Monday, April 7, 2014

Bureaucratic System Approach to Comparative Public Administration

The bureaucratic system approach to comparative public administration is based on the  “ideal type” model of bureaucracy propounded by Max Weber. It remains the single most  influential model in the field. Weber’s ideal type of bureaucracy depicts administrative staff in legal-rational authority system but now the word bureaucracy is used for all types of administrative systems. The Weberian construct has served a great heuristic purpose for furthering the research in comparative public administration. Morroe Berger, Alfred Diamant, Ferrel Heady, Michael Crozier and Robert Presthus are some of he scholars who have contributed in the study of comparative bureaucratic systems. The interaction between administrative sub-system and the political system around it remains the main focus of most of these studies in comparative bureaucracy. The impact of Max Weber on the study of comparative bureaucracies can be gauged from the fact that emergence of emphasis on comparative public administration in USA started only after German immigration after 1933 and the translation of the writings of Max Weber into English.

Max Weber’s bureaucratic theory and its criticism have been described in detail earlier in the Article on “Administrative Thought”. Here it would be pertinent to discuss its influence in enunciating the bureaucratic approach to comparative public administration.

The Bureaucratic Approach

In the Weberian model of bureaucracy, some aspects of structural features like career system, merit as the sole criterion for appointment, security of tenure to officials and separation of ownership & management give an impression that Weber was aware of the external social, cultural and political influences that might hinder the functioning of the administrative sub-system. So he wanted to prevent such obstructions in his ideal type of legal-rational authority. To this extent the bureaucratic model of Max Weber seems to recognize the interaction between bureaucracies and its external environment though is recognition is only implicit.

However there is a complete lack of analysis of impact of dynamic changes of external environment on bureaucracy in the ideal models of Weber. So there is a need to analyse systemic administrative change in the context of changing socio-political environment in order to fully comprehend the problems countered in the path to administrative development.

Notwithstanding these limitations Weber’s “ideal type" model remain unmatched in their relative advantages of simplicity, broadness, clarity and rigorous analysis. Fred W. Riggs has noted that Weber’s analysis has stimulated two broad types of studies:

  1. Those studies which accept the Weberian analysis and try to discover different bureaucratic features in different empirical administrative systems in different times and places e. g. studies emphasizing “structural” and “functional” aspects of bureaucracy belong to this category.

  2. Those studies which focus on constructing new typologies intended to modify Weberian formulation e. g. Ferrel Heady has given his own formulations based on the contextual conditions of different countries.

The studies which emphasise “structural” aspects of bureaucracy see hierarchy, specialization, merit based selection, career system etc. as the main points of study e. g. Ferrel Heady has mentioned structural characteristics as the most useful way to view bureaucracies. He suggests comparing bureaucracies on the basis of their “structural profiles”. Almost all the contemporary administrative systems today have structural features like hierarchy, specialization, merit based recruitment, co-ordination mechanism etc. So Weber’s bureaucratic model has served a great heuristic purpose in comparative public administration.

Though the term “bureaucracy” in its expanded form could mean whole range of “public officials” but in the literature of comparative public administration the term has been used mainly for the “middle” or “top” management officials since officials at this level only are able to influence and implement public policies. The term has further been expanded to include both military and non-career public officials. This is because military officials man some of the important positions in the administrative systems of many countries like Pakistan, Thailand, many Latin American & African countries etc. Also in many of the countries e.g. in Europe & America many “non-career” public officials are appointed to key administrative positions. This aspect has also been emphasized by Riggs in his definition of bureaucracy as “public executive bureaucracy including career and non-career civil and military bureaucracy”. These aspects of the term bureaucracy are quite different from what Weber envisaged and so the scholars of comparative public administration should clearly specify what meaning they attach to the term “bureaucracy while using it.

The Bureaucratic System Approach to Comparative Public AdministrationBureaucracy is only one of the "sub-systems’’ part of the larger general social system. The studies emphasizing "functional” aspects of bureaucracy focus on the consequences of the bureaucratic behavior on other sub-systems. These studies are of two types: first which see bureaucracy as rationalizing the collective activities and second which see bureaucratic behavior as “pathological" or “dysfunctional”.

