(redirected from bureaucracies)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Legal, Encyclopedia.


The set of government employees who write, implement, and enforce regulations set under their purview by appropriate legislation. Examples of bureaucratic organizations in the United States include the IRS, the Department of Justice, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Max Weber argued that bureaucrats have no interests of their own, and that their incentives are identical to those of the state. Karl Marx, on the other hand, believed that bureaucrats protect themselves and their own positions ahead of the state. The term can have a negative connotation depending on its use.
Farlex Financial Dictionary. © 2012 Farlex, Inc. All Rights Reserved


a structured ORGANIZATION formed to achieve specified goals. The term is commonly used in a pejorative sense to refer to those organizations which appear to have an excessive number of levels in the HIERARCHY, where job roles are narrow and sharply defined and where rules are rigidly adhered to, whatever the circumstances.

As developed by German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920), however, the term is used to apply to all organizations which include the following features: clearly defined jobs; a hierarchy; a set of rules to govern operations; employees who are appointed (not elected) to posts which constitute their main occupation; and a system of promotion. In Weber's view personal emotions should not enter into the running of the bureaucracy. Weber viewed the bureaucratic organization as a distinctive feature of the modern world. In contrast to traditional societies, the bureaucracy involved a clear separation of home and work life.

In his writing on bureaucracy Weber pioneered the analytical device of the ‘ideal type’ as a means of identifying the essential features of a phenomenon. The features outlined above constitute the essential features that are present to a greater or lesser extent in bureaucracies. The notion of ideal type has no evaluation or prescriptive connotations.

Subsequent research has questioned Weber's contention that the bureaucracy is a highly efficient form of organization. The emphasis on following the rules can deflect employees' attention from the efficient or effective production of goods and services (see GOAL DISPLACEMENT).

American sociologist Alvin Gouldner (1920 – 80) identified three types of bureaucracy in terms of the function and observance of rules:

  1. mock bureaucracy, where rules are imposed from outside the organization, e.g. by legislation, and where all or most employees, including managers, evade or ignore them;
  2. representative bureaucracy, where rules are supported by all organization members, and hence are willingly obeyed;
  3. punishment-centred bureaucracy where rules are enforced by one group upon another in the organization, using punishments to achieve compliance. This approach can lead to CONFLICT.
Collins Dictionary of Business, 3rd ed. © 2002, 2005 C Pass, B Lowes, A Pendleton, L Chadwick, D O’Reilly and M Afferson
References in periodicals archive ?
Professionally oriented bureaucracies serve nicely because they reduce corruption while seeming incapable of exercising great independence or autonomy.
The lesson is that all bureaucracies, public and private, sometimes work and sometimes don't, depending on how they're organized and who leads them.
(9) Armbruster holds that the quest for a privatization of state bureaucracies is associated with treating citizens as clients: bureaucracy is one of the central links between the state and individuals, and must prevent corporations from externalizing the costs of pursuing material self-interest.
Sigelman (1976) was one of the first researchers to offer a stratification ratio that compared the representation of career women at the upper and lower levels of state and local government bureaucracies. This measure has been used in several subsequent studies (Sigelman and Karnig, 1976; Riccucci, 1987).
The basic idea here is that different institutional systems have their own distinctive bureaucracies, bureaucracies should be less burdened with structures that make it difficult for agencies to do their jobs, while bureaucratic expertise may develop as an integral part of the nexus of decisions involved in delegation.
Faced with the reality that as a science and research organization they are more of a clearinghouse; that as an international researcher and advisor on health matters they often take second place to the World Bank (WHO's own reports are far more likely to cite substantive research done by the World Bank than any of its own original work, of which there is very little); and that in their First World-oriented agenda they are merely another bureaucratic layer echoing already existing national health ministries and the initiatives of other non-governmental organizations and international bureaucracies, WHO is scrambling frantically for its life.
The norms of democracy grant policy-making legitimacy to electoral institutions, not to bureaucracy.(14) While bureaucracy can at times claim to represent the interests of individuals, bureaucracies are not inherently representative institutions and lack the imprimatur of elections.(15)
Chubb and Moe (1988; 1069) contend that democratic institutions such as the school board or other political actors establish goals for the public schools and seek compliance with those goals by creating bureaucracies to monitor the schools.
By moving the strategizing out of the four service bureaucracies to central command posts in Washington and the field, the new system gave the president, for the first time since 1947, confidence that the military operations suggested by the JCS chairman, Colin Powell, were not a political compromise but a strategy.
Police and fire departments, on the other hand, are notoriously intractable bureaucracies. (Stein notes that in 1961, when New York Mayor Robert Wagner decided public housing areas needed more police patrols, he received a letter stating, "I, as police commissioner, having sole responsibility under the law for the disposition of the police force, will go on making determinations according to professional police judgment and with reference to the best interests of the citizens as a whole." English translation: Stick it in your ear.) The St.
Paul Wellstone (Minn.), add new government health-care bureaucracies but eliminate both the huge HMO bureaucracies and the insurance-industry bureaucracies.
And some people are calling for huge bureaucracies to pile more bricks on top of our already high tariff walls.