In the context of regulatory enforcement it is particularly relevant to regard compliance as processual. Regulatory agencies are typically-- but not inevitably--in long-term relations with the regulated, whose compliance is of ongoing concern ( Bardach and Kagan, 1982). The relationship between the agency and the regulated is reflexive, with each party adapting and reacting to the moves and anticipated moves of the other ( Hawkins and Hutter, 1993). Enforcement is often serial and incremental ( Hawkins, 1984) and the whole process of enforcement may be usefully characterized as a 'career'.
The notion of an enforcement career emerges from the interactionist tradition, in particular the sociology of deviance. Rock ( 1973) uses the concept in an especially illuminating way to describe and explain the debt-collection process. He regards enforcement as a status passage, where defaulters progress through a variety of definable stages in the 'process' of 'becoming'. Enforcement careers are in many important respects moral careers where critical benchmarks mark the passage from one stage to the next and where moral characterizations may change. Thus enforcement officials interpret, classify, and test the regulated and act accordingly. Indeed, they may act on the basis of very little information. The process is a complex one where, to quote Rock, '[s]ocial control is not taken to be a mere context of deviation. Instead, it defines, shapes and infuses rule-breaking' ( 1973, p. 2).
Early sociologists of deviance applied the concept of an enforcement career to rule-breaking which in many respects accorded with conventional images of crime and deviance. The focus was upon 'street people', young male deviants, and their interactions with the police.1 Rock moved thinking on in his application of the concept to civil rulebreaking where individual defaulters were pursued, for sometimes very____________________