University of Oxford

Zohar Ben-Asher – Bureaucracy, Organisation And Political Change

Bureaucracy, Organisation and Political Change

A Critical Analysis of Approaches to the Study of Organisation

Zohar Ben-Asher

It is of rather common agreement that organisation, at least originally, was formed in order to pursue the common interests of specific groups.[1] It is far from being agreed, however, what roles are played by various sorts of internal organisational structures, especially when somehow related to political change.

Weber, for example, perceived politics in terms of dispositions over weapons and over means of administration.[2] This implies the existence of overt or covert political classification. The key to such a classification would be a certain formula by which organisational structure would be determined. It might resemble the supposed Marxist classification of economic epochs and the “economic” classes that feature in this type of classification. A question thus might arise: Why would Weber have to follow Marx in essence but still differ in as much as he chose to change the keys for classification.

One, perhaps oversimplified, possible answer is that Weber simply “does not see anything attractive in socialism.”[3] This is what Gerth and Mills had suggested, maybe because it was them who found socialism so unattractive. But as it were, the difference between Marx and Weber goes beyond this level of argumentation. It indicates their profoundly different concepts of what is politics. Both of them perceived and understood politics as a process that reveals itself and is reflected through organisation. But it was not the same organisation for these two thinkers. The difference was mainly in the way they viewed the structure of this process.

Bureaucracy represents political organisation, reflecting its very system and its philosophy. It might well be one of the most important (if not the most important) criteria against which examination of the political organisation could be made. Also, it could serve to examine “politics in action” or in other words – political change. While some of the inherent characteristics of bureaucracy would be its political orientation, it does not automatically go the other way around. That is, it would not be necessary that bureaucratic phenomena should characterise every political organisation. It seems, however, highly likely that they would play an important role in political change. In many cases they would reflect the motivational drives of the political organisation and its structural restraints.

Within the political organisation, bureaucracy not only reflects these drives but it also – possibly even more sharply – indicates situational structures. It may thus be that organisations such as a revolutionary movement would tend to place limits on trends towards the development of bureaucracy, or even eliminate them altogether; at least during the time of struggle to change or purge incumbent regime. The shift would come, however, with the actual take over of political power and the establishment of this movement as the sovereign regime. It would be then, almost without fail that development of the new bureaucratic structure begins. The course of development of the new bureaucratic structure would indicate the direction of the political change. More precisely, it would indicate the interests pushed forward by this change. This observation may point at one of the significant differences between Marx and Weber. It is rather outstanding that the former examined bureaucracy – and organisation – mainly as they functioned in and related to economic interests. The latter placed much more stress on the judicial and administrative aspects of bureaucracy. These, for Marx, were means to the end of promoting economic interests. For Weber, they constituted the very end in itself.

Yet, organisational inner structure may be viewed somewhat differently. It could well represent the result of an equation, the components of which are the different interest groups within the organisation. Certain roles within it would be especially sensitive because they could influence its development. For once, they might be able to determine the type of bureaucracy that would develop. Or they even might become themselves bureaucratic. In particular, the ability to exercise control over information and communications system seems to be crucial. This is so because those who control sources of information might be– even in a fully-fledged democracy – the only ones who really have the accurate picture of the situation. If this were to be the case, they would be in a much better position than anyone else and retain a distinct advantage in the political game that takes place within the organisation.[4] This factor, like other such factors pertaining to the inner composition of a given organisation would have direct influence on the prospects of political change. Moreover, as the process of change takes place, the inner structure may determine to a great extent the character and direction of the change.

The Cultural Revolution of China was possible because of the special inner structure that enabled Mao to “go to the people” while circumventing the regular procedures of mass mobilisation that normally practised in China. Liu Shaoqi, Peng Chen and others may have controlled the bureaucratic apparatus of the Party. They could manipulate the people only through the regular channels of operation that were available to them. These channels required certain complicated preparatory work in order to be effective. Mao, on the other hand, dissociated himself from the bureaucratic formation. He managed to establish himself as having “over-bureaucratic” status. This allowed him an unmitigated access to the people and enabled him to mobilise them directly. This difference, between the tools that Mao had and those of his opponents, was the determinant factor that shaped the mode of the Revolution and, in fact, its results.

