Bureaucracies in History


bureaucracy (byŏŏrŏk´rəsē), the administrative structure of any large organization, public or private. Ideally bureaucracy is characterized by hierarchical authority relations, defined spheres of competence subject to impersonal rules, recruitment by competence, and fixed salaries. Its goal is to be rational, efficient, and professional. Max Weber, the most important student of bureaucracy, described it as technically superior to all other forms of organization and hence indispensable to large, complex enterprises. However, because of the shortcomings that have in practice afflicted large administrative structures, the terms bureaucracy and bureaucrat in popular usage usually carry a suggestion of disapproval and imply incompetence, a narrow outlook, duplication of effort, and application of a rigid rule without due consideration of specific cases. Bureaucracy existed in imperial Rome and China and in the national monarchies, but in modern states complex industrial and social legislation has called forth a vast growth of administrative functions of government. The power of permanent and nonelective officials to apply and even initiate measures of control over national administration and economy has made the bureaucracy central to the life of the state; critics object that it is largely impervious to control by the people or their elected representatives. The institution of the ombudsman has been one means adopted in an attempt to remedy this situation. Others has been collective decision making and organizational structures that emphasize minimize hierarchies and decentralize the power to make decisions. Administrative bureaucracies in private organizations and corporations have also grown rapidly, as has criticism of unresponsive bureaucracies in education, health care, insurance, labor unions, and other areas. See also civil service; industrial management.

See M. Dimock, Administrative Vitality: The Conflict with Bureaucracy (1959); R. Bendix, M. Weber (1960); C. Barnard, Functions of the Executive (1980); M. Albrow, Bureaucracy (1970); P. M. Blau, Bureaucracy in Modern Society (2d ed. 1971); J. Hage, Theories of Organization (1980); K. Ferguson, The Feminist Case Against Bureaucracy (1984); C. Perrow, Complex Organizations (3d ed. 1986).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Bureaucracies in History: Selected full-text books and articles

From Ad Hoc to Routine: A Case Study in Medieval Bureaucracy
Ellen E. Kittell.
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991
Industrial Culture and Bourgeois Society: Business, Labor, and Bureaucracy in Modern Germany, 1800-1918
Jürgen Kocka.
Berghahn Books, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Family and Bureaucracy in German Industrial Management, 1850-1914 Siemens in Comparative Perspective"
The Canadian Bureaucracy: A Study of Canadian Civil Servants and Other Public Employees, 1939-1947
Taylor Cole.
Duke University Press, 1949
The French Civil Service: Bureaucracy in Transition
Walter Rice Sharp.
Macmillan, 1931
War, Revolution, and the Bureaucratic State: Politics and Army Administration in France, 1791-1799
Howard G. Brown.
Clarendon Press, 1995
Organizing China: The Problem of Bureaucracy, 1949-1976
Harry Harding.
Stanford University Press, 1981
The Internal Organization of Ch'ing Bureaucracy: Legal, Normative, and Communication Aspects
Thomas A. Metzger.
Harvard University Press, 1973
Strong Institutions in Weak Polities: State Building in Republican China, 1927-1940
Julia C. Strauss.
Clarendon Press, 1998
Cultures in Conflict: The Four Faces of Indian Bureaucracy
Stanley J. Heginbotham.
Columbia University Press, 1975
The Problem of Bureaucratic Rationality: Tax Politics in Japan
Junko Kato.
Princeton University Press, 1994
The Emancipation of Writing: German Civil Society in the Making, 1790s-1820s
Ian F. McNeely.
University of California Press, 2003
The State and Policy Outcomes in Latin America
Lawrence S. Graham.
Praeger, 1990
The Genesis of the Stalinist Social Order
Pavel Campeanu; Michel Vale.
M. E. Sharpe, 1988
Looking for a topic idea? Use Questia's Topic Generator


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.