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Life With Bureaucracies

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1234 words
Social Issues

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Primary groups, which are parents, relatives, and friends, play an important role in our lives. Today, however, we spend most of our time in secondary groups such as schools, factories, government offices, or banks. We refer to these types of organizations as formal organizations, which are large, special purpose groups that are explicitly designed to achieve specific goals. Like other groups, formal organizations are characterized by unique, and complex sets of interrelated statuses, roles, and norms. Formal organizations also involve clearly established rules, regulations, and standards of conduct that are designed to coordinate people's behavior to achieve specific organizational goals, thus giving way to what we define as bureaucracies. Almost everyone has experienced some aspect of being involved with a bureaucracy in settings such as schools, colleges, religion, and the workplace.
The sociologist Max Weber characterized bureaucracies as rationally created formal organizations that dominate modern societies, have hierarchical level of control, and are based on specific rules of procedure. Weber recognized that bureaucracies existed in preindustrial societies such as ancient Egypt, ancient China, and in the Roman and Byzantine empires. It was not until recently, however, with the emergence of large societies based on complex technologies, that bureaucracies come to permeate people's daily lives. The reason seems simple. Spontaneous, casual, and personal relationships, such as those found in primary groups, are inefficient when it comes to coordinating the activities of large groups of people working towards specific goals. Imagine trying to build a library with no hierarchical authority among the workers or with no rules of procedure. If no workers felt like mixing cement, the walls could not be built. If the electricians decided to spend the day at the beach, the drywallers could not construct the walls. To cope with these problems, the trend in modern societies has been toward rationalization (the replacement of shifting and ambiguous rules of procedure with specific rules that are based on the best way to achieve practical goals). This growing rationality has brought out the most efficient ways of procedure. This rationality has also brought the development, and continued use of bureaucracies.
Bureaucracies are based on ideal types, which are abstract descriptions based on many observations of actual bureaucracies. An ideal type highlights the essential features of such organizations. Although no bureaucracy fits its ideal type exactly, Weber identified six characteristics that make bureaucracies distinctive (Bendix, 1962).
First, bureaucracies are characterized by a division of labor. Each person in the organization is responsible for a specific role or specialized set of tasks at which that person is to become proficient. Here at SIUC, for example, we turn to the campus police rather than the physics department for traffic control and to the food service rather than the registrar to prepare a luncheon.
Second, bureaucracies also have a hierarchy of authority that specifies the chain of command. The hierarchy is normally pyramidal, with each person responsive to a particular person above, and responsible for the activities of particular people below. Without a hierarchy of control, there would be little centralized control. At SIUC, faculty members have authority over students in that they can require the students to write papers such as this particular one that I am doing, and take the examinations that I have to take in order to pass this class. In turn, the faculty are accountable to the chairpersons of their departments and the deans of their college, or school.
Third, people's conduct and job responsibilities in a bureaucracy are governed by formal rules and procedures or norms that typically appear in written form. At SIUC, for example, the university bulletin is a set of rules that specifies what each student must do in order to receive a degree. One university bulletin, for example, specifies that a sociology major must complete 124 credit hours, including 38 hours of research and course work. By following these guidelines, it is possible to get a positive sanction (a reward such as praise, or in this instance graduation). Another example of the University's written rules are those of University Housing. One such rule is no alcohol in the dorms if you are under 21 years of age. If you break this rule, then you might be issued a negative sanction, which is a fine or removal from the campus.
Fourth, specialized skills and knowledge are established as criteria for occupying a position in the bureaucracy. At SIUC, faculty positions require a certain educational background and research experience, usually including a Ph.D. The coal plant engineer that is responsible for maintaining the coal drive system, may have been promoted from apprentice positions in the university.
Fifth, many positions in the bureaucracy are full-time occupations, with career ladders and advancement occurring within the organization. This aspect of bureaucracies enhances their stability over time and commitment of people to the organization. Advancement is usually determined by merit, seniority, or both. Other criteria such as friendship or family ties are generally not considered, at least not openly, because they might result in positions being filled by unqualified people.
Finally, relationships in bureaucracies are ideally characterized by impartiality and impersonality of offices and positions. People relate to one another as positions rather than as individuals with special needs and qualities, because personal considerations might interfere with efficiency and fairness. College professors assign grades based on students' performance, not on the basis of how friendly, interested, or enthusiastic they appear to be in class. To do otherwise might result in unqualified people receiving college degrees. However, when we apply bureaucracy to large numbers of people, we tend to take care of these problems.
With the recent population growth this century, there would be all kinds of problems now, especially if everyone was dealt with on a one-on-one basis. That is why the government incorporated the use of bureaucracy, where everyone would be treated equally, and would be taken care of by using particular routines. If all of the population did organization, the world would be in chaos and confusion. That is what bureaucracies set out to prevent. That is why bureaucracy seems to be better for some tasks than others.
An example of bureaucracy being applied to a large population is that of the Anheuser Bucsh Beer Incorporation. At this company, work has been broken down into many special tasks such as management, manufacturing, packing, delivering, and also employees are assigned to one a few more tasks, including the tasks of coordinating the work of other people. Further more, Anhueser Bucsh is broken down into many divisions, each specializing in one of the tasks in the elaborate process of bringing beer from the icehouse to the customer. This specialization, as said by Weber is essential to functional division of labor, which is the incorporation of written rules, regulations, and procedure.
Another example of a bureaucracy is the school system. It places emphasis on secondary relationships. The bureaucratic schedule that it operates on teaches children what to expect in the business world and the government, where they will spend most of their lives. Bureaucracy seems to be the best way to process large numbers of students into the impersonal, competitive career world than any other form of organization. It has a division of labor such as students and workers. The hierarchy is as follows: student, teacher, principal, president, superintendent, government. There are written rules and regulations that govern ...

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