Ralph P. Hummel
University of Akron
From "bureau" and "kratos": the power of the office. The bureaucracy is the administrative apparatus of the modem state; but also any organization or part of an organization with specifically modern characteristics. In business administration, the rationalized parts of the firm are bureaucratic.
Next to "charisma," "bureaucracy" is probably one of the most popularly used terms derived from sociology, specifically the sociology of Max Weber, and perhaps the most misused and misunderstood by layman and professional alike.
The popular use of "bureaucracy" refers to what a large part of clients in the late industrial welfare states perceive as the negative characteristics of the administrative apparatus: impersonality, slowness, oppressiveness, and rigidity. Closer examination shows these are the obverse side of neutrality, deliberateness, capacity to mobilize for projects of unprecedented magnitude, and predictability. These may be considered positive values of a civilization claiming legitimacy of its authority based on the rule of law and reason. In short, the negative side of the coin is not composed of deviations from an ideal bureaucracy but of necessary latent functions. (But, see Merton, 1936, and Selznick, 1949, who see unanticipated negative functions; and Goodsell, 1994, who minimizes them.)
The professional misuse of "bureaucracy" stems from the isolation of inner structural characteristics from external functions, as these were developed within the Weberian theory of knowledge that gave birth to the sociological concept. Especially nation builders, organizational consul