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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 ?
I know I am spitting into the wind and short of revolution the growth of bureaucracy is unstoppable and that it will destroy our way of life.
There have been stories about petty bureaucracy getting in the way of party planners.
Christoforou said the government had been asked to register the exact cost of bureaucracy and the effects it is having on the economy.
Even now it is the executive supported by the bureaucracy that typically initiates legislation, bypassing the legislature
It is not often that a new way of approaching a subject is accompanied by an example as compelling as that Breton and Wintrobe (1986) used to illustrate the applicability of their modern theory of bureaucracy (Breton and Wintrobe, 1982).
The third complaint is that to the extent that the bureaucracy is providing regulatory services, it is in danger of being 'captured' by the private interests whose activities it is supposed to regulate.
5 percent pay raise for LAUSD teachers, he said the money would come out of the bureaucracy, not the classrooms.
The bureaucracy now understands how beleaguered and isolated the Vice President has become.
Re-Thinking Green: Alternatives to Environmental Bureaucracy
Such a high degree of integration demands a coordinating bureaucracy and the sacrifice of significant amounts of national sovereignty to that bureaucracy.
Those that ceased to be small usually see sharp decreases in their productivity simply because of the overarching bureaucracy that follows once an organization gets large.