Comparison of bureaucracy

            First and foremost I would like to give credit to the way Michael J - Comparison of bureaucracy introduction. Handel assembled his work. His collections of different arguments in terms of bureaucracy had been very helpful for both students and teachers. His commentary had also been most helpful in understanding the book. The sociology of organizations allowed its readers to have a variety of selections of fundamental readings necessary in understanding differing beliefs regarding the sociology of organizations. The most fundamental subject within the book is bureaucracy and it ranged in different topics usually discussed within sociology of organizations.

            This paper aims to evaluate the different alternatives focused on the sociology of organizations. Weber views bureaucracy as an important means in terms of managing social activities. However, certain writers contested Weber’s view on bureaucracy and thus I would try to analyze their views in contrast to that of Weber.

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Bureaucracy is a term often discuss in the social as well as on political sciences. Bureaucracy is often referred to as a means by which the implementation and execution of legal rules are socially systematized by the administration. The term bureaucracy originated from the word bureau which means desk as well as an office. The term had been widely used in Western Europe during the 18th century. Bureaucracy had first been used before the French Revolution.

            Max Weber had used the term bureaucracy especially in the social sciences. Weber made use of an ideal type in describing the term bureaucracy and he used it in a highly positivistic way. Weber also focused on the study of the bureaucratization of a society.

            Weber hypothesized that almost all organizations are similar in that they are all a form of bureaucracy. His great belief on the power of democracy could be seen when he said “However many people complain about the ‘red tape,’ it would be sheer illusion to think…continuous administrative work can be carried out in any field except by means of officials working in offices…The choice is only that between bureaucracy and dilettantism.” (Handel, page 5). Looking in today’s world we view bureaucracy in a bad way. Most people nowadays, sees bureaucracy as an ineffective means used in ruling people. Many of us view bureaucracy as power oriented and is focused more on the authority. Weber did not try to debunk that particular view; instead he agreed that bureaucracy could indeed manifest these traits especially if it is focused more on the authoritative figure. However, Weber still pointed out key features within a bureaucracy which could lead to the good of the society.

            Weber always saw bureaucracy as a term almost equivalent to that of rationality. He views bureaucracy in different light in contrast to the way we view it today claiming that the latter is a rational outcome that humans manufactured socially. However, Weber’s view on bureaucracy is rather very ideal and thus, not realistic. For him, bureaucracy could function in a rational way in which the bulk of the society could benefit. However, many of those who holds authority could still be rational and still; they would not cease to put their interest first before their subjects. One should always bear in mind that bureaucracy centers most on an authoritative figure in that it could not function without an authority. Even though Weber added the term rational, I think it helped very little in pursuing his point in viewing bureaucracy in a better light. One should also consider the fact that bureaucracy follows the maxim “the end justifies the means” , and thus bureaucracy would not hesitate to make sacrifices in order to achieve its proposed end.

1. Max Weber, “Legitimate Authority and Bureaucracy” (1924)

2. Max Weber, “Legitimate Authority and Bureaucracy” (1924)

“The concept of the ‘official secret’ is bureaucracy’s specific invention”. (Handel, page 7) We can see from this particular quote how Weber views bureaucracy to be the answer to the problems within social organization. However, even though Weber’s ideal bureaucracy is composed of officials who have the necessary amount of salary and even though they could be terminated any time if they ceased to function in the way expected of them, one should always consider the fact that most of the times even though an official erred in numerous way if he refuses to step down from his place, the people could usually do nothing about it and thus I am not really a fan of Weber’s ideology.

            I would also like to point out that Weber’s view on making use of rational and scientific method on his bureaucracy could be a little off the mark. He seems to have viewed science as a modern entity. However, it would be wise to notice that science had always co-existed with traditions. Even though science is usually advanced in a lot of ways, it still has its biases. Take our scientists for example, if a new theory came into being which goes into contradiction with the existing theory they would not really welcome the new theory with open arms and thus this would lead to a clash between those scientists who still embraces the old theory and with the scientists who have their faith on the theory they have just found. This particular example clearly shows how far off the mark Weber’s belief on science had been.

