The concept of bureaucracy stems from the administrative organization of different groups of people in an organization. Many governmental and non-governmental institutions have used bureaucracy to carry out their functions. Nowadays, many people see bureaucracies as inefficient, but history has proved that the concept can effectively instill compatibility in organizational functions.
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This paper analyzes the concept of bureaucracy through the works of two authors – Weber and Ritzer. In detail, this paper analyzes the essential characteristics of bureaucratic organizations, according to Weber, and the application of Weber’s concept in Ritzer’s Mcdonalization concept. This paper also compares the concept of bureaucracy to the works of two more authors, Kafka and Melville.
Their works suffice to understand discontents with bureaucracy, as noted by Weber and Ritzer. Lastly, according to the philosophies of Weber and Freud, this paper describes the psychosocial forces that uphold bureaucratic organizations.
Characteristics of Bureaucratic Organizations According to Weber
Weber said that bureaucratic organizations should be hierarchical, managed by organizational rules, organized by functional specialty, have an unfocused or in-focused vision, purposely impersonal, and demonstrate employment by technical qualification.
Indeed, Weber acknowledges that a centralized planning structure controls bureaucratic organizations, through the control of lower levels of administration by higher levels of administration. While explaining the concept of management by rule, Weber said that, lower authorities should respect decisions made by higher authorities.
Similarly, according to Weber, bureaucratic organizations should treat all employees and customers equally (according to the concept of purposely impersonal). Lastly, Weber says that bureaucratic organizations should demonstrate that technical qualifications outline the overarching principle behind employee recruitments.
McDonalization according to Ritzer
Ritzer introduced the concept of McDonalization to show the similarity of bureaucratic organizations with fast food restaurants. Some observers say that Macdonalization is similar to the concept of rationalization, where traditional thoughts transition into rational modes of thoughts.
This is also a key concept in the philosophy of scientific management. To the critics of McDdonalization, this philosophy is undesirable because it “kills” humanity. In other words, the concept of bureaucracy emphasizes more on efficiency at the expense of human attributes.
This principle is one among five other principles proposed by Ritzer to outline the concept of Mcdonalization. Indeed, Ritzer says there are five main principles of the concept of Mcdonalization and they include efficiency, calculability, predictability, control, and culture.
The concept of bureaucracy, as proposed by Weber, is similar to Mcdonalization because bureaucracy focuses on quantity as opposed to quality. For example, while focusing on the concept of efficiency (as outlined in Mcdonalization) in a restaurant context; we can see that the concept of McDonalization aims to make hungry people “full”, within the shortest time, and not their experiences while eating.
This process aims at improving efficiency within the organization and increasing a company’s profit margin (quantity over quality).
The Mcdonalization concept also emphasizes on quantifiable aspects of a product, as opposed to the aesthetic aspects of a product. For instance, in fast food restaurants, Mcdonalization implies the preference of “sales” over “taste”. Furthermore, in such bureaucratic organizations, managers would assess workers, based on how fast they work, not the quality of their work.
Stated differently, bureaucracy pays little regard to the quality of work and the welfare of the workers. Instead, it proposes a mechanical perspective of workers as a factor of production, as opposed to human beings. This is the main reason bureaucracy outlines the work of employees as routine, repetitive and predictable.
Generally, Ritzer borrows Weber’s concept of bureaucracy by saying, bureaucracies dehumanize organizations, the same way fast food restaurants do (Mcdonalization). With such concepts in play, a rational thought that generates through a narrow scope of understanding can lead to irrational and undesirable outcomes.
Therefore, Ritzer says that the concept of bureaucracy and Mcdonalization are similar because they both dehumanize organizations and their employees. In other words, Mcdonalization and bureaucracies do not treat people as human beings, but rather, as sources of money.
