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Bureaucracy is the combined organizational structure, procedures, protocols, and set of

regulations in place to manage activity, usually in large organizations. As opposed to adhocracy,


it is often represented by standardized procedure (rule-following) that guides the execution of
most or all processes within the body; formal division of powers; hierarchy; and relationships,
intended to anticipate needs and improve efficiency.

A bureaucracy traditionally does not create policy but, rather, enacts it. Law, policy, and
regulation normally originates from a leadership, which creates the bureaucracy to implement
them. In practice, the interpretation and execution of policy, etc. can lead to informal influence -
but not necessarily. A bureaucracy is directly responsible to the leadership that creates it, such as
a government executive or board of directors. Conversely, the leadership is usually responsible
to an electorate, shareholders, membership or whoever is intended to benefit. As a matter of
practicality, the bureaucracy is where the individual will interface with an organization such as a
government etc., rather than directly with its leadership. Generally, larger organizations result in
a greater distancing of the individual from the leadership, which can be consequential or
intentional by design.

Bureaucracy is a concept in sociology and political science referring to the way that the
administrative execution and enforcement of legal rules are socially organized. Four structural
concepts are central to any definition of bureaucracy:

1. a well-defined division of administrative labour among persons and offices,


2. a personnel system with consistent patterns of recruitment and stable linear careers,
3. a hierarchy among offices, such that the authority and status are differentially distributed
among actors, and
4. formal and informal networks that connect organizational actors to one another through
flows of information and patterns of cooperation.

Examples of everyday bureaucracies include governments, armed forces, corporations, non-


governmental organizations (NGOs), intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), hospitals, courts,
ministries, social clubs, sports leagues, professional associations and academic institutions.

Origins
While the concept as such existed at least from the early forms of nationhood in ancient times,
the word "bureaucracy" itself stems from the word "bureau", used from the early 18th century in
Western Europe not just to refer to a writing desk, but to an office, i.e., a workplace, where
officials worked. The original French meaning of the word bureau was the baize used to cover
desks. The term bureaucracy came into use shortly before the French Revolution of 1789, and
from there rapidly spread to other countries. The Greek suffix - kratia or kratos - means "power"
or "rule".

Max Weber
Max Weber was one of the most influential users of the word. He is well-known for his study of
bureaucratization of society; many aspects of modern public administration go back to him; a
classic, hierarchically organized civil service of the continental type is — if perhaps mistakenly
— called Weberian civil service. However "bureaucracy" was an English word before Weber;
the Oxford English Dictionary cites usage in several different years between 1818 and 1860,
prior to Weber's birth in 1864.

Weber described the ideal type bureaucracy in positive terms, considering it to be a more rational
and efficient form of organization than the alternatives that preceded it, which he characterized
as charismatic domination and traditional domination. According to his terminology,
bureaucracy is part of legal domination. However, he also emphasized that bureaucracy becomes
inefficient when a decision must be adopted to an individual case.

According to Weber, the attributes of modern bureaucracy include its impersonality,


concentration of the means of administration, a leveling effect on social and economic
differences and implementation of a system of authority that is practically unchallengeable.

Weber's analysis of bureaucracy concerns:

• the historical and administrative reasons for bureaucratization


• the impact of the rule of law upon the bureaucratic organisations
• the personal orientation and occupational position of the status group of bureaucratic
officials
• the attributes and consequences of bureaucracy in the modern world

A bureaucratic organization is governed by the following seven principles:

1. official business is conducted continuously


2. official business is conducted with strict accordance to the following rules:
1. the duty of each official to do certain types of work is delimited in terms of
impersonal criteria
2. the official is given the authority necessary to carry out his assigned functions
3. the means of coercion at his disposal are strictly limited and conditions of their
use strictly defined
3. every official's responsibilities and authority are part of a vertical hierarchy of authority,
with respective rights of supervision and appeal
4. officials do not own the resources necessary for the performance of their assigned
functions but are accountable for their use of these resources
5. official and private business and income are strictly separated
6. offices cannot be appropriated by their incumbents (inherited, sold, etc.)
7. official business is conducted on the basis of written documents

Bureaucratic officials:

• personally free.
• serve a higher authority.
• are appointed on the basis of conduct and their technical qualifications.
• are responsible for the impartial execution of assigned tasks.
• Their work is a full-time occupation.
• Their work is rewarded by a salary and prospects of career advancement.