Role distribution, value structure, authority and other components of political organisation may differ not only from one society to another. They can also change from time to time in the same society due to either internal or external reasons. Yet all of these phenomena, while placed in the timeless and space-less framework, compose a theoretical setting in which generalisation of the relationship between the different factors can be observed. This is what Talcott Parsons called “total society.”[5]

It might be very tempting to deal with generalisations of this sort. Due to their “theoretical level” they can afford to disregard “details” such as background, special socio-economic realities and environment, religious pressures and so forth. But we must be aware of some essential and lingual restraints that have to be placed on such a procedure of investigation. These are not at all like mathematical models that so many social scientists favour – maybe because they should be based on “closed sets.”[6] Here, in social and behavioural sciences the basic presupposition is open-ended since by definition it may assume unpredictable and constant changes.[7] In this sense, attempts “to fill in gaps in different aspects of the total field which any future attempt to deal with a complex society as a whole”[8] can never be satisfactory. It may be merely of a situational value within a certain unit of space and time.

It is only with this in mind that the examination of the relations between bureaucracy and organisation and political change in their general aspects can be done.

* * *

Organisation, we have seen, is really a function – at least as much as it is a structure. Its existence depends on its participants and on a common goal they wish to pursue. It might be valid in some cases to argue that “the output of the organisation is, for some other system, an input.” But it is not necessary that in its mere being, “organisation is a system, which as the attainment of its goal ‘produces’ an identifiable something which can be utilised in some way bay another system.”[9] Thus, it is not necessarily true that description of analysis of an organisation can only be done from “the cultural-institutional point of view.”[10] However, these two approaches to the examination of a given organisation are, presumably, very convenient and enable analytical coverage of the whole scope.

The point of necessity, or the consistency of such a necessity, is further debatable. It was Parsons himself who questioned the internal consistency of Weber’s ideal type of organisation (in regard to authority and obedience within organisations).[11] His arguments repeated above tend to suffer the same sort of disadvantages.

For Parsons, values of organisation function to legitimise its existence as a system and its main functional mode of operation. These, In Parsons’ opinion, are necessary for the implementation of values.[12] Such a legitimisation, he maintain, enables the organisation to determine the codes of loyalty to be demanded of members of the organisation. Yet, no solution is offered for cases where membership can be actively engaged in more than just one organisation. Organisations, according to Parsons, in their very existence, set obligations and demands. They are deduced from the values and goals (that are, as such, embedded in the values) of each organisation. These demands and obligations define and set limits for loyalty and attempt to direct it towards the organisation. But what if the organisation in question is a part of a larger one? Or, as may happen also, what if the organisation favours or prefers interests of another organisation to its own, as far as loyalty is concerned?[13] The direct ratio loyalty – value – organisation cannot, therefore, be “total” and must be changed to an indirect one. Such a change could violate the placement of loyalty in the set of values by detaching the goals from these values. Then there will be room for arguing that values are related to the structure and the inner functions. Or logically, there will be rules for deduction and operation while goals are the presuppositions or the axioms of the system. Only when this consistency is attained – and only in such an order – can changes in goals precede structural changes of an organisation.

The logical order makes the difference in the analysis of political change. It indicates the effect of processes on each other. The Parsonian “logic” enables merely a “cause-effect” system in which the cause is structural change and the effect is the political change. This is unlike the philosophical-mathematical logic that begins in the change of goals as the indicator for political change. Here there is a process in which political change might have an impact on the mode, direction and intensity of the entire social process; certainly as it pertains to organisational structures.

