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Problems of Bureaucracy

Problems of Bureaucracy

Author: Paul Hannan

Identify the various bureaucratic problems that can occur in society.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain, Images from, Public Domain

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to this episode of Sociology, Studies of Society. Today's lesson is on problems with bureaucracy. As always, don't be afraid to pause, stop, rewind, or even fast forward to make sure get the most out of this tutorial.


So in the modern world, bureaucracies have become fairly common. But there are some systematic problems that crop up with a big bureaucracy. And we're going to go through those in today's lesson.

The first one that I'd like to talk about is bureaucratic alienation. And this is an idea proposed by Weber. And this idea here is that bureaucracies really can cause a problem because humans are dehumanized. They're not really seen as individual humans. Instead, they're seen as a commodity, as an item, as machines. But the individual human is not really seen as an individual.

The second problem with a bureaucracy that I'm going to talk about today is ritualism. Now, this was opposed by Merton. And Merton argued that bureaucracies can really undermine themselves. They can really hurt themselves because they rely so much, like foundationally, they rely so much on these rules. But these rules sometimes can get in the way of a job, of them doing their job.

So in the picture, you have a picture of red tape. Red tape is often a term synonymous with bureaucracy, and just the idea that there are so many rules in the way, that this red tape stops you from getting done what you need to and want to get done. So in some ways, you almost become beholden to the rules, versus beholden to the objectives of the bureaucracy.

Another problem with democracy that Weber talked about was inertia. Now, this is the idea that bureaucracies stop being effective because they start to worry so much about their own job security and the security of their own organization that they lose track of what the real goal of the bureaucracy is. So individuals will expand and replicate their organization to try to grow the organization, because that makes them more powerful, makes the organizational powerful, even if that's not necessarily good for what the bureaucracy is attempting to do, what its goals are.

The last problem with bureaucracy we're going to look at today is oligarchy. Now, this is an idea that a very small group of people hold all the institutional power. And there's been arguments made that in bureaucracies, you're very, very likely to have all the power eventually consolidate into this small group of people. And so, a bureaucracy isn't worried about all of its members. Instead, this small group of people makes all the decisions for the whole organization.

So today's takeaway message-- today we learned about bureaucratic alienation, which is the idea that bureaucracies can have a disadvantage because they dehumanize people. We also learned about bureaucratic ritualism, which is the idea that bureaucracies rely so much on rules that these rules can stop them from doing the job they've set out to do.

We learned about bureaucratic inertia, which is the idea that bureaucracies stopped being effective because they worried so much about their own security, both organizationally and individually for their jobs. And then we learned about oligarchy. And that it's the idea that a really small group people hold all the power in the institution.

Well, that's it for this lesson. Good work. And hopefully you'll be seeing you on the screen again soon. Peace.

Terms to Know
Bureaucratic Alienation

A sense of powerlessness caused by the impersonal and dehumanizing features of bureaucracy.

Bureaucratic Inertia

The tendency of bureaucratic organizations to perpetuate and recreate themselves.

Bureaucratic Ritualism

A steadfast insistence on following the rules and regulations of a bureaucracy to the point of potentially undermining the bureau's goals.


When a few people rule many people.