Bureaucracy Power in Its Various Institutions Essay

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Bureaucracy According to Weber and Foucault

The word 'bureaucracy' typically carries with it a negative connotation to many Americans. The immediate reaction for most is to characterize an agency described thusly as slow, outmoded and inefficient. Lipsky (2010) indicates that bureaucracies often appear to channel certain prejudices that are inherent biased systems. This is, however, an impression fostered by the quality of the governmental umbrella under which a bureau operates. The bureaucracy as a form of government itself, as we have in the United States, bears certain virtues of effectiveness that may not be found in their absence. From the capacity for procedural standardization to the specialized but interceding areas of focus for a diversity of cooperative agencies, the bureaucracy is the segment of our government with the capacity to attend to the minutiae of public administration while still levying a substantial influence over policy direction. This view is endorsed in the report by Downs (1964), which points out that "not only do bureaus provide employment for a very significant fraction of the world's population. . .. But also they make critical decisions which shape the economic, political, social, and even moral lives of nearly everyone on earth." (Downs, p. 1) Indeed, the bureaucracy is the very unit upon which power is formulated in the United States, with the bulk of treasury resources designated for public use being distributed through these channels.


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In our efforts to understand the way that bureaucracy inclines power dynamics to both positive and negative ends, we consider the views of civic philosophers Max Weber and Michel Foucault. Their respective views on bureaucracy help to inform a more balanced understanding of bureaucracy as it shapes the power dynamics underlying our present form of government.


TOPIC: Essay on Bureaucracy Power in Its Various Institutions Assignment

For his part, Weber discusses bureaucracy as aligning with the notion of Rational-Legal Domination. This suggests that the mechanisms defining modern governance are shaped according to practical functionality and their capacity to execute the many complex duties imposed upon the various agencies of public office. As the text by Olsen (2005), indicates, this is essential to our understanding of bureaucratic necessity. Olsen reports that "bureaucratic organization is part of a repertoire of overlapping, supplementary, and competing forms coexisting in contemporary democracies, and so are market-organization and network-organization. Rediscovering Weber's analysis of bureaucratic organization, then, enriches our understanding of public administration." (Olsen, p. 1)

This is further demonstrated by primary Weber accounts. According to Weber's (1919) Politics as a Vocation, the relationship enjoyed between the notions of rationality and legality is a matter of necessity for the sound and stable maintenance of the nation-state. This combines the logical expectations of the public with the consent to allow its government to govern. Weber explains that "there is domination by virtue of 'legality,' by virtue of the belief in the validity of legal statute and functional 'competence' based on rationally created rules. In this case, obedience is expected in discharging statutory obligations. This is domination as exercised by the modern 'servant of the state' and by all those bearers of power who in this respect resemble him." (p. 1)

Here, Weber speaks of those engaged in the business of government bureaucracy as being subject to the authority of the public in a sense. The expectation that the material realities of governance and tax collection will be manifested in the performance of its duties is said to behold the state or federal agency. The carceral organizational theory described by Foucault, however, casts these roles to exactly the contrary. Here, Foucault expresses the idea that our society and culture have altered considerably the way that we relate to our government. In one sense, modern governments have been required to withdraw from many of the more barbaric and violent modes of legal enforcement that were common through history. But Foucault warns that this has wrought a different mode of authoritarianism altogether that has persisted in unraveling the individuality, privacies and entitlements that have often been used to justify such brutality. Felluga (2002) reports that "by carceral culture, Foucault refers to a culture in which the panoptic model of surveillance has been diffused as a principle of social organization, affecting such disparate things as the university classroom (see right for a prison school that resembles some classroom auditoriums); urban planning (organized on a grid structure to facilitate movement but also to discourage concealment); hospital and factory architecture; and so on." (Felluga, 1)

This is to suggest that in our increasing dependence on a benevolent system of governmentally regulated agencies and organizations, we have increasingly ceded our individuality in favor of the broader mechanisms of government, state and nation. Here, where Weber has placed the public in a position of authority over government bureaucracies, Foucault has instead placed the bureaucracy in a position of utmost authority. In a sense, this is the far-reaching arm of the government which keeps the public apart from its leadership. This creates a dynamic of power and dependency that Foucault refers to as the Panopticon. Here, "as Foucault puts it, the Panopticon is polyvalent in its applications; it serves to reform prisoner, but also to treat patients, to instruct schoolchildren, to confine the insane, to supervise workers, to put beggars and idlers to work. It is a type of location of bodies in space, of distribution of individuals in relation to one another, of hierarchical organization, of disposition of centres and channels of power, of definition of the instruments and modes of intervention of power, which can be implemented in hospitals, workshops, schools, prisons." (Felluga, 1)

This is the bureaucracy which Meier (1993) speaks of in his analysis of current public policy and the political process. In his primer on the subject of America's multi-agency civil administration structure, the public policy professor re-introduces his reader to the bureaucracy as a functional model for policy-enforcement by contextualizing it according to some familiar examples of American governmental effectiveness and by categorizing its centricity in the variant appendages of a massive administrative responsibility such as maintaining the operational order of the United States.

Accordingly, Meier submits that the negative regard for which the 'bureaucratic agency' -- as a generic term for a procedurally inflexible, impersonal and disenfranchising governmental organization -- is a misapprehension of both the meaning of bureaucracy and the causes of agency shortcomings. To the contrary of this impression, he argues that a well-run bureaucratic agency will rather be the most accessible entry point to contact with one's government at the municipal, state or city level. Hired civilian employees function through these agencies as extremities of the policy aims of the officials we collectively elect. Thus, these agencies might be considered our liaison to those in public office. This elucidates a relationship which is crucial to understanding the way that the bureaucracy works and what factors impact its level of efficiency. The author explains that the bureaucracy operates according to its best levels of proficiency when it possesses both the 'autonomy' and the 'resources' in simultaneity to accomplish its goals. (Meier, p.13)

With the goals defined by legislative intent, autonomy nonetheless grants the agency to use internally sensitive methods of discernment to shape procedure, to streamline its policy approach and to implement policy according to its understanding of public opinion, established best-practices or even innovative new perspectives on agency responsibilities. These independent functions are seen, according to Niskanen, as the mechanisms by which the state's interests relate to those of the individual. According to Niskanen, "most of the literature on bureaucracy, from Confucius to Weber, proceeds from an organic concept of the state, that is, a concept of a state for which the preferences of individuals are subordinate to certain organic goals of the state." (Niskanen, p. 5)

This is consistent with our reading on Weber's ideas, suggesting that the bureaucratic agency will ultimately attend to its responsibilities because its continuing survivability and the survivability of the form of government which it legitimizes will depend upon it. Accordingly, Weber tells that "to maintain a dominion by force, certain material goods are required, just as with an economic organization. All states may be classified according to whether they rest on the principle that the staff of men themselves own the administrative means, or whether the staff is 'separated' from these means of administration. This distinction holds in the same sense in which today we say that the salaried employee and the proletarian in the capitalistic enterprise are 'separated' from the material means of production. The power-holder must be able to count on the obedience of the staff members, officials, or whoever else they may be." (Weber, p. 1)

This obedience must occur at the bureaucratic level and must be demonstrated by the functionality of the agency without the constant attention of the executive offices of government.

It is crucial that in conjunction with this hands-off approach, the legislative and executive branches reinforce their confidence in the orientation of such agencies and the practicability of their legislation by endowing such organizations with the proper range of… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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