Another point in Parsons that should be noted is associated with his approach to the problem of division of labour and its related aspects. Parsons states: “In a complex division of labour, both the resources necessary for performing technical functions and the relation to the population elements on whose behalf the functions are performed have become problematical. Resources are made available by special arrangements; they are not simply ‘given’ in the nature of the context of the function. And who shall be the beneficiary of what ‘product’ or ‘services’ on what terms is problematical; this becomes focus of organisational arrangement of many different kinds.”[14]

The core of the problems, according to Parsons, lies in the fact that beyond “a certain point” of the progress of division of labour, decisions which determine the mode of this division are concerned more with the relations of the beneficiaries than with the technical employment of resources. The process of decision-making would be one of the essential modifiers of the organisation. It would thus be technically motivated and the organisational capacity to control the involved population would become the supreme criterion for distribution of goods or social amenities. But, distribution of goods is a function of the distribution of labour. Yet, the Parsonian formula, although perceiving this, detaches it from the values of the organisation[15] of which the distribution of labour is an inherent constituent. There is here a gross inconsistency, as the dependency is not expressed.

Adopting Parsons’ approach, one can logically draw a situation where distribution of work, which is a political reality, leads to a situational, non-politically motivated distribution of goods. This is a contradictory description and it is both logically and practically invalid. If such a detachment of distribution of goods from values is assumed, then, an actual given division of labour could be treated as a value of the organisation. Its result, that is, distribution of goods, would also remain within the set. Both might thus be subject to modifications and re-modifications by virtue of them being situational variables. This, while the concept of (cf. actual) division of labour is one of the constituents of the organisational goals. Employment of resources, preferences and “technical functions” as well as manipulation (mode and context) of population by the system are, in this view, reflections and expressions of both the given structural mode and ideological stage of the organisation. They are also a direct function of values and at the same time, indirect function of goals. In this sense, the former presentation[16] is inconsistent but there are examples that can be explained logically. Such are China’s payment of interest to former capitalists as a compensation for their investment in enterprises prior to the take over of the CCP or the Israeli preference of non-developed and developing areas in erecting industry.

The analysed relations are of vital importance for the understanding of the kind of organisations that develop (bureaucracy, in our case) and for the understanding of this development.

S. N. Eisenstadt discusses several conditions that he considers necessary for the development of a bureaucratic organisation.[17] These conditions basically represent differentiation in the social system. The bureaucratic organisation develops in relation to such differentiation because it “can help coping with some of the problems arising out of such differentiation,”[18] especially hose whose main concern is the co-ordination of large-scale activities.

Some of the conditions required for the development of a bureaucracy pertain to the differentiation between roles and institutional spheres. Allocation of roles not in accordance with “natural” groups (like kin and familial cells) but rather in accordance with “artificial” ones (like religious, professional and national groups) is an example of these types of differentiation. It could also result from the existence of “many functionally specific groups” that do not operate within the ‘natural’ organisations. The common ground for these conditions lies in that they represent gaps between the two types of organisations. On the one hand, there is some kind of “natural” organisation (that can be described in biological terms, e.g., the blood relationships). On the other, the “artificial” organisation in which the ties are based on specific interests that may or may not be in contrast with those of the “natural” organisation. This sort of gap can be, in fact must be viewed as basically qualitative one. The other conditions brought by Eisenstadt seem to create gaps whose main characteristics are more of quantitative nature. In this range appear the differences between scopes: of “natural” groups and cultural, social or national ones; of number and complexity of functions of these two kinds of groups and the complexity of ties that should be maintained by different groups.[19]

The last condition, however, seems to involve both qualitative and quantitative characteristics. It is related to the extent of “free-floating” resources like manpower, economic resources, commitments and so forth.

The development of these conditions, maintains Eisenstadt, may very well result in the development of a bureaucratic system. This sort of organisation is likely to be initiated as an attempt by role (and power) holders to mobilise resources and to resolve various problems that they may face.

But it is not an isolated process that brings about the creation and development of a bureaucratic system. These things take place in a particular social organisation. For this reason, they would always also include conscious efforts to achieve equilibrium within this organisation. Equilibrium is needed not only to stabilise the organisation but also because it is a primary condition for the bureaucracy “to maintain its autonomy and distinctiveness” as Eisenstadt puts it.

