Research & Biography


Overcoming persistent poverty and growing inequality in the U.S. has long presented political and practical challenges, leaving a substantial portion of the population facing precariousness and insecurity. A history of difficulties in implementing social policies further complicates efforts to address problems of those disadvantaged by market and social structures.

Evelyn Brodkin, Associate Professor at the School of Social Service Administration and a scholar of public policy and management, examines the history, experiences, and contradictions of U.S. efforts to address poverty and inequality. Her research investigates political conflicts over social policy, how street-level organizations mediate policy and politics, and, the spread of workfare-style arrangements around the world.

She takes up these issues in her new co-edited book, Work and the Welfare State: Street-Level Organizations and Workfare Politics (Georgetown University Press, 2013), which investigates the politics and practices of the workfare in six countries. In addition, research examining the street-level organizations that bring policy to people has led to a series of publications, including, most recently,  "Reflections on Street-Level Bureaucracy: Past, Present, and Future" (Public Administration Review, 2012) and a special symposium, "Putting Street-Level Organizations First: New Directions for Research"  (Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 2011).

In other work, carried out in collaboration with the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law and the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, Brodkin has investigated practices that have prevented lower-income Chicago residents from getting help through social safety net programs, such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, food stamps and Medicaid.  At national level, she has analyzed problems of administrative exclusion and how organizational practices can obstruct access to benefits. (See Brodkin and Majmundar, "Administrative Exclusion: Organizations and the Hidden Costs of Welfare Claiming," published in the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 2010.)

Brodkin's research has examined the political dynamics leading to welfare reform and how public and private agencies put into practice the welfare-to-work policies that are supposed to address poverty by bringing disadvantaged adults into the economic mainstream. Through deeply immersive organizational ethnographies of welfare agencies her research illuminates patterns of street-level practice that often are at odds with the imagery of welfare-to-work, limited in what they can do to enable disadvantaged adults to make it in the market. Brodkin has received support for her work from the National Science Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Open Society Institute.

In research that has implications in the US and abroad, Brodkin also has been studying the influence of new public management strategies, including contracting and performance measurement. Her research takes critical management studies from the strategic level to the street-level, examining how front-line practices adapt to management and governance reforms.  She has advanced her research, in part, through international collaborations, and is currently collaborating on a comparative study of the politics of governance in the US and Denmark.

Beyond its impact on scholarship, Brodkin's research has contributed to social welfare advocacy, policymaking, and practice.  She has been invited to speak on her policy and organizational research in Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Mexico, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the UK. In addition, Brodkin's research and expert views on welfare policy and practices have reached a general audience through collaboration with legal advocacy groups in Chicago, media coverage (including National Public Radio and Univision), public speaking, and her newspaper and magazine opinion pieces.


Evelyn Z. Brodkin is an Associate Professor in the School of Social Service Administration and Faculty Affiliate at the National Poverty Center, a national and interdisciplinary academic research center that seeks to advance understanding of what it means to be poor in America. Her major areas of research cross-cut three fields of study: social policy, street-level organizations, and welfare state politics. 

Evelyn Brodkin has been appointed the Moses Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Silberman School of Social Work, Hunter College, for the 2015-2016 academic year.  

Professor Brodkin's research investigates the politics of the American welfare state and, specifically, how public policies and institutions are reshaping the politics of poverty and inequality. In recent years she has expanded her research internationally, studying social policy and governance reforms in the US and Europe. Her new, co-edited book, Work and the Welfare State: Street-Level Organizations and Workfare Politics (Georgetown University Press, 2013), examines the advance of workfare-style policies from state-level to street-level in six countries: the US, UK, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and Australia.

Brodkin is one of the leading scholars of street-level organizations, the agencies at the front-lines of public policy delivery. Her research in this field contributes to both critical policy and public management research, examining how new governance and managerial strategies are reshaping the street-level organizations "at the operational core of the welfare state." Her review of the field, "Reflections on Street-Level Bureaucracy: Past, Present, and Future" (Public Administration Review, 2012), received the  Burchfield Award from the American Society for Public Administration. She also edited a symposium, "Putting Street-Level Organizations First: New Directions for Research," in the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory in 2011.

Professor Brodkin received her Ph.D. in Political Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an M.P.A. with honors from Northeastern University, and a B.S. with honors in Journalism from Boston University.  Her work has been recognized by the American Political Science Association (Herbert Kaufman Award), the American Public Administration Association (Burchfield Award), and the Open Society Institute, where she was named a Fellow.

Internationally, Brodkin has held visiting professorships in Australia, Denmark, France, and Mexico. She serves on the advisory committee of the U.K. Inter-University Collaboration on Welfare Conditionality and on the steering committee of the RESQ international research network, which brings together researchers from Europe, U.S., and Australia to develop and refine the comparative and theoretical study of policy and service reforms in selected OECD-countries and the U.S. She has been invited to speak on her research in Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Mexico, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the UK.

In the US, Brodkin has been a visiting scholar at Northwestern University's Institute for Policy Research. At SSA, she directs the graduate Program on Poverty and Inequality. Prior to joining the faculty of the University of Chicago, Professor Brodkin was a Post-Doctoral Fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and Interdisciplinary Program in Health and Assistant Professor of political science at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Among her professional activities, Brodkin has served on the Policy Council of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management, the board of directors of the Chicago Jobs Council, and the editorial boards of Social Service Review, the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, and the Journal of Public Policy.