Bureaucracy is a formal organization with clearly defined objectives, a hierarchy of specialized roles and systematic processes of direction and administration.
Bureaucracy can be found in earlier times in history in administration of agricultural irrigation systems, the Roman army, the Catholic church, though it is prominently visible in the large-scale administration of agencies of the modern state and modern business corporations.
The German state created by Bismarck, was a model bureaucracy in both its armed forces and civil administration. According to Weber the creation of the modern state of Germany had only been possible because of the development of a disciplined state bureaucracy and a bureaucratised standing army.
Max Weber gave particular attention to bureaucracy and saw this form of social organization becoming dominant in modern society due to the commitment to the value of rationalization - the organization of social activity so as to most efficiently achieve goals.
Bureaucracies enable governments to generate, process, distribute, and store information. Egyptian, Roman, and ancient empires were administered in part by bureaucracies. The terms "bureaucracy," "bureaucratic," and "bureaucrat" are not ancient; they date from the 1830s and 1840s.
The growth of formal bureaucracy is a phenomenon of the
19th and 20th centuries, and the modern bureaucratic state is one of mankind's recent
accomplishments. For organizations in both the public and private sectors, the bureaucracy
represents an important, modern technology of control.
Bureaucracies are organized along thematic lines, and big budgets and staffs are generally considered more important than information as bases of bureaucratic power. The hierarchical structuring of bureaucracies into offices, departments, and lines of authority may confound the flow of information that may be needed to deal with complex issues in today's increasingly interconnected world.
Alvin Toffler, Future Shock, Random House Inc., New York, 1970. One of the first works to foresee that the information revolution would have a major impact on bureaucracy. He termed bureaucracy as "ad-hocracy,"
A good example of a bureaucracy is a university, where most of these characteristics exist. Of course, in the social world, no bureaucracy conforms exactly to the ideal type, and there is often favouritism, bending of rules, or incompetence. But many organizations have a large number of characteristics consistent with the ideal type. Further, the ideal type constitutes a model and the way that any actual bureaucracy operates can be compared to the ideal type. Often the complaints of individuals in bureaucratic organizations relate to ways in which some part of the ideal type is not met.
Bureaucracies may limit freedom and form structures of domination. Bureaucracies are necessary to carry out the administration of modern, complex society. If bureaucratic forms did not exist, society would be worse off, in that actions would be carried out in an inefficient and wasteful manner.
Weber notes that bureaucracies do tend to have great power. Their rational and efficient methods of administration, and their legitimate forms of authority do act to eliminate human freedom. Like Marx's alienation surplus value, Weber views bureaucracy as alienating in that it is a set of structures which dominate people.
Webers analysis of bureaucracy has made it seem as if bureaucracies are inherently limiting to human freedom. Weber praises bureaucracies for their efficiency and predictability, but he feared that people would become too controlled by them.
Weber does not appear to focus on the forces of freedom and equality that can come from bureaucracy. Standardized rules make it less possible for personal favours to be provided and for arbitrary directive to be given. Members of an organization may generally benefit from bureaucratic rules and regulations, and these make it possible for hiring and promotion to occur on the basis of merit.
Francis Rourke posed the deceptively simple question, Whose Bureaucracy Is
This, Anyway? His subtitle was Congress, the President, and Public
Administration. Rourke, a pioneer in the field of bureaucratic politics, concluded
that federal administration was constitutionally and politically under the joint
custody of Congress and the president. Even as the older iron triangle
model gives way to newer approaches, no one (other than misguided reformers) could
reasonably answer Rourke's question and exclude Congress. - Whose Bureaucracy Is
This, Anyway? Congress' 1946 Answer - David H. Rosenbloom, American University.
Political Science & Politics (2001), 34:4:773-777 American Political Science