Authors: Bobbio, Matteucci, Pasquino
Summary: This 4,300-word entry presents several different meanings of the term, but focuses on Weber's conception of bureaucracy and its recent elaborations. The term "bureaucracy" was invented in the middle of the 18th century by a French physiocrat economist, Vincent de Gournay, who used it to refer to the staff of civil servants and clerks attached to the absolute sovereign. For Gournay, given his physiocratic stance against centralized power, the term had a negative connotation.
In the 19th century, in the work of German legal and administrative scholars, the term took on a particular technical meaning: the new, hierarchically-organized Prussian administrative machine. In the 20th century, "bureaucracy" has acquired a new negative connotation, in the sense of proliferation of norms and regulations, ritualistic adherence to procedure, and waste of resources.
The modern study of bureaucracy begins with Max Weber. In his analysis of types of power, he defined bureaucracy as the administrative structure associated with the pure type of legal power. The entry notes three levels of analysis in Weber's work: the formulation of clearly defined concepts (main characteristics); the construction of models that are obtained from empirically similar historical phenomena (historical presuppositions); and the explanation of particular historical cases (i.e., the Chinese bureaucracy).
The entry ends with a short review of recent studies of bureaucracy. These focus on the social composition of bureaucracy, the causes determining the nature and the extent of its power, its relation with interest groups, and its administrative efficacy.