Pub. date: 2009 | Online Pub. Date: December 16, 2008 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412963992 | Print ISBN: 9781412906784 | Online ISBN: 9781412963992| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
Susan Krebs & Rodney Muth
The original French word bureau denoted the baize material used to cover the top of a desk. The Greek suffixes kratia and kratos mean “power” or “rule.” Thus, bureaucracy literally means to rule from a desk or office to conduct governmental affairs. Alternatively, bureaucracy is an instrument used by big business to define means of production. As a sociological concept, bureaucracy specifies the objective discharge of business, through hierarchical administrative structures, according to calculable rules without regard for personal prerogatives or preferences, transforming social inclinations into rationally organized action. This entry briefly describes how bureaucracy works and then looks at the most prominent explanatory theories. In bureaucracies, complex tasks are broken into individual activities and assigned as official duties that clearly define the responsibilities, rights, scope or authority, and competencies of the office. Rationality determines rules and procedures that are administered by trained experts, and objective purposes guide the conduct ...