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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 ?
It wasn't, again, that everyone didn't know bureaucracies tended toward inefficiency, it was that the idea seemed to be disreputable and not to lead anywhere useful.
THAT CIVIL LIBERTIES CANNOT HOLD out against government bureaucracies in America is not a matter of speculation, for we have already had plenty of experience of their conflict and liberty's loss in the nation's welfare programs--programs that are traditionally justified on the same grounds of security and compassion now tendered for health-care reform.
Whether you're in favor of more privatization or less, there's simply no getting around the need to reform government bureaucracies.
This ensured concentration of powers -- usually controlled directly by both civil and military bureaucracies -- in the executive branch stayed put to the detriment of legislature as well as the judiciary.
The World Bank's East Asian Miracle study thought that East Asian bureaucracies were effective because they were insulated from day-to-day political interference.
He introduced the concept of "organizational patriotism," where officials in overlapping bureaucracies each consider his own agency to be superior.
Not only do the multiple layers of bureaucracy soak up an unacceptable amount of taxpayer dollars, but disagreements among the bureaucracies are resolved in lawsuits, with the taxpayers footing the bill for each side of the dueling educrats.
A Viennese-born Catholic priest and theologian, Illich had some first-hand experience with bureaucracies.
What we are seeing is public sector bureaucracies that have grown by about 300,000 people in the last eight years.
Bureaucracies determine funding, and the history of bureaucracy is much more to my taste than is yet another map of the Battle of X.
One cannot underestimate the significance of even a few bishops speaking out, and distancing themselves from their own main stream bureaucracies.
A few major units are implementing reforms that are breaking down hidebound bureaucracies for the first time in decades.