Bureaucracy: Theoretical Perspective

Bureaucracy: Concept

The term Bureaucracy is derived from the French word Bureau and Cracy. Bureau means desks with drawers and Cracy means the government. Martin Albrow has traced the term “Bureaucracy” back to 1745, when Vincent de Gournay, a French physiocrat, used it to describe the Prussian government. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the term was used to describe the type of government in which power resided with officials. The term was used as an additional Aristotle’s typology of governments. Aristotle noted three true forms of government Kingly rule, Aristocracy and constitutional government and three perversions of the true forms – Tyranny, oligarchy and democracy. Bureaucracy was used to represent a forth type of perversion of government.

Max Weber (April 21, 1864 – June 14, 1920) is the leading writer on bureaucracy. After completing his PhD. in 1889, he became the professor of economics at Fidel Berg University. Of course, he qualified in law but basically, he was a sociologist. He was a scholar of interdisciplinary pursuit for the student of the management and organization theory, his essay “The theory of social and economic organization” is most important. To understand his concept of bureaucracy, we must go through his concept of authority. He distinguishes authority from power. Power – the ability to force people to obey regardless their resistance. Whereas authority mean the right to give orders, and that those who receive them will voluntarily obey them. Authority has sanction where power do not have.

Hence, bureaucracy is the system of government in operation by the paid officials and not by the elected one. In other words, authority is legitimate power. Weber classified the authority found in an organization in three categories. They are Charismatic, Traditional and Legal rational. (Bureaucracy)

1. Charismatic Authority

The first mode of exercising authority is based on the personal qualities of the leader. Weber used the Greek term ‘charisma’ – mean any quality of individual’s personality by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as if endowed with super natural, super human or at least exceptional qualities. This is the position of Mahatma Gandhi or other religious leaders. Whose organization consists of himself and set of disciples, the disciples have the job of mediating between the leader and the masses. The persons who receive the command obey the leader because they believe in his extraordinary abilities. The charismatic leader selects his disciples or followers as his officials based on purely on their personal devotion to him rather than on their special qualification or status. Generally, this type of organization has built – in – instability. The questions of succession always arises when leader dies and authority has to be passed on. In that moment, various disciples claiming the ‘true heirs’ to the charismatic leader thus the process is usually one of fission. Even if the leader himself nominates his successor, he will not necessarily be accepted until another charismatic leader present himself, and so the organization must lose its charismatic form, becoming one of the two remaining types. If the succession become hereditary, the organization becomes traditional in form, if succession is determined by rules, regulation and qualification, a bureaucratic organization develops.

2. Traditional Authority

When charisma is traditionalized by making its transmission hereditary, it becomes the part of the role of the leader rather than being part of his personality. Traditional authority derives its legitimacy from the acceptance of it since the time immemorial. The person exercising authority generally are called ‘Masters’ who enjoy personal authority by virtue of their inherited status. Their commands carry legitimacy because of the customs, conventions and precedence but they can also give orders based on their personal decisions. The persons who obey the order are called loyal or followers, they carry out the commands of the masters out of sheer (only) personal loyalty and a pious for his time honored status. In this patrimonial regime, the person who carry out the orders are household officials, relatives and favorites of the masters and their sphere of activity changed according to his whims and fancies. However, all these actions are legitimized in the name of tradition and customs.

The difference between the Charismatic Authority and Traditional Authority are
Charismatic Authority
Traditional Authority
1. Legitimacy based on the acceptance of the masses.
1. Traditional authority’s legitimacy based on the precedent and convention, custom.

2. Disciples are recruited only from their charismatic quality and devotion upon leader.

2. Here staffs are recruited from two sources i.e. patrimonial and personal loyalties.

3. Personality has big role to play.

3. Personality has no role to play.
4. Unlike traditional authority not bound by precedent and convention.

4. In traditional form so many activities are done which is based on the convention and precedence.
5. No other staff recruited or provided benefits.
5. There are various types of staffs recruited and provided benefits.

3. Bureaucray or Rational Legal Authority 
The primary criteria must meet to be consider Bureaucracy or Rational Legal Authority are:
a) Sphere of competence or qualification of office: No activity of public administration can be performed without competent, trained, skilled and merit personnel. Well planned organization based on sound principles have failed due to inefficiency of the personnel who were running these organization. Hence, they should have profound knowledge of office rules and possess special technical learning in their experience to the solution of the problems of the country. Uniformity of performance, coordination of different task, responsibility and role-relationship.

b) Methodical provision or rules and regulation: Operations are governed by a consisted system of abstract rules, which are more or less stable and exhaustive. There is the principle of fixed and official jurisdictional areas, which are generally ordered by rules, that is by laws or by administrative regulation. The officials are subject to strict and systematic discipline and control in the conduct of his office. And where there is no specific rule of the particular matter, it follows earlier precedents. It is essential that there must be clear jurisdictional areas to eliminate disputes, which weaken the form of government.

