What is Bureaucracy
The word “bureaucracy” originally is composed of the words; “bureau” and “kratos”. It refers to a system or a mechanism established for managing and directing state administration. Different scholars raised different short definitions for bureaucracy such as “management by civil servants”, “public administration”, “civil servant practices and routines” or “organizational inefficiency”.
According to dictionary definition, bureaucracy means:
- a body of non-elective government official
- an administrative policy-making group
- government characterized by specialization of functions, adherence to fixed rules, and a hierarchy of authority
a system of administration marked by officialism, red tape, and proliferation
Origins of Bureaucracy
The term bureaucracy was first coined by Vincent de Gournay. Gournay has added bureaucracy as a fourth form of government to monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. On the other hand, bureaucratic organization scientifically was used by Max Weber for the first time. Bureaucracy according to Weber is an organisational system which consists of structures and official authorities in line with the principles division of labour, hierarchical authority and powers, written norms, documentation of all activities, and objectivity.
The concept of bureaucracy has been used to imply negativity. Unnecessary formalities are considered as paperwork which leads to inefficiency in state administration. According to the French sociologist Frederic Le Play, bureaucracy has been interpreted as a way of spreading authority among a small number of officials, drowning in details and making things difficult.
The rise of the bureaucracy is parallel to the strengthening of the state organisation. In the west; rise of nation states and emergence of capitalism with monetary economy paved the way for a huge increase in the number of tasks dealt by contemporary state, accordingly birth of today’s bureaucracy.
According to the Weberian bureaucracy, characteristics of the bureaucracy can be summarized as follows:
- Existence of a jurisdiction regulated within the framework of laws and other relevant legislation
- Hierarchy and gradual levels of authority
- Need for specialisation and inhouse training
- Documenting and low-level staff engaged in documentation
- Clear distinction between “official” and “private”
According to Weber, civil servant is defined as a person who performs his job as a profession; only acts according to the rules he is subject to; is disciplined with strictly set norms; and performs his work based on a contract and salary.
Weber’s definition of bureaucracy and its systematic basis have been criticized for reasons such as:
- being far from being applicable in real life,
- not overlapping with bureaucratic structures in practice,
- pragmatism and
- underestimating rational behaviours of bureaucrats to serve their own personal interests.
See for more on Max Weber and his theory on bureaucracy: