Drawing from Lipsky’s (1980) concept of street-level bureaucracy and the theories of justice (Rawls, 1971; Mashaw, 1983; Elster, 1992), this paper is focused on the dilemmas that social welfare services’ caseworkers face in their daily work. The field research is based on the collection and comparison of caseworkers’ narratives about complex cases. It was conducted within services located in the North and South of Europe: Bologna in Central Italy and Copenhagen in Denmark. Social work practices are analysed through caseworkers’ narratives to understand how their ideas influence the services. This study is intended to answer the following research questions: What challenges do caseworkers have to cope with? How do they manage their discretion to shape ‘fair’ decisions? What conditions and limits contribute to shaping the services’ final decisions? What principles of justice regulate the processing of cases, and thus what concrete ideas of social justice underpin the services?
Keywords: Street-level bureaucracy, principles of justice, social welfare services, storytelling approach