Yet, according to Eisenstadt, there is also another process that may take place in such a situation: that is, de-bureaucratisation. He claims, and it appears to be a rather solid argument, that “the tendencies toward bureaucratisation and de-bureaucratisation may, in fact, develop side by side.” This is because the process of refining and definitions made by the bureaucracy as to its autonomy and goals may very well lead to the taking over of some of its “very functions and activities” by “other groups of organisation.” This could happen “when some organisation (i.e., a parents’ association or a religious or political group) attempts to direct the rules and working of a bureaucratic organisation (school, economic agency and so forth) for its own use or according to its own values and goals.”[20]

This approach towards the phenomenon of bureaucracy may seem contradictory. But given the conditions for the evolution of bureaucracy, it is in fact consistent one. The bureaucratic organisation in itself consists of well-defined groups of role holders. So constituted, any given bureaucracy seeks to refine the definitions for each role within itself. This contributes to further isolation of groups of role holders. Although this isolation is initially a functional one, it may extend itself to other spheres of life. Moreover, such a process that leads to isolation not only can be seen in itself as a process of de-bureaucratisation. It can also be perceived as a source of tacit – or even open – competition for power. During the stage of inception of the bureaucracy, there are attempts to make definitions of functions and group as accurate as the can be. The motivation behind this is the aspiration to increase and improve the co-operation and effectiveness of the different branches so they all would contribute to the consolidation of the bureaucracy in question. But now, once it is established and secure, the motivations change. The mere fact of progress along time span changes conditions. Gaps that could be ignored at the initial stages slowly enter the focus of the debate (either the internal one or even the public discourse). What previously had been regarded as organisational and – or – functional relations may now become political relations and struggle for power. On the other hand, the more the bureaucracy has been able to establish itself as a complex system, the greater would be the power required to operate and control this system. The intensity of the struggle for power also becomes greater and certain roles that involve functions of control and power could be used (and normally they are indeed being used) against or over opponents and – or – supporters in such areas as education, communications, information, etc. Accordingly, they also become more and more important.

The holders of such roles recognise the increasing importance of their roles. It would only be expected, therefore, that they would try to further promote such a definition of their role(s) that would help them to perpetuate their hold on this role. This would, in turn, increase the important of the role even further. But other role holders would do the same, at the same time and within the same bureaucratic framework. This creates an internal competition within the bureaucracy that paradoxically would create forces of disunity. Stress on competence and de-centralisation of power would be likely to follow and would contribute to the undermining of the entire system. At this stage it could be expected that various pivotal forces – or it could be frustrated ones – that would attempt to break the framework of the bureaucracy. Amongst those that would be likely to participate in this process we could find not only those in power, but also role holders whose roles are less important or under threat. The members of this last group wish, of course, to promote their position and the best way to do so would be to elevate the importance of their role. This creates tension because in effect, such a process is nothing less than a clear attempt to break the monopoly of the important roles and to actually neutralise them. The struggle might be focused on the issue of “what should replace the existing format of bureaucracy.” Each contesting group would come up with quite different solutions, naturally.

In light of this discussion, it seems that the presentation offered by Eisenstdt’s would be not only useful but also consistent and valid.

There might be an inference from this to the arena of political change. Political change, it might be argued, should be regarded simultaneously as input and an output of the process of bureaucratisation and de-bureaucratisation as described above. When analysing an organisation, it could be attached to the set as one of the essential values of the bureaucratic organisation. Not only philosophically (to support logical validity) but also practically.

This is attitude differs significantly from Weber’s view of the ideal bureaucracy.[21] Moreover, Weber stated that “when those subject to bureaucratic control seek to escape the influence of the existing bureaucratic apparatus, this is normally possible only by creating an organisation of their own which is equally subject to the process of bureaucratisation.”[22] That is to say, according to the approach presented, that Weber really failed to see the entire picture. While it may well be true that such a tendency (of bureaucratisation of the group) could exist, it is precisely this process that indicates the de-bureaucratisation of the roof organisation (of which this group has been or still is a part). Bureaucratisation of a sub-system implies a tendency to organisational – and many times also ideological – detachment from the system. The weakening of the bureaucratic system by one or more of its sub-systems cannot but result in the de-bureaucratisation of the system. Only in this way could a sub-system aspire and may achieve autonomy and create an independent bureaucratic structure. Equally, only by becoming more and more bureaucratic, can such a sub-system establish its autonomy and weaken the parent system to which it previously belonged.

