Choice‐Theoretic Approaches to Bureaucratic Structure

Jonathan Bendor and Thomas H. Hammond

in The Oxford Handbook of American Bureaucracy

Published in print October 2010 | ISBN: 9780199238958
Published online January 2011 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of American Politics

Choice‐Theoretic Approaches to Bureaucratic Structure

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This article summarizes several major choice-theoretic approaches to bureaucratic structure. It begins by presenting the contributions of four choice-theoretic approaches to the understanding of bureaucratic structure: social choice theory (SCT), noncooperative game theory, normative theories of choice under uncertainty, and theories of boundedly rational decision making. It also presents an overview of each perspective. SCT highlights a central feature of decision making in democracies: it is a collective choice process. These four choice-theoretic approaches to bureaucratic structure are important for understanding American bureaucracy. The article then turns to six major ways in which SCT can debunk claims about the structures of public agencies. The six relate to Pareto-optimal structures, the ‘inheritance’ thesis, ‘chaos’ theorems, unrealistic aspirations regarding bureaucratic structure, the impossibility of a neutral hierarchy, and information aggregation. It is believed that every important aspect of organizational structure and bureaucratic design can be illuminated by choice-theoretic approaches.

Keywords: bureaucratic structure; social choice theory; noncooperative game theory; normative theories of choice; uncertainty; boundedly rational decision making; American bureaucracy

Article.  11603 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; Political Economy ; US Politics

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