This is one of MW's most cited works, and is the foundation of much of organizational theory. Both in terms of extensions and reactions. The point is to identify the key character of bureaucracy, which is arguably the most sucessful organizational form and the height of applying rationality to the organization of social activity.
Why is bureaucracy so successful?
What: The Characteristics of Modern Bureaucracy
Weber's goal in this work is to describe why bur. works so well. When it is in place, it is highly effective and hard to distroy. To do this, he needs to identify the key characteristics. He starts by identifying the characteristics of the organizational system, then moves on to describe bureaucrats.
Here Weber points out the defining characteristics of modern bureaucratic systems. He starts by listing the 6 characterstics of bureaucracy.
1. There are principles of official jurisdictional
Simply put, every bureaucracy has its own special area: firemen do not arrest criminals, doctors do not empty bedpans, professors do not deliver mail. Formally, MW lists three elements to jurisdiction:
At this point in the discussion, the key here is that regular duties are assigned - everyon has a role (a jurisdiction). That these are also duties - makes them much stronger than a free labor assignment (i.e. a firefighter doesn't stop because he is working overtime, nor does a professor limit the number of hours spent preparing for class, or have 'sick days" - the work is a duty).
Certain people have the right to control others, and this is spelled out clearly.
Bureaucracy works regardless of a particluar person. Individuals can come and go, but the position is defined by the workflow and the rules guiding behavior of occupants in that position.
2. Offices are Hierarchically ordered
Creates a clear system of authority, w. superiors and subordinates. This makes it possible for the governed to appeal, in a regulated manner, the decision of a lower office to the corresponding authority. Similarly, those in a particular position can always find a boss of thier own superviosr (except, of course, at the highest level), to appeal.
When fully developed, these systems are monocratically organized. This means that any position has only one boss, allowing for clear lines of authority.
3. Files & Positions
In section III, MW makes two points.
4. Positions require specialized training
People are appointed to offices based on explicit qualifications (which are written down). This, as it turns out, is one of the key features relating bureaucracy to meritocracy.
5. Official activity demands the full working capacity of the official
An office holder is responsible for completing the tasks of the office, regardless of the number of hours it might take. Thus, as any of you will discover when you take on a salary position, you work to get the job done, not to full the clock. MW expands this and the previous point under his description of the position holder
6. Office Management follows exaustive, stable, written rules, which can be learned.
The Position of the official within and outside of the
In this section, Weber is describing the characteristics of the office holder, as opposed to the bureaucracy itself.
I. Office holding as a vocation
- The office holder is a professional, usually qualified by exams etc., with a duty to fulfill a given function. Obligations are not to a person in the hierarchy, but to the rules/area of the office.
- Office holding is not *just* a means for income, but a duty to be exercized. THus, one should not use the position for financial benefit (i.e. police running a protection racket).
"It is decisive for the modern loyalty to an office that, ..., it does not establish a relationship to a person, like the vassal's or disciples faith under feudal or patrimonial authority, but rather is devoted to impersonal and functional purposes." (p.266)
II. The social position of the official
A. Social Esteem and Status Convention.
Positions carry social status for the governing from the governed, which reenforces thier position. NOte that this is sometimes a legal authority (no contempt of court, for example), othertimes simply normative.
B. Appointment Versus Election: Consequences for Experties
In this reading, we don't get the full reason for this. Partly, it is a reward for investing in the training needed to accomplish the task. Is this a necessary element for effective organization? Note as well that it is exceedingly difficult to fire office holders...
D. People are paid a Regular salary
People receive monetary compensation in the form of salary, which is based on the position, not the work done. Thus you are paid regardless of the number of hours you work, and based on the status of the position. Pay (usually) increases with authority, making advancement something that peopel desire.
E. Fixed career lines and status rigidity
There is a well known, clear career line,
that people can follow. One expects to move from the lower to the higher
Note the kinds of problems that emerge, since there are fewer people at higher levels of the office than there are an lower levels.
The Technical Superiority of bureaucratic organization
over administration by notables
MW says "The decisive reason for the advance of bureaucratic organization has always been its purely technical superiority" (p.269). Why is it good:
"Precision, speed, unambniguity, knowledge of the files, continuity, discretion, unity, strict subordination, reduction of friction and of material and personal costs" (p.269) are raised to the optimum in bureaucratic organization.
"bureaucratization offers above all the optimum possibility for carrying through the principle of specializing administrative functions according to purely objective considerations." (p.269) That is, according to calculable rules without regard to persons.
Note that this turns everything into a means, and usually an economic one
(i.e. worries of efficiency) at that. Thus, the bureaucracy works
"without regard to persons." This can raise very difficult
moral questions, about how particular cases should be handled, a distinction
known by "substantive versus procedural" justice.
"Bureaucracy develops the more perfectly, the more it is 'dehumanized' the
more completely it succeeds in eliminating from official business love, hatred,
and all purely personal, irrational, and emotional elements which escape
The Leveling of Social Differences
Here MW starts to explain when and how bureaucracy comes to be, since bureaucratic organization have only succeeded recently, and under particular circumstances:
A. Administrative democratization
It has usually only come w. the leveling of certain social differences, and inevitably accompanies mass democracy.
"This results from its characteristic principle: the abstract regularity of the exercise of authority, which is a result of the demand for 'equality before the law' in the personal and functional sense -- hence, of the horror of 'privilege,' and the principled rejection of doing business 'from case to case'" (p.229). [note that this is not cheap, and thus the rising cost of government]
Here MW also points out an interesting point: local governments tended to be plutocratic - while mass democracy has leveled the playing field, suggesting that returning to 'local control' might be antithetical to equality.
B. Mass parties and the bureaucratic consequences of democratization
He points out that political parties have moved from simple power organizations based on a particular person, to bureaucratic structures, with party officials. He also notes the similarities / important features of modern democratic government and bureaucratic office:
a) prevention of the development of a closed status group of officials in favor of universal accessibility
b) minimization of the authority of officialdom in the interest of expanding the sphere of 'public opinion' - hence the desire for short terms of office.
The Objective basis of bureaucratic perpetuity
Once established, bureaucratic structures are the hardest to destroy. Bureaucracy is a power instrument of the highest order, since under otherwise equal conditions rationally organized action is superior to all other types, making those who control bureaucratic organizations quite powerful.
Moreover, people on the inside are similarly powerless to stop the organization:
"In the great majority of cases [the burocrat] is only a small cog in a ceaselessly moving mechanism which prescribes to him an essentially fixed route of march. The official is entrusted w. specialized tasks, and normally the mechanism cannot be put into motion or arrested by him, but only from the very top. The individual bureaucrat is, above all, forge to the common interest of all the functionaries in the perpetuation of the apparatus and the persistence of its rationally organized domination" (p.231)
Note that this holds for private as well as public organization, as modern capitalism depends on this kind of organization, which makes eliminating capitalism "more and more utopian" (p.231)
Thus one only need take over the top of the organization, since it is in everyone's interest to keep it going: "A rationally ordered officialdom continues to function smoothly after the enemy has occupied the territory; he merely needs to change the top officials. It continues to operate because it is to the vital interest of everyone concerned, including above all the enemy." (p.231)
At the end of class, we described an extension of Weber’s model that identified other sorts of firms. This built on Jacobs 1981. These are sketched below, be sure you can relate them to Weber’s argument.