Weber’s concept of bureaucracy and Characteristics

Bureaucracy can be explained as the way in which a large number of people who work together are organized or administered. It is the body of non-elective government officials or a group that makes administrative policies. The term is derived from the French word; bureau, meaning desk or office, and the Greek word, Kratos, which means rule or political power.

Earlier, the bureaucracy was the administration of the government, handled by departments of non- elective government official. However, in modern times, it can be understood as an administrative unit that governs any large institution.  Both public, as well as private sector organizations, rely on the bureaucracies’ functioning.

Many theorists emphasise on the need of having a strong bureaucracy in the modern society. Max Weber was of the view that an efficient bureaucracy can help in the proper functioning of the society, maintain order and even reduce favouritism. He nevertheless, also argued that unrestricted bureaucracy although, had the tendency of trapping people in an impersonal ‘iron cage’ by curtailing individual freedom with the onset of the rationalized system of production. Bureaucrats are also criticised of being complex, impersonal or inefficient. The process of bureaucracy is often equated to terms like arbitrariness, redundancy, etc. Due to its complex structure, the process of decision making is thought to become slow. Bureaucratic structures are also criticised for being backward-looking and relying on methods that worked well in the past.

The bureaucrats are required to execute and implement the laws, rules, and decisions made by the government or the elected officials. Weber highlights the area of jurisdiction as an important characteristic of every bureaucratic institution. This comprises the idea of division of labour where the activities of the bureaucrats are based on the tasks distributed to them. While some bureaucrats might make rules and regulations for the various policies to be effective, others are required in the section of public administration directly. Rules and regulations are also there to regulate the behaviour and actions of bureaucrats in any institution in order to achieve efficiency. These rules are more or less stable, they are properly written down, thus can be learned. The second feature of bureaucracy is the prevalence of hierarchy, implying that there are layers of authority. Although the higher levels usually supervise the lower ones, the offices and positions exist independently of the individuals who occupy them. The third characteristic is the necessity of keeping records in order to manage the bureaucratic institution properly. Due to this, most of the duties of the workers in any bureaucratic institution are solely to keep and manage records. Next is the idea of training that also forms a key aspect in bureaucracy. Employees or workers are required to undergo specialised training which is associated with the duties of that office.

So, officials are hired on the basis of merit and abilities which are tested through various civil service examinations or work experiences. Bureaucracy also demands full working capacity of the officials. The officials are not expected to do anything besides their assigned work during work hours.

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