Practice Question – Examine the salient features of Weberian Bureaucracy. (UPSC 2015) 

Approach – Introduction, Define Weber’s Bureaucracy, List and elaborate on its features, Criticism, Conclusion.



Bureaucracy commonly is used to refer to all agencies and structures involved in public administration. Bureaucracy however refers to a particular way of organising such
agencies. Encyclopaedia Britannica defines bureaucracy as a professional corps of officials organised in a pyramidal hierarchy and functioning under impersonal, uniform rules and procedures to secure the goals of their organisations. It goes to the credit of Max Weber, the German historian turned sociologist to give a systematic theory of ‘bureaucracy’.Max Weber was the first one to talk about bureaucracy as a big improvement over the haphazard administration. His is not merely the most oft-quoted theory of public administrative organisations, but also a starting point for most social science researches on bureaucracy.



Weber believed that there could be only three kinds of power in the organization:

Traditional: In traditional authority, the workers (considered as servants) are dependent upon the leader (lord) working as their servants and following the stated rules and regulations blindly.
Charismatic: Under charismatic power, due to the extraordinary personality of the managers, the workers are deeply motivated to perform their best on the task allotted to them. However, this charisma may fade away with the manager’s lay off, resignation or demise.
Legal-Rational: In legal-rational power, the workers either need to abide by the legal rules or the naturally applicable laws. In short, all the employee need to follow a consistent set of principles.



Max Weber gave the concept of ideal type bureaucracy with structural and behavioural features such as rationality, division of work and specialisation, hierarchical authority system, merit based recruitment and promotion, distinction between position office and its incumbent, between public and private, emphasis on written documents, office  procedures, rule-orientation, formalism etc. Bureaucracies are organised according to the rational principles. Offices are ranked in a hierarchical order and their operations are characterised by impersonal rules. Personnel are governed by systematic allocation of duties and functions. Recruitment is done on the basis of the merit of the candidates, or according to specialised qualifications rather than ascriptive criteria. Coordination of the actions of large numbers of people has become the dominant structural feature of modern forms of organisation. For Weber, bureaucracy is a type of administrative organisation with above characteristics which once established will continue because it is the most efficient, most rational form of organisation for exercising legitimate authority (distinct from power) in a modern society. Since all modern states claim to be ‘legal-rational authority systems’ public administration is carried on everywhere through a bureaucracy (civil service) modelled upon the Weberian ideal type. To Weber, a bureaucracy is an administration based on discipline; and discipline is “nothing but the consistently rationalised, methodically prepared and exact execution of the received order”.



  • 1) Specialisation and an elaborate division of labour
    2) Hierarchy of positions
    3) Technical competence as the chief criterion for recruitment and promotion
    4) Written rules and regulations
    5) Impersonality and
    6) Formal, written communication



  • The rules and procedures are decided for every work it leads to, consistency in employee behaviour. Since employees are bound to follow the rules etc., the management process becomes easy.
  • The duties and responsibilities of each job are clearly defined there is no question of overlapping or conflicting job duties.
  • The selection process and promotion procedures are based on merit and expertise. It assists in putting right persons on right jobs. There is optimum utilisation of human resources.
  • The division of labour assists workers in becoming experts in their jobs. The performance of employees improves considerably.
  • The enterprise does not suffer when some persons leave it. If one person leaves then some other occupies that place and the work does not suffer.


  • This system suffers from too much of red tape and paper work.
  • The employees do not develop belongingness to the organisation.
  • The excessive reliance on rules and regulations and adherence to these policies inhibit initiative and growth of the employees. They are treated like machines and not like individuals. There is neglect of human factor.
  • The employees become so used to the system, they resist to any change and introduction of new techniques of operations.



The most general argument against such structures was developed by Robert Merton, who argued that there is a tendency for “the rules to become more important than the ends they were designed to serve, resulting in goal displacement and loss of organisational effectiveness.” 

In Crozier’s analysis, the social structure consists of highly cohesive occupational groups, each presenting a unified and rather hostile front towards the others. Each group tends to manipulate the rules with a view to promote its own privileges and rights.

Robert Michels, in his “iron law of oligarchy,” postulates that intensifying complexity and bureaucratisation of modern organisations is leading to the concentration of power at the top level, in the hands of a few who tend to rule in a dictatorial manner.

Marxist writers view bureaucracy in their own perspective. Whereas Lenin and other Soviet writers could not admit that bureaucracy had a permanent and “organic” position
in the Soviet system, other Marxists thought that it was at its centre and that it defined more than anything else the very nature of the regime. From their point of view, bureaucracy was not only a privileged oppressive group but a new exploiting class, a class characterised by a new type of oligarchic regime that was neither socialist nor capitalist and that was rapidly spreading both in the East and in the West. The first systematic elaboration of this position was attempted by the Italian Marxist Bruno Rizzi in The Bureaucratisation of the World . For Rizzi, the Soviet bureaucracy constituted a new ruling class that exploited the proletariat as much as the capitalists had in the past.


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