6: Bureaucracy – Max Weber

Max Weber

Max Weber (1864-1920) was a Prussian/German sociologist and philosopher famous for being one of the three founders of sociology, alongside Karl Marx and Emile Durkheim. Being a firm anti-positivist Weber’s interest in the nature of power and authority, as well as his pervasive preoccupation with modern trends of rationalization, led him to concern himself with the operation of modern large-scale enterprises in the political, administrative, and economic realm. As this is also the realm of management and organization studies, Weber’s work on the subject has been readily absorbed into a more nuanced and specialized study of public and private organization.

Weber was most interested in bureaucracy. He believed that bureaucratic coordination of activities is a hallmark of the modern and civilized society. This was not least because bureaucracies are organized according to rational principles, and rationality is an ongoing intellectual effort that is subject to education and discipline. In a bureaucratic organization offices are ranked in a hierarchical order and their operations are characterized by impersonal rules. Office holders are non-individual and those individuals holding office are fully separated from their private affairs. Recruitment and responsibility is governed by methodical allocation of areas of jurisdiction and formal spheres of duty.  

One would be hard-pressed to find anyone in our current society not familiar with bureaucracy of some kind. And for good reason too – bureaucratic coordination of work on a large scale has become the dominant structural feature of modern forms of organization. Weber saw no alternative to bureaucracy in so far as macro-organizing was concerned – the movement of goods and people on time and in a reliable and efficient way was best achieved by a bureaucratic organization governed by most technically educated people. 

So what is bureaucracy for? Who is it for? Join us as we discuss this stupendous work and try to make sense of Bureaucracy, by Max Weber.

You may also download the audio files here:  Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Read with us:

Weber. M. (1922) Economy and Society. CA: University of California Press

Chapter III: Three Forms of Legitimate Domination (click here for a PDF)

Chapter XI: Bureaucracy (click here for a PDF) 

To Learn More: 

Riggs, F.W. (1979) Shifting meaning of the term bureaucracyInternational Social Science Journal, 32(4), 563-584.