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Professional corps of officials organized in a pyramidal hierarchy and functioning under impersonal, uniform rules and procedures. Its characteristics were first formulated systematically by Max Weber, who saw in the bureaucratic organization a highly developed division of labour, authority based on administrative rules rather than personal allegiance or social custom, and a rational and impersonal institution whose members function more as offices than as individuals. For Weber, bureaucracy was a form of legalistic domination inevitable under capitalism. Later writers saw in bureaucracy a tendency to concentrate power at the top and become dictatorial, as occurred in the Soviet Union. Robert K. Merton emphasized its red tape and inefficiency due to blind conformity to procedures. More recent theories have stressed the role of managerial cliques, occupational interest groups, or individual power-seekers in creating politicized organizations characterized by internal conflict.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on bureaucracy, visit Britannica.com.