Bureaucracy: An Instrument for Whom and for what Purpose?

Johan P. Olsen

in Governing through Institution Building

Published in print September 2010 | ISBN: 9780199593934
Published online September 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191594632 | DOI:
Bureaucracy: An Instrument for Whom and for what Purpose?

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The democratic‐instrumental vision prescribes that public administration shall be a tool for preparing and executing policies and the will of the people. However, little is said about how administrative performance depends on how it is organized and how democracies best balance majority and non‐majority institutions. Chapter 5 conceives bureaucracy as a composite organization founded on three coexisting normative and organizational principles: formal-hierarchical position, legal rules, and expert knowledge. External relations are channelled through three gatekeeping institutions: legislatures, courts, and universities. There has not been a monotonic development towards an inevitable victory for bureaucratic organization, as argued by Weber, or towards de-bureaucratization, as argued by his critics. Both predictions assume context‐free principles that are functionally and normatively superior, resulting in convergence on a dominant model. This view contrasts with the observations that administrative practice and ideas have been closely linked to the territory, institutions, history, politics, and culture of specific polities.

Keywords: bureaucracy; democracy; non‐majority institutions; gate‐keeping institutions; composite organization; public administration; context‐free principles; Weber

Chapter.  11175 words. 

Subjects: Comparative Politics

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