Another important difference lies in the possible answer to the question of “who controls the existing bureaucratic machinery?” Weber maintains that “such control is possible only to a very limited degree for persons who are not technical specialists.”[23] The other approach, that to great extent views bureaucracy as a reflection of political reality, tolerates the existence of “non-specialist” power and control holders.[24]

Weber maintains that “bureaucratic administration means fundamentally the exercise of control on the basis of knowledge.”[25] Here, he mainly mean technical knowledge or more accurately, professional knowledge that was acquired through previous training. His model might be best fit the professional military. But bureaucracy could exist also in other organisations – formal or informal – certainly if perceived within a political context and even if modified by various changes. If we would stick to the model drawn by Weber, then no political change could result from the operation of the bureaucracy. This is because in his model the role holders can never control in a complete manner the apparatus, without which political changes could not happen. Theoretically, Weber’s ideal bureaucracy is thus very static and as such tends to be practically impossible. It may seem permissible to say that political change would bring about bureaucratisation. But the opposite – which is in fact what happens left, right and centre – is not logically valid if we follow Weber’s pattern and apply to it the same rules of deduction that operate in his own theoretical system.

According to the same theoretical process, struggle of role holders of different professions cannot exist once control has been established and practised. Moreover, use of roles by other role holders would be logically impossible. In this sense, most of Weber’s followers, who may have suggested that such a possibility is implied in Weber’s system, committed a logical error, even if their argument as such proved to be practically true. Indeed, as March and Simon have indicated, in many respects “Weber’s essential proposition that bureaucratises are more efficient (with respect to the goals of the formal hierarchy) than are alternative forms of organisation” is – as a matter of fact – undeniable.[26]

The main logical and philosophical troubles with the Weberian perceptions are anchored not so much in his descriptive model as in the deterministic approach and the inflexibility of the model. While it might be – in situational terms – an accurate description of a given system, analysis of the bureaucratic phenomena in general should have rather focused itself on the process of change. A. Etzioni says: “Modern society is to a large degree a bureaucratic society… Not only does modern society as a whole tend to be bureaucratic, but the most powerful social units of modern society are also bureaucratic.”[27] Yet, the Weber’s approach – and to a great extent also Etzioni’s approach – treat the social complex within a static framework and fail to capture its inherent element of dynamism and change. Thus, in light of these descriptions, it would be impossible to analyse quite a few political events as phenomena that belong in the framework of organisation and bureaucracy. For example, the Chinese protracted warfare prior to the 1949 take over, the Cultural Revolution or the Israeli Protest Movement that followed the 1973 “Yom Kippur” War. Furthermore, if the methodologies adopted by Weber, Etzioni and their like were to be followed, it would also be impossible to analyse, on their own terms, such phenomena as inner struggles within bureaucratic systems, like – say – the Soviet Communist Party to name but one.

Etzioni points out the allocation of means and social integration as other “functional requirements” of society that are carried out and controlled by complex organisations. To him, this is the very bureaucratisation of society.[28] It is true that many functions or roles in almost all societies are characterised by bureaucratic processes. But it would be false both methodologically and logically, as well as a practical error, to ignore the inter-relations of the different agencies between and among themselves and between these agencies and that centre that at least theoretically represents the source of power and control within society. An argument was put forward to “justify” or at least explain this type of false. Arguably, it stems from the fact that at the time when the main theories of bureaucracy and organisation were first formulated, such important factors (or means) as the mass media and mass communications did not exist or were not as central as they are today. Only when, in time, these factors grew more important and significant, could they also enter the theoretical setting as functional agencies rather than mere isolated factors. Factually, this is very true. But these factors must still be considered as independent factors – at least as far as the interplay between the factors themselves takes place. There is no doubt that even in societies where the media are operated and controlled by the state they still influence significantly the system itself and even the entire society. If this is ignored, no real analysis can be offered that would be able to consider political changes – particularly if and when these are somehow related to changes that the organisational system might be undergoing. Such omission is not unavoidable if the Weber-inspired methodology is employed; certainly if without a measure of criticism.[29]