Discontents with Bureaucracy, According to Kafka and Melville
In a narrative depicting the life of Gregor (an office worker), Kafka and Melville, introduce an interesting understanding of the discontents of bureaucracy, as proposed by Weber. Gregor lost his job when a disastrous misfortune happened in his life.
Through Gregor’s misfortune, Kafka and Melville highlight the struggles of the workplace. For example, for relying on Gregor as the breadwinner, his family and friends experienced significant difficulties in sustaining their lives when Gregor lost his job.
Gregor’s misfortune highlights the discontent of bureaucracy because Gregor replaced his life with his work. He spent most of his time in the office, away from his family. Certainly, the pathos witnessed through Kafka and Melville’s story depicts the tragedy of a man who devoted most of his time to work, such that, when he lost his job, he felt like he lost his life.
This tragedy represents Ritzer’s story when he said that bureaucracy dehumanizes the society. Indeed, even through Gregor’s story, bureaucracy surfaces as a replacement for human lives, and instead of seeing employees as people, bureaucracy sees them as factors of production. Employees therefore “lose their lives” by conforming to bureaucratic principles and fail to enjoy the essence of humanity.
Psychosocial Forces That Bind Bureaucratic Organizations Together
The psychosocial forces that bind bureaucratic organizations center on the forces that keep different groups together in the workplace. However, different groups in the workplace need to be cohesive and work for a specific purpose, as proposed by bureaucratic principles. Through this understanding, it is crucial to introduce the concept of libidinal ties, which uphold group cohesion.
Similarly, through the group cohesion, an organization’s vision and objective may easily suffice. In this analysis, it is easy to question why group ties exist, and why they exist for the intended period.
To answer this question, Feud says that authority and legitimacy of the leader is the main binding factor. Bureaucracies therefore strengthen these organizational ties by prompting employees to accept a higher authority as the legitimate binding factor in an organization.
The above example contrasts with other groups that do not have a leader, or a center of authority. Freud provides an example in the article titled, Two Artificial Groups: the Church and the Army, where he says that an external authority, and not necessarily an authority within the organization, holds certain groups together. For example, external forces hold churches together.
In fact, occasionally, an unseen force (say, God) may prevent the disintegration of such groups. Bureaucratic organizations however differ from such groups because an internal force of authority, say managers, holds them together.
The legitimacy of authority (as wielded by an individual) is therefore a critical psychosocial factor that binds bureaucratic organizations together, and upholds employee unity. The absence of this legitimacy may cause disunity in the organization because people may fall victim to the absence of a binding authority.
Bureaucracy affirms the importance of a point of power (authority) as the main source of legitimacy of an organization’s activity. Therefore, often, people in bureaucratic organizations find solace at this point of authority as their unifying factor. The legitimization of this force is the main psychosocial force that binds bureaucratic organizations together.
After weighing the findings of this paper, bureaucracy stands out as an important organizational tool. However, limitations that center on the technical application and mechanization of labor characterize its application. This attribute manifests through the Mcdonalization concept, which highlights how bureaucracy tramples humanistic factors for the benefit of efficiency, calculability, predictability, control, and culture.
These factors drive the concept of Mcdonalization. Kafka and Melville also share the same views because they narrate how bureaucracy substitutes human lives for work. To both authors, bureaucracy presents an inhuman understanding of employees, and the role they play in the workplace.
Nonetheless, after evaluating the operations of bureaucratic organizations, and the philosophies as proposed by Weber and Ritzer, we see that psychosocial forces uphold bureaucratic organizations. Weber and Freud acknowledge the role played by legitimization and libitidal ties as the main psychosocial forces that uphold bureaucracy in the workplace.
Through these forces, bureaucracies are able to coordinate the work of different employees, thereby establishing group cohesion in the workplace.
The legitimization of a central point of power (that controls these groups) outlines the main forces surrounding the work of such groups. Broadly, Weber, Ritzer and Feud highlight the main strengths and weaknesses of bureaucracies, plus the implications of these weaknesses in an organization.