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Criticisms Of The Practice Of Bureaucracy

The speculation that bureaucracy will bear bad fruit within society began with criticisms of government practice across history. These criticisms came from various philosophical schools as well as from the rapidly decolonized nations, particularly following World War II. However, many of the philosophical criticisms of bureaucracy are leveled against the practice rather than the idea. As Charles T. Goodsell notes, there are three broad typologies of antibureaucratic criticism within academia. These are a focus on unacceptable performance, the fear of bureaucracies serving elite interests over the interests of the entire polity, and the fear of bureaucratic oppression through formalism and a general lack of concern for particular needs of clientele. Of these criticisms, the focus on the unacceptable performance and antihumanitarianism of bureaucracies seems to dominate the majority of the literature. For example, Thorstein Veblen, James Dewey, and D. Warnotte identify ills in bureaucratic practice that include, respectively, "trained incapacity," "occupational psychosis," and "professional deformation" (Merton, p. 104). However, each of these criticisms is lodged against practical states of bureaucratic employment rather than the idea of bureaucracy itself. Additional critical thought on the practice comes largely from contemporary organization theorists who have concerned themselves with the impact of bureaucratic structure on employees' motivation and attitudes. Additionally, theorists of public administration have speculated upon the role of bureaucracy within other organizational forms such as democratic governance. While these criticisms are decidedly useful as a pedagogical tool for understanding the nature of bureaucracy, they represent neither a critical reflection upon nor notable additions to the idea itself.

Goodsell's third typology has been largely taken up by postmodernists, critical theorists, and postcolonial critics of bureaucracy. The use of government bureaucratic domination as well as ecclesiastic bureaucratic domination was highly effective in the overtaking of colonial properties. However, bureaucratization was an ineffective tool for the reformation of decolonized states. Perhaps Weber was correct in his assertion that "bureaucracy, thus understood, is fully developed in political and ecclesiastical communities only in the modern state, and, in the private economy, only in the most advanced institutions of capitalism" (p. 73). The bureaucratization of juridical states and the rise of capitalist economy are inextricably related; the bureaucratic form is unnatural in societies where charismatic or traditional authority still dominates. The modernist preference for rational-legal authority suggests that bureaucracy should be the natural form of organization, but for decolonizing states in a situation of authoritative flux, bureaucracy may be an unnatural and in many cases falsely dominating form of organization.

Another form of critique against the practice of bureaucracy has come from scholars of gender relations. These critiques center primarily upon the rejection of the rationalist-modern form of organization as decidedly male-centered. Feminist scholars have argued that bureaucratic structures privilege male forms of communication, deemphasize intuitive and experiential knowledge, diminish the creative capacities of employees, and encourage conformity with historically male institutions, such as government. Again, while these critiques address some structures of bureaucracy as suggested by Weber, the idea itself is not augmented in the address.

Contrary to the thesis that bureaucratic organizations are consistently dominating is the thesis that bureaucracies (as Hegel supposes) can be neutral civil services devoted to the benefit of all in the society. Particularly because of its rational character and nonparticularistic method of organizing client needs, the bureaucracy can ideally serve all within a given community at an equally efficient level. However, according to some critical theorists, Jürgen Habermas being the most notable, the current conditions of social interaction within society are prohibitive of appreciative discourse between equal parties capable of reaching mutually acceptable and operable conclusions. Whether the bureaucracy offers itself as a neutral public servant or not, the social structure of government in capitalist societies in particular unconsciously promotes unequal dialogue and domination by bureaucracies.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Boolean algebra to Calcium PropionateBureaucracy - The Practical Form Of Social Organization Later Known As Bureaucracy, Max Weber And The Idea Of Bureaucracy