The first category is in consonance with the Weber’s concept of bureaucratic rationality e. g. Carl Friedrich has mentioned four behavioural features of bureaucracy viz objectivity, discretion, precision and consistency. These features enhance bureaucracy’s capacity to  achieve its own as well as of the larger social system’s objectives in a “rational” manner. Riggs has called such features as “bureau-rationality”. These studies emphasise the positive aspects of the bureaucratic behavior.

The second type of studies relating to the functional aspects of bureaucracy is those which view bureaucracy from “pathological” or “dysfunctional” aspects i. e. from negative perspective. In fact the bureaucratic behavior has been generally associated with these aspects rather than its rationality. It has been found that bureaucrats are rule bound and insensitive to the needs of the clients. Bureaucratic procedures are long drawn and result in delayed decision making. All this causes frustration to citizens and clients. Victor Thompson has called these characteristics as “bureau pathology”. Michael Crozier in his book "The Bureaucratic Phenomenon” has mainly dealt with these bureau pathologies of French bureaucracy.

However, “bureau pathology” and “bureau rationality’’should be seen in regard to with i regard to the broad social consequences of the bureaucratic action and not based on some ‘preconceived’ set of behavioural traits. In fact, the functionality of bureaucratic action is situational. Any bureaucratic action or behavior may be pathological in one situation and rational in another situation. For example, strict adherence to the law may  be rational in the enforcement of criminal law but may be pathological if it denies or delays the relief to the victims of natural calamities. Similarly the same pathological behavior may have different origins in different political systems. For example, a pathological delay in decision making may be due to over commitment in a Western country and due to under commitment to rationality in under developed countries. The crux is that whether a bureaucratic behavior is pathological or rational should be seen in particular administrative ecological settings and in its contribution towards achieving the developmental goals of that particular society.

These studies encompassing “structural” and “functional” aspects of bureaucracies of different societies mainly emphasise the effect of social environment on the administrative systems and not vice versa. This is a general lacunae in the bureaucratic system approach. For this approach to be really comparative and dynamic this aspect has to be worked upon by the scholars of bureaucratic approach to comparative public administration.

We now turn to the second category of studies which concentrate on constructing new typologies. Like that of Max Weber most of these typologies are based on the inter­relationship between administrative sub-system and political system. Ferrel Heady has given a typology for classifying administrative systems of both developed and developing countries. According to this typology their bureaucracies can be classified as under:

  1. “Classic” Administrative Systems e. g. France & Germany - They are called classic because they confirm most closely to the ideal type bureaucracy of Max Weber. These countries are marked by bureaucratic continuity despite having vigorous political instabilities.

  2. “The Civic Culture” Administrative Systems e. g. Great Britain & the United States - Their political development has been marked by relative stability and thus has a mark on their administrative systems also. Their political systems didn’t have violent discontinuities.

  3. Modernizing Administrative Systems e. g. Japan - In such administrative systems bureaucracy played a leading part in the transformation to a modernized and developed society.

  4. Administration under Communism e. g. the erstwhile USSR - One party administration mixed with politics is regarded as a means for the propagation of party line and the objectives of the top leadership.

  5. Traditional Autocratic Bureaucratic Systems e. g. Yemen & Saudi Arabia - These are most traditional in their styles and the dominant political elites are there due to the long standing social system.

  6. Strongman Military Systems or Personalist Regimes e. g. many of the Latin American countries & sub-Saharan Africa - These are characterized by one man rule by a leader who invariably comes from military background.

  7. Collegial Military Systems or Corporatist Regimes e. g. South Korea in 1960s - A groups of military officers i. e. military ‘oligarchy’ exercise political leadership in such countries,.

  8. Bureaucratic Elite Systems Replacing a Traditional Elite e. g. Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Thailand - A current bureaucratic elite replaces a traditional elite in such countries.

  9. Bureaucratic Elite Systems Successor to a Colonial Tradition e. g. Pakistan & Burma - In such countries bureaucratic elites of the colonial times take political control gradually after independence.

  10. Bureaucratic Elite Systems with Corporate Technocratic Orientation e. g. Brazil, Peru, Phillipines - In the name of expertise and science bureaucratic elites whether civilian or military or both take precedence over the politics.

  11. Polyarchal Competitive Systems e. g. India, Sri Lanka - It is party prominent political regime where political competition is there among well organized political groupings for shift in power relationships without much disruptions.