            Weber also focused more on formal rules officials ought to follow, to the point that he had failed to notice the importance of informal rules and beliefs present in every individual. Informal strength in terms of power could overthrow formal rules as is seen in certain societies. This particular lapse on Weber part could greatly go against him since he failed to see that his ideal bureaucracy is not likely to exist and it would be hard to put his ideal bureaucracy into practice.  Surely bureaucracy had its own set of advantages such as its consistency, however, many disadvantages could still be found on bureaucracy and among those disadvantages is that the powers is usually centralized at the highest level of the hierarchy to the point that it leads to the estrangement of the employees. Another disadvantage of bureaucracy is the fact that it is very slow in terms of introducing new set of rules and practices. Bureaucracy also had a lot of drawbacks such as the fact that rules are more of an importance rather than the goals. Position is also more important rather than the people.

Burns and Stalkers had a rather different belief regarding bureaucracy as compared to Weber. Thus both of them believe that a new kind of management must be introduced in order to better suit the needs of the environment. On the issue of environmental stability for one, they gave a distinction between stable environment and an unstable one. Burns and Stalkers ideas in terms of managing social activities is preferable to that of Weber in that their idea is more predictable and stable than the latter. The proposed managerial methods of both Burns and Stalkers also give more accurate definitions of rights as well as a good tactics in terms of dividing labor according to a person’s specialization claiming that that the organic ideal type focuses on the elasticity of roles rather than on ““the breaking down of tasks into specialisms” and the exact distinction of the “duties and powers attached to each functional role”. (Handel, page 43). Also they have proposed a method of managing social organizations wherein the jobs are not defined rigidly.

3. Tom Burns and G.M. Stalker, “Mechanistic and Organic Systems” (1963)

Thus, even though bureaucracy does have its advantages, its disadvantages outweigh the said advantages to the point that employing a bureaucratic method is not really practical. Also the use of a single method to organize everything is not really advisable on the basis that it fails to answer the needs of other matters since it is mainly focused on selected needs. The rapidly growing change of the environment also contributes to the impracticality of using the method used by bureaucracy and thus all organizations must first take into consideration the kind of environment they are living in before they could go on deciding what kind of design in managing organizations should be used.

Charles Perrow stated that many people detest the idea of bureaucracy because of many evils attached to it. However, like Weber he believes that bureaucracy should not be blamed for these evils rather, the one to be blame is the wrong way of bureaucratizing. His argument regarding this issue could be found on this passage, “the sins generally attributed to bureaucracy are either not sins at all or are consequences of the failure to bureaucratize sufficiently” (Handel, page 275). He even said that if we want to excel in different areas on our society (economics for one) we need to make use of the proper implementation of bureaucracy. Perrow believes in the power within an organization. He defined power as “the ability of persons or groups to extract for themselves valued outputs from a system in which other persons or groups either seek the same outputs for themselves or would prefer to expend their effort toward other outputs” (Handel, page 277). We can see from Perrow’s discussion of power that he greatly sees the potential of an organization and that he sees how bureaucracy is a must in sociological organizations.

Thus, to conclude, bureaucracy had its own sets of advantages, however, some people believe that the disadvantages of bureaucracy far outweigh its advantages. There are those however, like Perrow and Weber who, though they did not denied the fact that bureaucracy is prone to different kinds of evils, believe that bureaucracy should not be blamed for the occurrence of evils rather it should be blamed on the wrong way of bureaucratizing. Burns and Stalkers on the other hand, believe otherwise claiming that a new set of management is needed since bureaucracy could not keep up with the phase of change.


Handel, Michael J., The Sociology of Organizations: Classic, Contemporary and Critical Readings (Sage Publications, Inc – 2002-08-15, 2002).


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