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:

  1. a body of non-elective government official
  2. an administrative policy-making group
  3. government characterized by specialization of functions, adherence to fixed rules, and a hierarchy of authority
  4. 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.

Weberian 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:




2 thoughts on “Bureaucratic Theory and Weber

  1. ‘Weber’s Bureaucracy’ is both a theory and a paradigm (ref. page 2 of your ‘WhoWeAre’ page). The last derivative of definition (par. 1, no. 4, etc.) associated with the singular paradigm of bureaucracy, unfortunately or not, is the interpretation most commonly associated, in Western culturality, with the general meaning of bureaucracy. Hence, the negative connotation is at the very least loosely fitting, and–one might moreover capably argue–this impression of bureaucracy is chief among the reasons Mr. Trump was awarded the Presidency. I’m no fan of President Trump, but it is owed the logical as to what drove voters to the poll, yes? We can cry foul to corruption, but it’s far more than that. Obviously so, in this age of transparency. Absolutely, it would have to be more than mere manipulation.

    Contrarily, the same premise as to ‘Weber’s Bureaucracy’ could be construed as direct foundation to the only reasonable explanation for the stability and single-face of China’s global reach of perceived influence. This is inarguable, if the tenets of your synopsis are followed.

    Is your presentation an espousement of ‘Weber’s Bureaucracy’ or merely an educational recitation of its basis? I love you guys. You challenge deep thinking. So which is it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks a lot for such a comment. Actually this was written by a member of our team who got some courses on enlightenment and modern state. This was just a veeeeeerrrrry short summary of the term bureacracy with a couple of references to Weberian model. You know that popular culture dictates new generations to consume very fast. Most people of the age of social media are not willing to spend many time on a long article or discussion. We just try to provoke some awareness. That’s all. Yet, we are very much open to discuss in detail any topic raised in the blog.

      When it comes to bureaucracy, I consider that it is a means for the political authority, similar to Marx. In this case, type of authority (traditionsl, charismatic or rational) needs to be take into account when we discuss bureaucracy. A traditional authority will eventually formulate a bureuacracy composed of “yes men”. Then, the negative meanings attributed to the term lost its ground. Yet, under the rational authority like in the west negativity will be a factor to define the impact of bureaucracy on people and sometimes influence their political choices.

      Can you dwell more on the perception of bureaucracy and how it affects life and politics so that we can compare with the case in Luxembourg.

      Liked by 1 person

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