Maybe it is time to rediscover bureaucracy

Olsen, J. P.
January 2006
Journal of Public Administration Research & Theory;1/1/2006, Vol. 16 Issue 1, p1
Academic Journal
This article questions the fashionable ideas that bureaucratic organization is an obsolescent, undesirable, and non-viable form of administration, and that there is an inevitable and irreversible paradigmatic shift towards market- or network-organization. In contrast, the paper argues that contemporary democracies are involved in another round in a perennial debate and ideological struggle over what are desirable forms of administration and government: that is, a struggle over institutional identities and institutional balances. The argument is not that bureaucratic organization is a panacea and the answer to all challenges of public administration. Rather, 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. This is in particular true when we (a) include bureaucracy as an institution, not only an instrument; (b) look at the empirical studies in their time and context, not only at Weber's ideal-types and predictions; and (c) take into account the political and normative order bureaucracy is part of, not only the internal characteristics of "the bureau."


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