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What is The Concept of Bureaucracy in Sociology

Bureaucracy describes a particular system of administration. Historically it was associated with the rule of government and governmental official, but sociologists regard it as a form of administration that is found in organizations pursuing a wide variety of goals.

Bureaucracy describes a  particular system of administration.  Historically it was  associated  with the rule of government and governmental official,  but sociologists regard it as   a form of administration that is found in  organizations  pursuing a wide variety of goals.


As a technical term in sociology, bureaucracy is associated with M. Weber.  He gave it a precise definition and  suggested that  it was the  best administrative  form for the rational or efficient  pursuit of organizational goals,  Weber’s ideal type of  bureaucracy comprised  various elements:  high degree of specialization and  a clearly  defined division of  labour, with tasks distributed as  official  duties; a hiearchical structure of authority with clearly circumscribed areas of command and  responsibility the establishment of  a formal body of rules to govern the operation of the organization; administration based on written documents; impersonal relationships between organizational members and with clients, recruitment of personnel on the  basis of  ability and technical knowledge long term employment, promotion on the  basis of  seniority or merit, and fixed salary; the separation of  private and official income.  In  Weber’s mind these discrete elements were tied together into a coherent totality by one overchanging phenomenon: rationality.


 Modern research  has  shown that  many bureaucratic  organizations work inefficiently and it was that  Weber’s model did  not  anticipate. R.K. Merton ( 1957) demonstrates that  accuracy becomes inflexible  because of  various  unanticipated consequences  that derive from its  structure.  Members may adhere to the rules in a ritualistic  manner and  elevate  these above the goals  they are designed to realize.  This is inefficient if for  any reason the rules  do not  establish the most efficient  means for  example, if changing circumstances have made the rules out of date.  Subordinates tend to follow orders even if these  are misguided.  Specialization often fosters a narrow outlook which cannot solve new  problems.  Colleagues within departments  develop feelings of loyalty to   each other and their  departments, and  promote these group interests  when they can.


 M. Crozier ( 1964) extends these arguments to show that  bureaucracies  embody vicious circles of   decreasing  efficiency and effectiveness.  Groups of colleagues  attempt to  minimize their freedom of action  by playing lip service to the rules  but ignoring the spirit behind these and bending them when they can.  They are able to withhold or distort informations that senior  managers  do  not know.  Senior managers realize that something is  amiss but  they are not  allowed to take arbitrary or  personal action against those they suspect of failing to  promote organizational  goals, so they create more  rules to  regulate what goes on below them.  These  rules make the organization more and more  rigid  but may still fail to control subordinates.  Bureaucracy becomes less efficient and  provides only a limited social control.  More over, some tasks within organizations involve unpredictable events for which standardize  rules are inappropriate and bureaucracy is particularly ineffective in  such areas.

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