c) Principle of hierarchy: In hierarchy, there are various levels of authority and responsibility. There is a well ordered system of superior subordinate relationship, in which there is supervision of the lower officials by the higher ones. Every official is responsible to his immediate superior and in his own turn holds one immediate under him and responsible to himself. It is therefore, hierarchy becomes a channel of command and mean of communication among various levels of authority.

d) The impersonal order: (Neutral, Rational, without biased or without inclination). In  weber’s ideal type construct of bureaucracy, the most striking and thought-provoking idea is his belief that impersonal order should orient the action of the bureaucrats both in the issuance of the commands to subordinates and their obedience to them. To put this in the word of Merton, “Authority, the power of control, which derives from an acknowledge status, inheres in the office and not in the particular person who performs the official roles.” In other words, the bureaucracy form has no place for personal whims, fancies or irrational sentiments. Official activity is conducted in a business-like manner with a high degree of impersonality.

e) Career Service: Employment in the bureaucratic organization is based on technical qualification and is protected against arbitrary dismissal. The other criteria for the official are the fixed salaries paid in money. The full time occupation in the office, the prospects for further promotion according to seniority or to achievement or both in the career, and the strict and systematic discipline and control. Weber asserted that the bureaucratic organization form a purely technical point of view, could be capable of attaining the highest degree of efficiency.

f) Personal and public ends: Officials do not own the resources necessary while rendering duties but they are accountable for the use of official resources. Official business and private affairs, official revenue and private income are strictly separated; offices cannot appropriated, misuse or embezzlement by the incumbent (holder) as private property which can be sold or inherited.

g) Written Documents: The last principle of Weberian bureaucracy is that the administrative acts, decision and rules are formulated and recorded in writing even in case where oral discussion is the rule or is even mandatory. Documents make the administration accountable to people and provide a ready reference for future action.

Criticism of Bureaucracy

  1. R. K. Merton has argued that bureaucracy as an organizational form is characterized by rigidity, over emphasis on rules and regulation rather than on goals and objectives and marked by lack of public relations and class consciousness on the part of bureaucrats.
  2. Herbert Simon and Chester Bernard have proved that the administrative efficiency would lessened if we follow Weber’s structural and formal approach. In an organization, efficiency could be increased through informal relations and unofficial practices.
  3. Rudolf complained that Weberian model carries a misconception that administration was a rational machine and officials were technical functions.
  4. Social scientist like Warren Bennis points out that the bureaucracy is likely to become obsolete because the new social system would be better suited to meet the demands of industrialized society, where change is galloping.
  5. Simon and March says that Weber did not pay any attention to the human behavior in an organization. Hence his ideal type would not attain maximum efficiency as it emphasizes more on the structure of the bureaucracy than on the human beings who personify it.
  6. La Palombara believes that developing societies may find Russian or Chinese methods of administration more effective than western bureaucracy.
  7. Martin King Whyte’s “Bureaucracy and modernization in China” says that during the Revolution periods of Maoist history, the Chinese press was full of examples of highly trained specialist who would not solve the simplest work problem and unskilled personnel who is using common sense and political inspiration were able to come up with vital work innovation.
  8. Talcott Parsons draws attention to the fact that Weber expects the administrative staff to be technically superior as well as possess right to give orders. But it gives rise to conflict within bureaucracy, since it is not possible to ensure that high position in the hierarchy in authority will be matched by equivalent professional skill in which case the individual working in an organization will face the problem of whom to obey. The person with the right to command or a man with the greater expertise.

Conclusion of Bureaucracy

The critics of Weber have argued that the Weberian model of bureaucracy lacks empirical validity, particularly when it is related to modern administration but Weber constructed his ideal keeping the condition of Germany of his times. And Weber has said that his (ideal type) or legal-rational model is superior and permanent. It is only because he compared his legal-rational model with the traditional and charismatic type of organization. Can there be any disputes when he says that legal rational model with skilled official would attain maximum efficiency when compared to the unskilled and servantile bureaucracy?

Today, we see in practice in societies of the world, Weber being proved correct when he said that the societies which are governed by the bureaucracy can never get rid of it, the Afro-Asian countries starting from India could get rid of alien rule but not the bureaucracy practices established by the colonial ruler.

Weberian model no doubt includes both, the positive and negative elements. Elements such as selected through merit and technical qualifications, complete absence of appropriation of official position by the incumbents come under positive category. Elements such as impersonal order, stable and exhaustive rules, hierarchy written documents from the negative category. As the negative elements is given greater weight in the model, the positive elements get golfed and enfeebled by the huge stream of negative.

Division of Work
In a bureaucratic organization, the total organizational task is broken down into a number of well-defined specialized functions. These functions are divided between officials positioned at different organizational levels. This implies that each position in the hierarchy has its own clearly specified sphere of duties and authority.

No comments:

Post a Comment