Bureaucracy and the Public: A Reader in Official-Client Relations

Bureaucracy and the Public: A Reader in Official-Client Relations

Bureaucracy and the Public: A Reader in Official-Client Relations

Bureaucracy and the Public: A Reader in Official-Client Relations

Excerpt

The word "bureaucracy" means different things to different people. In everyday conversation, to call something "bureaucratic" is to damn it. Bureaucracy implies red-tape, long lines, elaborate forms, unpleasant officials, and the cold sweat that comes with the feeling that you are not being understood. The popular image, in short, sees bureaucracy as inefficient, inhuman, and in. accessible. A more radical view holds that bureaucracy is dangerous-to the individual and to society.

For most social scientists, bureaucracy is neither efficient nor inefficient. It is, rather, a particular way in which people organize themselves and their resources to achieve some agreed-upon goal—like collecting income tax, or producing rockets, or healing the sick. Discovering how people go about this—and how efficiently—is a problem which has occupied social scientists.

These different usages reflect the fact that bureaucracy as the subject of social criticism and bureaucracy as a problem for empirical social science went off in different directions years ago, and have nearly lost sight of each other. While social scientists have been observing what goes on inside bureaucracies, the social criticism of bureaucracy has been calling attention to what goes on between bureaucracy and the rest of society.

It is curious that social research should so largely have ignored the relationship between bureaucracy and the public. We all have read Kafka and Orwell. We all are clients of a large number of organizations. Indeed, one can hardly buy a loaf of bread these days, or see a doctor, or borrow a book without confronting a bureaucracy. Yet, the fact remains that among the very large number of studies of organizational structures and their functioning, there are only a very few which analyze the interaction between bureaucratic officials and their clients.

Unfortunately, we do not have reliable information on the amount of time individuals in modern society spend as clients in organizational dealings. This must be considerable, however. Think, for example, of public utilities such as transportation, electricity, telephone; public and private service organizations such as medical clinics, libraries, welfare offices, schools, employment . . .

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