Max Weber’s Theory of Bureaucracy

He wrote about the emergence of bureaucracy from more traditional organisational forms (like feudalism) and it’s rising pre-eminence in modern society.


Max Weber

Max Weber (1864-1920), was a German sociologist. He proposed different characteristics found in effective bureaucracies that would effectively conduct decision-making, control resources, protect workers and accomplish organisational goals. Weber’s contributions were indented to supplant old organisational structures that existed in the earlier periods of industrialisation. He wrote about the emergence of bureaucracy from more traditional organisational forms (like feudalism) and it’s rising pre-eminence in modern society.

As a German academic, Weber was primarily interested in the reasons behind the employees’ actions and in why people who work in an organisation accept the authority of their superiors and comply with the rules of the organisation.

Background of Max Weber’s bureaucratic model

Weber’s focus on the trend of rationalisation led him to concern himself with the operation and expansion of large-scale enterprises in both the public and private sectors of modern societies. Bureaucracy can be considered to be a particular case of rationalisation, or rationalisation applied to human organisation. Bureaucratic coordination of human action, Weber believed, is the distinctive mark of modern social structures. In order to study these organisations, both historically and in contemporary society, Weber developed the characteristics of an ideal-type bureaucracy:

Hierarchy of authority
Written rules of conduct
Promotion based on achievement
Specialised division of labour

Bureaucracy is goal-oriented

According to Weber, bureaucracies are goal-oriented organisations designed according to rational principles in order to efficiently attain their goals. Offices are ranked in a hierarchical order, with information flowing up to the chain of command, directives flowing down. Operations of the organisations are characterised by impersonal rules that explicitly state duties, responsibilities, standardised procedures and conduct of office holders. Offices are highly specialised. Appointments to these offices are made according to specialised qualifications rather than ascribed criteria. All of these ideal characteristics have one goal, to promote the efficient attainment of the organization’s goals.

Characteristics of bureaucratic model

Each characteristic is described in relation to which traditional features of administrative systems they were intended to succeed.

Management by Rule

A bureaucracy follows a consistent set of rules that control the functions of the organisation. Management controls the lower levels of the organisation’s hierarchy by applying established rules in a consistent and predictable manner.

Firm division of labour

The jurisdictional areas are clearly specified, and each area has a specific set of official duties and rights that cannot be changed.

This division of labour should minimise arbitrary assignments of duties found in more traditional structures, in which the division of labour was not firm and regular, and in which the leader could change duties at any time.

Formal hierarchy of offices

Each office is controlled and supervised by a higher ranking office. However, lower offices maintain a right to appeal decisions made higher in the hierarchy.

This replaces a more traditional system, in which power and authority relations are more diffuse, and not based on a clear hierarchical order.

Rational/ defined legal authority

A bureaucracy is founded on rational-legal authority. This type of authority rests on the belief in the “legality” of formal rules and hierarchies, and in the right of those elevated in the hierarchy to possess authority and issue commands. Authority is given to officials based on their skills, position and authority placed formally in each position.

Creation of rules to govern performance

Rules are specified to govern official decisions and actions. These formal rules are relatively stable, exhaustive and easily understood. This supplants old systems, in which rules were either ill-defined or stated vaguely, and in which leaders could change the rules for conducting the daily work arbitrarily.

Separation of personal from official property and rights

Official property rights concerning e.g. machines or tools belong to the office or department ‘not the officeholder. Personal property is separated from official property. This supplants earlier systems, in which personal and official property rights were not separated to the needed extent.

Selection based on qualifications

Officials are recruited based on qualifications, and are appointed, not elected, to the office. People are compensated with a salary, and are not compensated with benefits such as rights to land, power etc.

Clear career paths/security of tenure

Employment in the organisations is seen as a career for officials. An official is a full-time employee, and anticipates a lifelong career. After an introduction period, the employee is given tenure, which protects the employee from arbitrary dismissal.

Written Document

All decisions, rules and actions taken by the organisation are formulated and recorded in writing. Written documents ensure that there is continuity of the organisation’s policies and procedures.

Max Weber’s model?a model for Pakistan’s bureaucracy

According to Max Weber, these bureaucratic elements can be taken and applied as solutions and guidelines for the problems or defects existing within earlier and more traditional administrative systems in Pakistan. These elements if viewed and applied aptly, can contribute as a part of the whole system that by combining and instituting effectively, can increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the administrative structure.

This bureaucratic structure can to a greater extent protect employees in Pakistan from arbitrary rulings from leaders, and can potentially give a greater sense of security to the employees.

Additionally, the bureaucratic structure can create an opportunity for employees to become specialists within one specific area, which would increase the effectiveness and efficiency in each area of the organisation.

Finally, when rules for performance are relatively stable, employees will be having a greater possibility to act creatively within the realm of their respective duties and sub-tasks, and to find creative ways to accomplish rather stable goals and targets.


In a nutshell, Max Weber’s theory of bureaucracy is relevant in Pakistan also. Tightly organized hierarchy, fixed rules, division of labour and no emotional attachments are the attributes of this model. Pakistan’s bureaucratic model is mainly an outcome of max Weber’s philosophy.  The most important of all, the bureaucrats are devoid of emotional attachments. There are fixed rules and regulation which they have to follow in the daily routine. However, there is some deviation from this particular phenomenon.

By: Haseeb Gohar


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