrats and the welfare state: Toward a micro-institutionalist theory of policy-implementation. Administration and Society, 45, 1038–1062.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Sala Pala, V. (2006). La politique du logement social au risque du client? Attributions de logements sociaux, construction sociale des clients et discriminations ethniques en France et en Grande-Bretagne. Politiques et management public, 24, 77–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Sala Pala, V. (2010). Faut-il en finir avec le concept de racisme institutionnel ? Regards sociologiques, 39, 31–47.Google Scholar
  38. Sala Pala, V. (2013). Discriminations ethniques. Les politiques du logement social en France et en Grande-Bretagne. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes.Google Scholar
  39. Schneider, H., & Ingram, A. (1993). Social construction of target populations: Implications for politics and policy. American Political Science Review, 87, 334–347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Simon, P., & Kirszbaum, T. (2001). Les discriminations raciales et ethniques dans l’accès au logement social, Notes du GELD.Google Scholar
  41. Tanter, A., & Toubon, J.-C. (1999). Mixité sociale et politique de peuplement: genèse de l’ethnicisation des opérations de réhabilitation. Sociétés contemporaines, 33–34, 59–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Tissot, S. (2005). Une « discrimination informelle »? Usages du concept de mixité sociale dans la gestion des attributions de logements HLM. Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, 159, 54–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Valli, M., Martin, H., & Hertz, E. (2002). Le « feeling » des agents de l’Etat providence. Analyse des logiques sous-jacentes aux régimes de l’assurance chômage et de l’aide sociale. Ethnologie française, 32(2), 221–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Watkins-Hayes, C. (2009). The new welfare bureaucrats. Entanglements of race, class, and policy reform. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Weill, P.-E. (2013). Le droit au service des personnes défavorisées ? Les effets pervers de la mise en œuvre du droit au logement opposable. Gouvernement et action publique, 2(2), 279–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sciences Po Paris – CEEParisFrance

Personalised recommendations