Important Theories of Bureaucracy

Bureaucratic theory suggests a set of theoretical ideas & hypotheses concerning the relations between organizational characteristics and administrative mentality, behavior, performance, and change. Here, I am going to discuss the important theories of bureaucracy that are helpful in preparing for the CSS examination.

Weber’s Theory of Bureaucracy

Max Weber, whose definition and theories set the foundations for all subsequent work on the subject, first formulated the characteristics of bureaucracy in a systematic manner.

A highly developed division of labor and specialization of tasks is one of the most fundamental features of bureaucracy. This is achieved by a precise and detailed definition of the duties and responsibilities of each position or office.

The allocation of a limited number of tasks to each office operates according to the principle of fixed jurisdictional areas that are determined by administrative regulations.

Pervasive Characteristic

The most important and pervasive characteristic of bureaucracy is the existence of a system of control based on rational rules—that is, rules meant to design and regulate the whole organization on the basis of technical knowledge and with the aim of achieving maximum efficiency.

According to Max Weber “Bureaucratic administration means fundamentally the exercise of control on the basis of knowledge. This is the feature of it which makes it specifically rational”.

Elements of Weber’s Theory

Modem officialdom functions in a specific manner that:

  1. there is the principle of fixed and official jurisdictional areas, which are generally ordered by rules, that is, by laws or administrative regulations.
  2. The regular activities required for the purposes of the bureaucratically governed structure are distributed in a fixed way as official duties.
  3. The authority to give the commands required for the discharge of these duties is distributed in a stable way and is strictly delimited by rules concerning the coercive means, physical, sacerdotal, or otherwise, which may be placed at the disposal of officials.

In public and lawful government, these three elements constitute bureaucratic authority. In private economic domination, they constitute bureaucratic management.

Bureaucracy, thus understood, is fully developed in political and ecclesiastical communities only in the modem state, and, in the private economy, only in the most advanced institutions of capitalism. Permanent and public office authority, with fixed jurisdiction, is not the historical rule but rather the exception.

This is so even in large political structures such as those of the ancient Orient, the Germanic and Mongolian empires of conquest, or many feudal structures of the state. In all these cases, the ruler executes the most important measures through personal trustees, table companions, or court servants. Their commissions and authority are not precisely delimited and are temporarily called into being for each case.

Weber’s Principles of office hierarchy

The principles of office hierarchy and of levels of graded authority mean a firmly ordered system of super- and subordination in which there is a supervision of the lower offices by the higher ones.

Such a system offers the governed the possibility of appealing the decision of a lower office to its higher authority, in a definitely regulated with the full development of the bureaucratic type, the office hierarchy is nomocratically organized.

The principle of hierarchical office authority is found in all bureaucratic structures: in state and ecclesiastical manner. Structures as well as large party organizations and private enterprises. It does not matter for the character of bureaucracy whether its authority is called ‘private’ or ‘public.’

Weber’s management of the office

The management of the modem office is based upon written documents (the files), which are preserved in their original or draught form. There is, therefore, a staff of subaltern officials and scribes of all sorts.

The body of officials actively engaged in a public office, along with the respective apparatus of material implements and the files, make up a bureau. In private enterprises, the bureau is often called the office.

In principle, the modem organization of the civil service separates the bureau from the private domicile of the official, and, in general, bureaucracy segregates official activity as something distinct from the sphere of private life.

Public monies and equipment are divorced from the private property of the official. This condition is everywhere the product of a long development. Nowadays, it is found in public as well as in private enterprises; in the latter, the principle extends even to the leading entrepreneur.

In principle, the executive office is separated from the household, business from private correspondence, and business assets from private fortunes. The more consistently the modem type of business management has been carried through the more are these separations the case. The beginnings of this process are to be found as early as the Middle Ages.

Weber’s modern office

Office management, at least all specialized office management—and such management is distinctly modem—usually presupposes thorough and expert training. This increasingly holds for the modem executive and employee of private enterprises, in the same manner as it holds for the state official.

Characteristics of Weber’s Bureaucracy

Max Weber believed that bureaucracy could be understood by analyzing its ideal-typical characteristics, which would become more pervasive as the modem age advanced. His horizontal account of bureaucracy can be criticized on various grounds, including his unrealistic notion of bureaucratic rationality.

