What is Bureaucracy ? - Definition and its Purpose

Definition and Purpose of Bureaucracy

What comes to your mind when you encounter the term bureaucracy? More often than not, you would think of slow moving, obstacle filled, and tedious processes that do not get your job done but instead, make you run around from pillar to pillar for your work. Though most of us have negative connotations when we think of bureaucracy and liken it to an appendage or a necessary evil that must be tolerated. However, bureaucracy is more than this and as the famous sociologist Max Weber postulated, it is a form of administrative control over the levers of decision making within an organization.

According to Weber, the organizations can be economic, political, and social or religious organizations. Indeed, Weber did not restrict himself to a particular type of organization nor a particular form of bureaucracy. The definition supplied by Weber is accepted even to this day as and his characterization of the term as to mean the way in which power relations in organizations evolve from the non-specialized forms to the most sophisticated form is relevant even now. The point to be noted is that bureaucracies encompass the whole gamut of organizational Processual and decision-making mechanisms where each successive stage of evolution represents the deepening of expertise and the increasing sophistication of the organizational apparatus.

Is being Bureaucratic not Modern?

The notion that modernity and bureaucracy are incompatible is widely shared by many members of society. As pointed out in the introductory lines, the bureaucracy is not received well by the public. However, bureaucracy is a vital and integral part of the modern organizational setup and it is the case that organizations and bureaucracies cannot do without each other. This symbiotic relationship between the bureaucracy and the organizations makes for a creative tension between the two and in the modern context, they are likened to a pair of twins that complement and supplement each other. This relationship can be best explained in terms of how process and structure coexist with agility and speed. Indeed, both are needed as in the modern world, paperwork is as important as just in time solutions and real time processes. This interplay between the processes and the structure that sustains them along with the need for speedy decision-making is what the contemporary organizations must strive for. Further, bureaucracy is the glue that binds the disparate elements of the organization together and lends it coherence and a sense of purpose.

Bureaucracy in Action

Of course, with time, the organizational arteries tend to get clogged and hence, it is the case that organizational bureaucracies become sclerotic and slow moving. Hence, creative destruction in the way organizations rejuvenate themselves is needed to ensure that bureaucracies do not become entrenched leading to gridlock and policy paralysis.

The other aspect of organizations is that even if the employees are empowered to take decisions on the spot and are enabled to act independently, they still have to go back to the office and file a report stating their actions and justifications for the same. Indeed, as this example shows, the Processual and the procedural aspects of contemporary organizations is still relevant as legal and other regulations dictate and mandate along with necessitate the record keeping. Of course, in recent times, one can always record the decisions on an iPad or send a message on a Blackberry. However, the key term here is that processes have to be followed and whichever mechanism one chooses for recording and communicating them, the basic framework of the bureaucracy is unalterable.

Closing Thoughts

Finally, as this article has pointed out, we cannot do without bureaucracies and they cannot do without us. Hence, it would be better if both come to terms with each other and learn to live together like a couple who have the occasional skirmishes from time to time but at the end of the day, get the work done and keep the institution running.


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Political Science