  12. Dominant Party Semicompetitive Systems e. g. Mexico - It is non-dictatorial one party dominated system in which other parties also exist legally and the dominant paty could be displaced from power if challenged successfully.

  13. Dominant Party Mobilization Systems e. g. Egypt, Liberia - In such systems dominant party is the only legal party, other parties, if exist, are for symbolic purposes only.

  14. Communist Totalitarian Systems e. g. North Korea - They have a totalitarian political style.

Similary Merle Fainsod has described five types of bureaucracies based on their relationship with the political system. The main features of these types are mentioned below :

1. Ruler Dominated Bureaucracy

Under this pattern the political head of the nation is also the head of the bureaucracy. The seninor positions in the bureaucracy are also manned by the people belonging to the royal and aristocratic families. Basically the bureaucracy is more or less a personal instrument of the autocratic ruler and its main function is to strengthen his control over his people. In these countries, the bureaucracy has a subservient role except that some bureaucrats may exercise great influence due to their proximity to the ruler. Such a situation prevails in countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait etc.

2. Military Dominated Bureaucracy

Under this pattern, the military is very powerful. In some cases they even decide as to who should be the head of the state. There are frequent coups and changes of Government. These regimes lay stress on the military virtues of hierarchy and discipline as against the processes of persuasion and discussion. Although the high political positions are manned by military officers, the civil bureaucracy often remains strong. This is so probably on account of the dependence of the military officers on the expert advice of civil bureaucracy in administrative matters. The obvious examples of this system are found in countries like Pakistan, Thailand etc.

3. Party State Bureaucracy

Under this pattern, one party dominates political system and the bureaucracy. In fact, most of the senior bureaucratic positions are manned by the party members. This is the situation prevailing in most of the communist countries like China, Cuba etc. In such a system party cadres control bureaucracy at all levels. Almost similar situation prevails in countries with strong charismatic leadership. This situation prevails in many African countries.

4. Ruling Bureaucracy

In this system, political system is either absent or is in its infancy. The bureaucracy then becomes the de facto ruler. Such a system may prevail under a colonial rule where the administration in the field functions almost autonomously with minimum direction from the colonizing power. The local government exercises almost full control over the subjects and this local government comprises only the bureaucrats. This domination of political scene by the bureaucrats makes them very powerful. They exercise powers in political and administrative matters. However, such a rule by bureaucrats requires legitimization from some political source like a colonial power or a figure head monarch.

5. Representative Bureaucracy

This type of bureaucracy is found in a competitive political process. Here the political process is dominated by various caste groups etc. which give rise to the competitive political process. They try to accommodate the interests of each other in the bureaucracy and a representative bureaucracy is the result. This has the effect of modifying many of the concepts of Weber’s ideal construct.


Similarly Morstein Marx categorises bureaucracy into four main types. These are

Guardian Bureaucracy

Such type of bureaucracy is considered to be the custodian of justice and welfare of the society. Though such type of bureaucracy is supposed to uphold the ‘public interest’ still it was unresponsive to the public opinion. Right conduct and moral attitude were the reasons of its influence on power. Though efficiency, benevolence and righteousness were the hallmarks of such type of bureaucracy still it was authoritarian in its approach.

Caste Bureaucracy

Only higher caste people could become part of such bureaucracy e. g. in ancient India only higher caste persons could be part of ruling elite and in England aristocratic families used to occupy civil service positions.

Patronage Bureaucracy or Spoils System

In such a system the civil service posts are distributed as political favours to the supporters of the ruling party. Such a system prevailed in USA and UK. It was marked by lack of competence and merit.

Merit Bureaucracy

In such a system bureaucratic officials are selected through competitive examinations based on merit. Though merit based recruitment is there in such bureaucracy still political control is there on it.

Thus we see that the bureaucratic approach to comparative public administration proves to be quite useful in comparing the administrative sub-systems in different contextual settings. Though the ideal type bureaucracy of Max Weber is based on the premises of efficiency and rationality yet with the help of some alterations & revisions different typologies have been created to suit the actual conditions existing in different countries especially the developing ones. But still Weber’s bureaucratic model is so dominant in the study of comparative public administration that Dwight Waldo goes to the extent of calling it as a “paradigm” of public administration.


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