Max Weber’s account of the evolution of bureaucracy started from the claim that modem officialdom could be identified by a set of typical characteristics.

They said that officials were full-time salaried employees, whose appointment, promotion, and retirement were contractually based; that they were technically trained and that this was a condition of their employment; and that official rights and duties were well-defined in public written regulations.

He argued, however, that these novel characteristics did not apply just to modern state administrators, but to the institutions of modem society much more broadly.

He saw the typical characteristics of modem bureaucracy emerging not just in state administration, but also in the church, the law, the military, political parties, science, university research, and even in private enterprises.

Because of the wide range of institutions that he believed modem bureaucracy to be permeating, one might say that Weber viewed bureaucracy as a horizontal phenomenon spreading throughout society.

Six Attributes of Bureaucratic Organization

Max Weber listed organizational attributes that when present, constitute the bureaucratic form of organization:

  1. A continuous organization of official functions bound by rules.
  2. A specific sphere of competence.
  3. The organization of offices follows the principle of hierarchy; each lower office is under the control and supervision of a higher one.
  4. The rules, which regulate the conduct of an office, maybe technical rules or norms.
  5. It is a matter of principle that members of the administrative staff should be completely separated from ownership of the means of production or administration.
  6. In order to enhance organizational freedom, the resources of the? The organization has to be free of any outside control and any incumbent cannot monopolize the positions.

Peter Blau: Formal Theory of Differentiation

Blau developed a deductive theory of organizational differentiation, which he defines as ‘the number of structural components distinguished by one criterion. Blau’s crucial variable is organizational size, which leads to structural differentiation and coordination problems within the organization.

Blau sets forth two general principles and nine related propositions, which comprise the framework of his theory. It is important to note that Blau’s theory refers to organizations with paid employees and largely ignores technology, environmental factors, or individual psychology within organizations.

Theory of Ludwig von Mises

According to Mises, bureaucracy can be fully understood only with a comparison with the operation of the profit motive as it functions in the capitalistic market society۔  Consequently, Mises’ approach consists in giving a definition of bureaucracy by stressing what it is not.

He asserts that bureaucratic management is the management of affairs, which cannot be checked by economic calculation۔

This connotation is too elliptic and not clear enough when it is isolated from the rest of the book. This unclear dimension of the proposed definition is reinforced when he asserts:

we must answer again that bureaucracy in itself is neither good nor bad. It is a method of management that can be applied in different spheres of human activity۔

Theory of Peter Blau

Blau developed a deductive theory of organizational differentiation, which he defines as “the number of structural components distinguished by one criterion”.

His crucial variable is organizational size, which leads to structural differentiation and coordination problems within the organization. It is important to note that Blau’s theory refers to organizations with paid employees and largely ignores technology, environmental factors, or individual psychology within organizations.

He develops his theoretical framework with reference to quantitative research of structural differentiation in 53 governmental organizations.

Plutocratic Theories

German sociologist Robert Michels was one of the first theorists who tried systematically to link increasing bureaucratization with the oligarchic tendencies in modem society. He focused his attention primarily on the internal political structure of large-scale organizations.

His main thesis, the famous iron law of oligarchy, postulates that with the increasing complexity and bureaucratization of organizations all power is concentrated at the top, in the hands of an organizational elite that rules in a dictatorial manner.

This is so even if oligarchy, as in the German Socialist Party, which he extensively studied, runs against the ideals and intentions of both rulers and ruled.

On the one hand, such liberal German economists as Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek have been alarmed at the proportions of the state bureaucracy and its increasing intervention in the economic sphere.

For them, it is the government’s leveling tendencies and its insatiable appetite for expansion that gradually destroys free enterprise and undermines democratic institutions.

Bureaucratic Proletarianism

Whereas Lenin and other Soviet writers could not admit that bureaucracy had a permanent and organic position in the Soviet system, other Marxists thought that it was at its center and that it defined more than anything else the very nature of the regime.

From their point of view, bureaucracy was not only a privileged oppressive group but a new exploiting class, a class characterized by a new type of oligarchic regime that was neither socialist nor capitalist and that was rapidly spreading both in the East and in the West.

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