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In sociological theories, bureaucracy is an organizational structure characterized by regularized procedure, division of responsibility, hierarchy, and impersonal relationships. The term can characterize either governmental or nongovernmental organizations.

In modern usage, bureaucracy often equates with inefficiency, laziness, and waste. It is oftentimes characterized in the popular imagination as existing solely for itself and only achieving results which end up in enlarging the size of the bureaucracy. It is thus generally used as a pejorative word. See also: red tape.

A hypothetical bureaucracy would consist of many levels of management which require many signature approvals to make any decision.

Examples of everyday bureaucracies could include the corporation, hospital, court, ministry, or school.

Max Weber on bureaucracy

Max Weber has probably been the most influential user of the word in its social science sense. He is well-known for his study of bureaucratization of society; many aspects of modern public administration go back to him; a classic, hierarchically organized civil service of the Continental type is - if basically mistakenly - called "Weberian civil service".

However, contrary to popular belief, "bureaucracy" was an English word before Weber; the Oxford English Dictionary cites usage in several different years between 1818 and 1860, prior to Weber's birth in 1864.

Note that the following discussion of bureaucracy attributes deals with the Weber's ideal type concept.

Weber described the concept in positive terms, considering it to be a more rational and efficient form of organization the alternatives that preceded it, which he characterized as charismatic domination and traditional domination. According to his terminology, bureaucracy is part of legal domination. However, he also emphasized that bureaucracy also becomes inefficieent when a decision must be adopted to an individual case.

According to Weber, the attributes of modern bureaucracy include its impersonality, concentration the means of administration, a leveling effect on social and economic differences and implementation of a system of authority that is practically indestructible.

Weber's analysis of bureaucracy concern:

A bureaucratic organisation is governed by following principles: * the duty of each official to do certain types of work is delimited in terms of impersonal criteria
* the official is given the authority necessary to carry out his assigned functions
* the means of coercion at his disposal are stictly limited and conditions of their use strictly defined
A bureocratic official: An official must exercise his judgment and his skills, but his duty is to place these at the service of a higher authority; ultimately he is responsible only for the impartial execution of assigned tasks and must sacrifice his personal judgment if it runs counter to his official duties.