The Ups and Downs of Bureaucratic Organization

In spite of relentless criticism over many years bureaucracies and bureaucrats are possibly experiencing a renaissance. The aim of this paper is to make sense of this puzzle by exploring bureaucracy as a specific way of organizing public administration in democratic societies. Through what processes and under what conditions is administrative organization likely to come close to the Weberian ideal type?

ARENA Working Paper 14/2007 (pdf)

Johan P. Olsen

Why do democracies give birth to bureaucracies and bureaucrats? How and why has a seemingly undesirable and unviable organizational form weathered relentless criticism over many years and is possibly experiencing a renaissance? Normative democratic theory, theories of formal organizations, and Weber’s ideas are used for exploring de-bureaucratization efforts since the late 1970s and the most recent decade’s rediscovery of bureaucracy. One lesson is that there has not been a monotonic development towards bureaucratization, as argued by Weber, or de-bureaucratization, as argued by his critics. Several normative and organizational components have co-existed. Yet the significance of each component and their relationships has varied over time. While elements of a theoretical framework are suggested, no great optimism for a comprehensive theory of bureaucratization and de-bureaucratization is offered. Institutions, agency, and macro forces all matter, but there is no agreement regarding under which conditions one factor matters more than the others.

A later version of this paper has been published in Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 11, 2008, pp. 13-37

Tags: organization theory, organisation theory, public administration, institutions, political science, democracy, administrative adaptation, institutionalisation, institutionalism, European Commission
Published Nov. 9, 2010 10:52 AM - Last modified Apr. 12, 2011 4:13 PM