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Summary Of The History Of The Idea Of Bureaucracy

The history of the idea of bureaucracy is also marked by changes in the public perception of the term. Prior to Weber's defining the idea of bureaucracy, the practice of rational organization of government services according to neutral merit-based qualifications was viewed as a positive antidote to the nepotism and hereditary domination of traditional monarchical or ethnocentric forms of government. However, across most of the globe, the recent history of the term suggests that it has had a largely negative influence upon society. Indeed, the term bureaucracy now evokes epithetical connotations that refer exclusively to perceived inadequacies in government policy implementation.

One final characteristic of the history of the idea of bureaucracy is the multitude of synonyms that have evolved to describe the practice or the idea of bureaucracy in more neutral or passive terms, particularly within the past century. These synonyms include public administration, public management, public service, and governance or policy implementation. In fact, within much of the contemporary literature on bureaucracy, or public administration in particular, the two concepts are used coterminously. This tendency to conflate the idea of bureaucracy with the idea of public service, management, or administration demonstrates that the term has expanded from its original sociological implications. However, this is not to suggest that the idea of bureaucracy as the social organization of complex tasks according to rational-legal authority has lost any of its original appeal. It merely suggests that changing public preferences have altered the disciplinary significance of historical ideas and distorted them to reflect current social contexts, even if it leads to the incorrect hijacking of what once was a neutral academic term.


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Sara Jordan

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