Without Sympathy or Enthusiasm: The Problem of Administrative Compassion

Without Sympathy or Enthusiasm: The Problem of Administrative Compassion

Without Sympathy or Enthusiasm: The Problem of Administrative Compassion

Without Sympathy or Enthusiasm: The Problem of Administrative Compassion

Excerpt

Mary Brown didn't mind that her husband, Laurence, an Air Force sergeant, was being sent to Vietnam. Only she wanted to be with him. To that end, the Air Force nurse, a lieutenant, extended her service for 15 months with, she claims, a promise they would serve at the same base. On Friday the Danvers (Mass.) couple said he got orders for Phan Rang. She's assigned to Ton Son Nhut, 160 miles away. "I feel I was deliberately deceived to make me re-enlist," she said.

Aside from its "human interest" aspect, this story raises a fundamental question about organizations: Can an institution make personal promises? Stories such as this abound. They make good newspaper copy. Every reader sympathizes with the couple; the story reinforces his low evaluation of bureaucracy, possibly paralleling an experience of his own.

This kind of story stimulated the most widely distributed and deeply held sociological theory of bureaucracy, the notion that bureaucrats invest the means of administration with more value than they do the ends--the "inversion of means and ends," or "the displacement of goals." In fact, a leading book on organization comes close to stating that this proposition is the sociological theory of bureaucracy. Administration has been defined as the triumph of technique over purpose.

Although the proposition antedates Robert Merton's famous essay on "Bureaucratic Structure and Personality," published in . . .

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