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The term bureaucracy may refer both to a body of non-elected governing officials and to an administrative policy-making group. Historically, a bureaucracy was a government administration managed by departments staffed with non-elected officials. Today, bureaucracy is the administrative system governing any large institution, whether publicly owned or privately owned. The public administration in many jurisdictions and sub-jurisdictions exemplifies bureaucracy, but so does the centralized hierarchical structure of a business firm.

Bureaucracy in a political theory is mainly a centralized form of management and tends to be differentiated from adhocracy, in which management tends more to decentralization.

Various commentators have argued for the necessity of bureaucracies in modern society. The German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) argued that bureaucracy constitutes the most efficient and rational way in which human activity can be organized and that systematic processes and organized hierarchies are necessary to maintain order, to maximize efficiency, and to eliminate favoritism. On the other hand, Weber also saw unfettered bureaucracy as a threat to individual freedom, with the potential of trapping individuals in an impersonal "iron cage" of rule-based, rational control.

Modern bureaucracy has been defined as comprising four features:

  • hierarchy (clearly defined spheres of competence and divisions of labor)
  • continuity (a structure where administrators have a full-time salary and advance within the structure)
  • impersonality (prescribed rules and operating rules rather than arbitrary actions)
  • expertise (officials are chosen according to merit, have been trained, and hold access to knowledge)


Etymology and usage

The term "bureaucracy" originated in the French language: it combines the French word bureau – desk or office – with the Greek word κράτος (kratos) – rule or political power.


A bureaucrat is a member of a bureaucracy and can compose the administration of any organization of any size, though the term usually connotes someone within an institution of government. Bureaucrat jobs were often "desk jobs" (the French for "desk" being bureau, though bureau can also be translated as "office"), though the modern bureaucrat may be found "in the field" as well as in an office.

The arts

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Bureaucracy" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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