Weber's work has been continued by many, like Robert Michels with his Iron Law of Oligarchy.

Criticism

As Max Weber himself noted, real bureaucracy will be less optimal and effective than his ideal
type model. Each of Weber's seven principles can degenerate:[citation needed]

• Competences can be unclear and used contrary to the spirit of the law; sometimes a
decision itself may be considered more important than its effect;
• Nepotism, corruption, political infighting and other degenerations can counter the rule of
impersonality and can create a recruitment and promotion system not based on
meritocracy but rather on oligarchy;

Even a non-degenerated bureaucracy can be affected by common problems:

• Overspecialization, making individual officials not aware of larger consequences of their


actions
• Rigidity and inertia of procedures, making decision-making slow or even impossible
when facing some unusual case, and similarly delaying change, evolution and adaptation
of old procedures to new circumstances;
• A phenomenon of group thinking - zealotry, loyalty and lack of critical thinking
regarding the organisation which is perfect and always correct by definition, making the
organisation unable to change and realise its own mistakes and limitations;
• Disregard for dissenting opinions, even when such views suit the available data better
than the opinion of the majority;
• A phenomenon of Catch-22 (named after a famous book by Joseph Heller) - as
bureaucracy creates more and more rules and procedures, their complexity rises and
coordination diminishes, facilitating creation of contradictory and recursive rules, as
described by the saying "the bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding
bureaucracy".
• Not allowing people to use common sense, as everything must be as is written by the law.

Legitimate Types of Authority by Max Weber

Weber made a distinction between authority and power. According to Weber power educes
obedience through force or the threat of force which induces individuals to adhere to regulations.
In contrast, legitimate authority entails that individuals acquiesce that authority is exercised upon
them by their superiors. Weber goes on to identify three types of legitimate authority:
Traditional authority – Traditional authority is readily accepted and unquestioned by individuals
since it emanates from deeply set customs and tradition. Traditional authority is found in tribes
and monarchies.

Charismatic authority – Charismatic authority is gained by those individuals who have gained
the respect and trust of their followers. This type of authority is exercised by a charismatic leader
in small and large groups alike.

Rational-legal authority – Rational-legal authority stems from the setup of an organization and
the position held by the person in authority. Rational-legal authority is exercised within the
stipulated rules and procedures of an organization.

The Key Characteristics of a Bureaucracy

Weber coined this last type of authority with the name of a bureaucracy. The term bureaucracy in
terms of an organization and management functions refers to the following six characteristics:

Management by rules. A bureaucracy follows a consistent set of rules that control the functions
of the organization. Management controls the lower levels of the organization's hierarchy by
applying established rules in a consistent and predictable manner.

Division of labor. Authority and responsibility are clearly defined and officially sanctioned. Job
descriptions are specified with responsibilities and line of authority. All employees have thus
clearly defined rules in a system of authority and subordination.

Formal hierarchical structure. An organization is organized into a hierarchy of authority and


follows a clear chain of command. The hierarchical structure effectively delineates the lines of
authority and the subordination of the lower levels to the upper levels of the hierarchical
structure.

Personnel hired on grounds of technical competence. Appointment to a position within the


organization is made on the grounds of technical competence. Work is assigned based on the
experience and competence of the individual.

Managers are salaried officials. A manager is a salaried official and does own the administered
unit. All elements of a bureaucracy are defined with clearly defined roles and responsibilities and
are managed by trained and experienced specialists.

Written documents. All decisions, rules and actions taken by the organization are formulated and
recorded in writing. Written documents ensure that there is continuity of the organization’s
policies and procedures.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Weber’s Bureaucracy


Weber’s bureaucracy is based on logic and rationality which are supported by trained and
qualified specialists. The element of a bureaucracy offers a stable and hierarchical model for an
organization.

Nevertheless, Weber’s bureaucracy does have its limitations since it is based on the roles and
responsibilities of the individuals rather than on the tasks performed by the organization. Its
rigidity implies a lack of flexibility to respond to the demands of change in the business
environment.

Sources

Read more at Suite101: Max Weber Bureaucracy Theory http://www.suite101.com/content/max-


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