intro to sociology 5

Ideal Bureaucracies

The textbook describes Weber’s ideal characteristics of bureaucracy. There are also eight shortcomings listed in the textbook.

Consider the bureaucracies that you come in contact with (college, work, IRS, medical offices, or the Post Office).

For the written assignment this week, pick one bureaucracy with which you are familiar, and create a 750 (or more) word, APA style paper. In your paper describe the following:

How did you come in contact with the bureaucracy?

What shortcomings do you see in the bureaucracy? (Select and provide evidence of at least two shortcomings)

How would you resolve the shortcomings mentioned?

Do social group memberships give some individuals an advantage when navigating this bureaucracy?

Ideal Characteristics of Bureaucracies

Max Weber (1925/1947) identified six key characteristics of the ideal type of bureaucracy. In Weber’s model, the following characteristics describe what an efficient and productive bureaucracy should be like:

  • High degree of division of labor and specialization. People perform very specific tasks.
  • Hierarchy of authority. Workers are arranged in a hierarchy in which each person is supervised by someone in a higher position. The resulting pyramids—often presented in organizational charts—show who has authority over and is responsible to whom. Thus, there’s a chain of command, stretching from top to bottom, that coordinates decision making.
  • Explicit written rules and regulations. Detailed written rules and regulations cover almost every possible kind of situation and problem that might arise, including hiring, firing, salary scales, rules for sick pay and absences, and everyday operations.
  • Impersonality. There’s no place for personal likes, dislikes, or tantrums. Workers are expected to behave professionally. An impersonal workplace in which all employees are treated equally minimizes conflict and favoritism and increases efficiency.
  • Qualifications-based employment. People are hired based on objective criteria such as skills, education, experience, and standardized test scores. If workers perform well and have the necessary credentials and technical competence, they’ll move up the career ladder.
  • Separation of work and ownership. Neither managers nor employees own the offices they work in, the desks they sit at, the technology they use, or the products that they assemble, invent, or design.

A “rational matter-of-factness,” Weber maintained, makes bureaucracies more productive by “eliminating from official business love, hatred, and all purely personal, irrational, and emotional elements” (Weber, 1946: 216). Weber viewed bureaucracies as superior to other forms of organization because they’re more efficient and predictable. He worried, however, that bureaucracies could become “iron cages” because people become trapped in them, “their basic humanity denied.”

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