Is Bureaucracy Irrational? Reflect Critically

Topics: Max Weber, Bureaucracy, Organizational structure Pages: 11 (3952 words) Published: November 16, 2011
Is bureaucracy irrational? Reflect critically

In sociological theories, bureaucracy denotes either a means of management, or a particular kind of organization. Such organizations tend to have homogenous characteristics, including regularized procedure, the existence of a discretionary budget, a tendency to expand their resources continuously and progressively, and impersonal relationships with much competition for political position within the organization. 'Bureau', is a French word meaning desk; thus, 'Bureaucracy' in literal sense is to manage through a desk or office, so a form of organization heavily involved with written documents or in these days their electronic equivalent. Most economic theories of bureaucracy establish the internal mechanisms and decisional characteristics of the organizations in question. According to German sociologist Max Weber, in modern society we, the mankind, live within ‘an iron cage of rationality’ which has been thrust upon us by bureaucracy becoming indoctrinated into organizational structure. Individuals are being increasingly trapped by the bureaucratic features of instrumental rationality, perhaps hindering our substantive rationality. Weber defined rationality is various ways, concluding that there are in fact four types of rationality. The first, which he called instrumental rationality, is related to the expectations about the behaviour of other human beings or objects in the environment. These expectations serve as means for an individual to attain end results, ends which Weber noted were "rationally pursued and calculated." It characterizes organizations, specifically bureaucracies. This leads to "universally applied rules, laws and regulations that characterize instrumental rationality in the West… particularly in the economic, legal, and scientific institutions, as well as in the bureaucratic form of domination." (Ritzer 1996). Rational-legal forms of authority such as the contemporary legal and judicial systems are examples of instrumental rationality. The second type, Weber called value-oriented, or substantive. Individuals may consider a range of potential actions, and attempt to make them consistent with their personal values, regardless of whether it will lead to success. Weber considered this problematic in modern society in that rationalization of social life and culture hinders people to pursue particular values. For example, pursuit of family or religious values may be difficult in modern society, given economic pressures and dominance of bureaucratic organizations. The third type was affectual, determined by an actor's specific feeling or emotion – which Weber said was a kind of rationality that was on the borderline of what he considered "meaningfully oriented." The fourth was traditional, determined by habit. Weber emphasized that it was unusual to find only one of these types of rationality, and that combinations were the norm. He also makes clear that he considered the first two orientations to be more significant than the others, and arguably the third and fourth are subtypes of the first two. These kinds of rationality were ideal types. Weber argues that formal rationality had replaced substantive rationality, because bureaucracy stresses technical orientation to means and ends. Although in everyday life individuals practice different social practises such as emotive action or traditional action, it is the rational action which has become dominant within modern industrial society (Haralambos & Holborn, 2004). In order to achieve goals, instrumental rationality involves applying quantitative calculation and accounting procedure to reach a decision in which way to act “To the extent that formal rationality imposes order on the world through a system of measurement and calculation, it adheres to the norms of economic accounting, proficiency and practical efficacy.” (Morrison, 2006) Essentially it can be said that instrumental rationality...

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