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A bureaucracy is an organization of non-elected officials of a government or organization who implement the rules, laws, and functions of their institution.



Bureaucracies date back to ancient societies across the globe.

Ancient world

Modern world

Weberian bureaucracy

Weberian bureaucracy has its origin in the works by Max Weber (1864-1920), a notable German sociologist, political economist, and administrative scholar who contributed to the study of bureaucracy and administrative discourses and literatures during the mid 1800s and early 1900s. Max Weber belongs to the Scientific School of Thought, who discussed such topics as specialization of job-scope, merit system, uniform principles, structure and hierarchy. His contemporaries include Frederick Taylor (1856-1915), Henri Fayol (1841-1925), Elton Mayo (1880-1949), and later scholars, such as, Herbert Simon (1916-2001), Dwight Waldo (1913-2000), and others.[1]

Weber described many ideal types of public administration and government in his magnum opus Economy and Society (1922). His critical study of the bureaucratisation of society became one of the most enduring parts of his work.[2][3] It was Weber who began the studies of bureaucracy and whose works led to the popularization of this term.[4] Many aspects of modern public administration go back to him, and a classic, hierarchically organized civil service of the Continental type is called "Weberian civil service".[5] As the most efficient and rational way of organizing, bureaucratization for Weber was the key part of the rational-legal authority, and furthermore, he saw it as the key process in the ongoing rationalization of the Western society.[2][3]

Weber listed several precondititions for the emergence of bureaucracy.[6] The growth in space and population being administered, the growth in complexity of the administrative tasks being carried out, and the existence of a monetary economy requires a more efficient administrative system.[6] Development of communication and transportation technologies makes more efficient administration possible but also in popular demand, and democratization and rationalization of culture resulted in demands that the new system treats everybody equally.[6]

Weber's ideal bureaucracy is characterized by hierarchical organization, delineated lines of authority in a fixed area of activity, action taken on the basis of and recorded in written rules, bureaucratic officials need expert training, rules are implemented by neutral officials, career advancement depends on technical qualifications judged by organization, not individuals.[2][6]

While recognizing bureaucracy as the most efficient form of organization, and even indispensable for the modern state, Weber also saw it as a threat to individual freedoms, and the ongoing bureaucratization as leading to a "polar night of icy darkness", in which increasing rationalization of human life traps individuals in the aforementioned "iron cage" of bureaucratic, rule-based, rational control.[2][7] In order to counteract bureaucrats, the system needs entrepreneurs and politicians.[2]

The economics of bureaucracy

Budget maximizing bureaucracy

Bureau-shaping bureaucracy

Rent-seeking bureaucracy

See also

  • Bureaucrat
  • Michel Crozier
  • Public administration
  • Rationalization
  • State (polity)
  • Max Weber
  • Red tape


Further reading

  • Albrow, Martin. Bureaucracy. London: Macmillan, 1970.
  • On Karl Marx: Hal Draper, Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution, Volume 1: State and Bureaucracy. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1979.
  • Marx comments on the state bureaucracy in his Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right and Engels discusses the origins of the state in Origins of the Family.
  • Ernest Mandel, Power and Money: A Marxist Theory of Bureaucracy. London: Verso, 1992.
  • On Weber:
  • Neil Garston (ed.), Bureaucracy: Three Paradigms. Boston: Kluwer, 1993.
  • Chowdhury, Faizul Latif (2006), Corrupt Bureaucracy and Privatization of Tax Enforcement. Dhaka: Pathak Samabesh, ISBN 984-8120-62-9.
  • Weber, Max. The Theory of Social and Economic Organization. Translated by A.M. Henderson and Talcott Parsons. London: Collier Macmillan Publishers, 1947.

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