Authors: Duhamel & Mény
Summary: Bureaucracy is a term that may be understood from different points of view, many of them polemical. In general terms, bureaucracy can be seen as the administration of the State, as the sum of the political offices that carry out administrative tasks. From the perspective of political theory, this conception of bureaucracy is often assessed critically, as that pressure by the State upon civil society and against individual liberty (liberal theory), or as that instrument by which the bourgeoisie maintains its power over the proletariat (Marxist theory).
A second point of view focuses on the seizure of power by the bureaucracy, especially by its elite. Bureaucratic elites, possessing the specialized knowledge necessary for the actual exercise of power, exert their influence in various spheres of power and activity, causing a turn away from democracy and even a redefinition of "democracy" in technocratic and bureaucratic terms.
A third point of view draws on Weber's concept of bureaucracy as the legal and rational organization of society. From this view bureaucracy is characterized by specialization and hierarchization of functions, by the centralization of decision-making, by the predominance of impersonal rules, and by the selection of a professional corps of functionaries. In such a view, bureaucracy inevitably seeks to extend itself throughout the whole society, and to come to regulate even private systems of relations.
Finally, the term "bureaucracy" is often used to attack administration as slow, muddled, and inefficient. Authors like Gouldner, Selznick and Merton (on the United States) and Crozier (on France) reach such a conclusion. Such scholars argue that the narrow, formal rationality of bureaucratic work, ignoring the more complex motivations of social actors, leads to a series of grave dysfunctions.