Weber’s Classical Theory of Bureaucracy The classical theory of bureaucracy, derived from Weber’s work, assumes the structure of a bureaucracy is essentially organised in a rational and efficient manner, and that it is especially designed for the carrying out of particular ends with given means that can be specified and known. Though the ends may differ over time and the availability of means may change, organisation should be sufficiently flexible to take these into account.
Weber saw bureaucracy as facilitating the institutionalisation of technical rationality by the co-ordination of large-scale public and private organisations through the specialisation of tasks, deployment of expertise, and a hierarchy of authority.1 Weber identified the need for bureaucracy arising out of the division of labour and increasing specialisation that separated the roles of individual producers, being the basis for the huge increase in social productivity which many modern achievements are based upon. Weber argued that bureaucracy was the organisational principle of modern life, and was just one way of organising modern life, not the only way, whilst recognising the further advance of bureaucratic mechanisation was inevitable in modern society.2 Significantly, Weber also believed this applied to socialist and capitalist societies alike, incorporating the enterprises within them; political, religious and military which in turn were increasingly bureaucratic.3 To understand how the classical theory of bureaucracy sits within his general thoughts, it is necessary to consider Weber’s theory of legitimate domination.
The phenomena of specialisation of occupational function is central to Weber’s sociology of modern capitalism, being by no means limited to the economic sphere.1 Separation of the labourer from control of her means of production, seized by Marx as the most distinctive feature of modern capitalism is not seen by Weber as being confined to industry, rather extending throughout the polity, army and other sectors of society having prominent large scale organisations.2