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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.


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.
References in periodicals archive ?
In post-colonial authoritarian regimes, where civil-military bureaucracies have assumed the domain of political institutions, the practice of bureaucratic conduct does not follow the classical doctrines of bureaucracy.
Therefore civil - military bureaucracies meshed up well for mutual understanding to keep the political parties away from the power circles.
In modern bureaucracies this occurs through vertical (glass ceilings) and horizontal (glass walls) occupational gender segregation.
Through regulation and rulemaking bureaucracies exercise extensive policymaking authority over policy areas with clear moral and political implications; bureaucracies are no longer limited to the role of technical experts mechanically implementing statutes within which contestable normative questions have already been exhaustively discussed and resolved through the legislative process.
Anderson asserts that, according to Weber, bureaucracies are an end-point of the evolution of social organization to more rationalistic bases of social order: bureaucracy accompanies mass democracy, making the state dependent upon it, creates a new class of officials who exert inordinate power over their respective administrative areas, and better generates the revenues necessary to support its structure (bureaucracy's technical knowledge invites influence that outstrips its supposed neutrality).
The political unrest that brought down General Ayub's regime in 1969, followed by the bloody civil war that dismembered Pakistan, seriously undermined the political strength and legitimacy of both the civil and military bureaucracies.
The discussion has shown that the ambiguous evaluation of bureaucracies is fundamental and deeply seated, since measures to address bureaucratic defects are often the source of new problems, and need to be applied on a continuing basis.
Calling for something to be done "to change our circumstances in the school, the workplaces, the bureaucracies, the government" and insisting on man's "unrealized potential for self-cultivation and self-direction," the statement issued a challenge to modern society built on a critique that had begun six years earlier with William Whyte's The Organization Man.
It drives them to spend time dealing with regulations, regulators and bureaucracies.
The Catholic "social justice" bureaucracies in both Canada and USA have been so enamoured of government social programs, however, that in several consecutive elections the abortion issue has been buried by other issues that CCCB identified as important, but that usually just required more money for the fix.
WHO's 2000 annual report was dedicated not to improving health, but to improving health systems--a permanent task for bureaucracies.