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The Impact and Interpretation of Weber’s Bureaucratic Ideal Type in Organisation Theory and Public Administration

Bureaucracy and Society in Transition

ISBN: 978-1-78743-284-0, eISBN: 978-1-78743-283-3

Publication date: 8 October 2018


It is doubtful whether Max Weber would have been appreciative of his current status as the father of organisation theory. Weber did not develop the concept of bureaucracy as part of a quest to advance a science of organisations, or in order to do a microanalysis of the internal structure of particular organisational units. The concept of bureaucracy was an ideal-typical concept developed as a point of departure for comparisons across historical periods and geographic settings. Weber’s research was motivated by macroscopic and historical questions such as ‘why did capitalism develop in the West’ and, ‘how do persons in the West and other civilizations attach meaning to their activities?’ Unlike consultants and organisation theorists that make use of him today, it was not a major concern for Weber to develop criteria for the most efficient kinds of organisations. Rather, his concern was to identify variations in administrative and bureaucratic cultures and patterns by the means of the bureaucratic ideal type. It is maintained in modern textbooks in organisation theory that there has been a development from a closed and rationalistic paradigm towards an understanding of organisations as open and natural systems, and Max Weber’s theory of bureaucracy is taken as a point of departure for this kind of narrative. This classification of Weber as an example of a rational and closed approach is highly questionable. The cross-societal and historical approach used so effectively by Weber, is put on a sidetrack in such mainstream narratives. It would be more in the spirit of Weber to focus on organising as an activity, bureaucracy as an ethos and to study organisations within their particular political and cultural contexts.



Byrkjeflot, H. (2018), "The Impact and Interpretation of Weber’s Bureaucratic Ideal Type in Organisation Theory and Public Administration", Bureaucracy and Society in Transition (Comparative Social Research, Vol. 33), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 13-35.



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