The Critical Examination of Traditional Theories of Bureaucracy and Their Applications to the Modern Day Workings of Business

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The critical examination of traditional theories of bureaucracy and their applications to modern day organisations. By David Martin – N0385354
Word Count: 2651

The notion of a bureaucracy was first explored by the German scholar Max Weber, whose work in the areas of politics and sociology led him to great conclusions, such as his theory of rationalisation and its ever increasing nature of this in Western culture, as well as his notion of authority and the famous ‘Iron Cage’ metaphor. As time has passed, these concepts have been delved into to a much more detailed level, leading to results such as Betham’s three models of bureaucracy (Williams 2011: Slide 3-4) and the relevancy of some of the older theories have been questioned at times by the likes of Bendix and Ritzer. To properly explore this area, some key terms must first be defined and reviewed; the most prominent of these is the term ‘bureaucracy’. A standard definition of this from the Oxford English Dictionary terms a bureaucracy as ‘a system of government in which most of the important decisions are taken by state officials rather than by elected representatives’. The term ‘government’ in this definition has multiple meanings, it can be substituted for any organisation, group or indeed government, and these non-elected officials implement the rules, laws and functions within their government, which are set out in a hierarchical structure. Rationalisation is a term used in sociology to refer to the process where an increasing number of social actions become based on considerations of efficiency and/or calculation rather than on motivations derived from morality, emotion, custom or tradition. This is most dominant in Western countries, where technological advancement has occurred, as well as prominent changes in business, politics and social thinking. Betham’s models of bureaucracy answer three important questions regarding the existence of a bureaucracy. The definitional model specifies the criteria that determine what can be classified as a bureaucracy and what cannot be classified as one, and goes to answer the question of how we recognise a bureaucracy. In the modern day, this is becoming increasingly difficult, due to the various modifications and veils that are utilised by these organisations, which will be touched upon later. The explanatory model provides a template for the way bureaucracies function, and why the actions that are taken have the consequences on the firm that they do when they implement their policy. This model delves deep into why bureaucracies function as they do, and the positive and negative effects that their actions may carry. The final model, the normative model, defines the necessary conditions of efficiency for a bureaucracy, and explores how for either a single bureaucracy, or in general terms, satisfies these conditions, thus giving a very good idea of the efficiency of the organisation(s). These three models are smartly linked, as first a clear definition of a bureaucracy is needed, then once the basics have been learnt, then analysing the actions of this group, then taking this information and coming to a conclusion of efficiency and effectiveness of policy. Weber first established three main types of authority, being traditional authority, charismatic authority and legal rational authority (Weber 1958). Traditional authority is where the incumbent system does not change over time, and does not adapt with any social change that may occur. Charismatic authority is found in leaders who impose their ideologies and regulations on others in an inspiring and pleasurable manner, while legal rational authority is the belief of following the law as well as natural law and order, with an observable manifestation of the legal rational type being a bureaucracy. There is quite a large section of blurriness between these three types of authority, especially in the 21st century, as bureaucracies such as national governments elect...
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