Bureaucratic Theory of Organization

Bureaucratic Theory of Organization:

In the realm of Public Administration, bureaucracy is the dominant form of organization. The word bureaucracy is often used in a negative sense. It is usually used to describe the stiff-necked, self-conscious high-tone attitude of civil servants. It is also used to denote the top levels of the administrative hierarchy which stand entrusted with manageable functions. This is, however, a negative and limited view of bureaucracy. In reality, bureaucracy is a specific form of social organization for administrative purposes. The human sociologist, Marx Weber (1864-1940), was a pioneer in conducting a systematic study of bureaucracy. According to him, bureaucracy is meant an administrative body of appointed officials. It is a body of appointed officials, a definite and distant group, whose work and influence can be seen in all kinds of organizations. Bureaucracies are found in all large and complex organizations- political, religious, business, military, educational, and others.

Bureaucracy- Weber’s Model:

Weber’s analysis of bureaucracy is governed by the objective of discovering the laws of social behavior and the conceptualization of an ideal bureaucracy. Weber wanted to show to what extent bureaucracy was rational to the complexities of modern society. He wanted to prove the most rational method of securing uniformity and coordination in the working of bureaucracy was to devise efficient procedures for every type of work. …… For more information Click Here.

Ideal Bureaucracy- Weber’s View:

Out of these features, Weber lists, as Pfiffner and Sherwood point out, the following five as the essential ingredients of an ideal bureaucracy.

(1) Hierarchy- The organization follows the principle of hierarchy with each lower office under the control and supervision of a higher one.

(2) Specialization- Incumbents are chosen on the basis of merit and ability to perform specialized aspects of a total operation.

(3) Specified Spheres of Competence- This flow from the previous point. It suggests that the relationship between the various specialization should be clearly known and observed in practice. In a sense, the use of job descriptions in any American organization is a practical application of this requirement.

(4) Definite Norms of Conduct- Bureaucracy has to be an organization based on established rules. There should be as little as possible in the organization that may be left unpredictable. Policies should be enunciated and the individual actors within the organization should see that these norms are duly implemented.

(5) Records- Administrative acts, decisions, and rules should be recorded as a means of ensuring predictability of performance within the bureaucracy.

Bureaucracy reflects the precision, speed, unambiguity, knowledge of files, continuity, discretion, unity, strict subordination, reduction of friction, and of material and personal costs. Bureaucratization offers above all the optimum possibility for carrying through the principle of specializing administrative functions according to purely objective considerations Weber wished to make bureaucracy an efficient instrument of policy implementation. He sought to make it a natural instrument with the qualities of expertise, impartiality, stability, and anonymity. To Weber, the main function of the bureaucrats is to act as advisers to their political masters, to present facts of cases, and to suggest policies with the implications of alternative policies. “Bureaucratic administration means fundamentally the exercise of control on the basis of knowledge. So, if bureaucracy is to operate successfully, it must attain a high degree of reliability of behavior.”

Critical Evaluation:

Weber’s Theory of Bureaucracy has been subjected to criticism by several scholars, Marxists as well as non-Marxists.

(1) Bureaucracy does not have a definitely fixed structure- Bureaucracy is not a tightly fixed structure as assumed by Max Weber. It changes according to the changed conditions. Its operation is influenced by the environment within which it works. As Bean points out, to administer a social organization according to purely technical criteria of rationality is irrational because it ignores the non-rational aspect of social conduct. Organizations always develop new forms and new procedures and hands keep on changing or developing.

(2) Weber’s Model is very formal- In the opinion of Seizvick, Webber failed to understand the fact that the dynamics of administrative structure create new influence under the impact of which, the administrators seek their objects by themselves by becoming powerful participants in powerful relationships. He condemns Weber’s concept because of his emphasis on the study of formal organizations.

(3) Bureaucracy is bound to differ from place to place- In the words of Presthus, “While the structural components of bureaucracy are often similar in each milieu, the behavioral manifestations are quite different. Deep-seated cultural values play an important role in criticizing bureaucratic behavior for where social values do not assign a high priority to objectivity, productivity, and economic gain, the manifest structure of bureaucracy is of little relevance as a guide either to its performance or to its real goals.”

(4) Criticism by the Marxists- The Marxists criticize Webber from an ideological angle. They hold Weber’s model of bureaucracy as a defense of capitalist domination over society. Weber makes bureaucracy a tool of the capitalistic exploration of society. It patronizes exploitation in the name of value-neutralism and objectivity.

(5) Weber’s Model is Incomplete- Weber’s concept is incomplete from the behavioral point of view. According to Merton, the bureaucratic emphasis on control through rules and hierarchical authority relationships, while intended to increase productivity, may also encourage behavioral rigidity, an unwillingness to make risky decisions, and a general attitude of defensiveness at the individual and group levels throughout the organization.” Weber seeks to analyze bureaucracy in terms of rules and regulations and ignores its behavioral parameters.

(6) Inadequate Theory- Weber’s theory of bureaucracy stands also criticized as an inadequate theory. It is inadequate to meet the economic and social development needs of developing countries. To some extent, it can be used in developed countries but it cannot be used in developing countries where bureaucracy has also to act as an instrument of socio-economic-cultural development in accordance with the recognized values of the society for which, the public administration has to work.

In fact, Weber’s attempt was to construct a totally rational, formal, and legalistic theory of bureaucracy. He never bothered to give any real importance to the non-rational aspects of human behavior in an organization.

Despite the above-discussed points of criticism, it must be accepted that Webber’s Theory of Bureaucracy has been responsible for encouraging social scientists to undertake empirical and scientific studies of various aspects of public administration. His theory presents a legal framework within which a modern bureaucracy is organized and operationalized.

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