Indeed, it is not really surprising that the definitions of complex organisations tend to be somewhat fluid. We may find, for example, the following:

“The unit organisation exists at a point in time. It remains in existence and is operative only as long as the co-ordinated activity of which it is composed is continuous. Many unit organisations do come into existence, engage in activity and accomplish some unit objective, but they do so within the framework of a total pattern of activity and toward a common goal. Individuals also may engage in individual activity that has as its purpose a fraction of some common purpose rather than a personal goal of the individual. This hierarchy of unit organisations and individual activity, all a part of some common design, may be said to constitute a complex organisation. The latter entity is not continuous and it may be seen as a time-lapse photograph of unit organisations and individual activity, all structured under some common purpose and contributing activity toward some common goal.”[30]

Such a definition cannot hold philosophical validity from its very beginning. Firstly, limitation of time could not be detached from that of space.[31] Secondly, a deterministic, total approach as taken here (“It remains… only as long as… etc.) may easily be countered and upset by examples of deviation (e.g., when part or all of the constituents are changed or cease to operate while the framework of the organisation remains in existence). And once deviation occurs, a set of arguments could not be considered as a complete theory with a closed set of provable theorems based on agreed axioms and rules of deduction. At best, it might be a collection of suggestive arguments that may or may not be true for a given and particular private case. If this is the case, emphasis should be placed on the causality of the arguments stipulated. It must also be noted that any particular description cannot be but a fairly loose proposition. Most of the arguments discussed above attribute some sort of “necessity” to their content. But this cannot be, of course, logical. In fact, it is not even relevant. The entire discussion could only remain within the boundaries of descriptive themes. Any attempt to claim otherwise defies logic and is thus misleading.

Entirely different is the approach offered by G. L. Lippitt in his Organisational Renewal.[32] Lippitt tries to examine organisations and behaviour of both organisations and their particles from a psychological point of view that weighs aspects “that benefit the individual and group in the organisation.”[33] He maintains that the “normal” situation of a system is some sort of a status quo and that change is really a deviation from this status quo. He does not draw the limits – or boundaries – of this status quo and he refrains from a strict definition of the range of the possible changes and from a clear reference to such changes. The organisational world of Lippitt can thus be viewed as either being in total and perennial stability or as subject to total and constant change. Both are permitted if plain logic is applied to the drawn models of Lippitt. Definition of particles, or constituents and their roles cannot be found in his 305-page long book. The same is true as to possible indications of internal or external relations of organisational systems. Even his annotated bibliography that holds additional 9 pages and contains some 52 works seems to be one-sided and heavily biased – and hardly useful.

The following short passage is a typical statement of this work:

“Frustration is experienced by those who think success in mobilising human resources, or in initiating organisation renewal, is simply a matter of education and, perhaps, of using persuasive stimuli reinforced by annual picnics, newsletters and adequate coffee-breaks.”[34]

This is so because: “Organisation renewal is the process of initiating, creating and confronting needed changes so as to make it possible for organisations to become or remain viable, to adapt to new conditions, to solve problems, to learn from experience and to move toward greater organisational maturity.”[35] Not only is the definition itself empty and of no use at all, in terms of the argument or for the examination of theorems (for example, what is “organisational maturity”?) The argument itself, that begins as highly deterministic one, fades and loosens so as to end as a rather simplistic “saloon talk” that cannot be taken seriously.

Indeed, the Chinese situation under Mao is a clear blow to Lippitt’s statement. There, the system was anchored in the belief that success in mobilising human resources is simply a matter of education and the Chinese leadership who thought so did not seem to have been frustrated. But there is a crucial point that lies beyond this level. It must be referred to the logical structure of both definitions. These would serve in a logical model as the axioms while the argument would be, for all practical matters, the theorem. Lack of accuracy is not only a matter of aesthetics. It is precisely what determines the framework of the entire discussion. If any component of either the definition or the argument were to be removed nothing would happen. There is no close definition, nor any solid argument could be found that together might lead to any possible range of strongly based conclusions. This pulls away the ground from underneath Lippitt’s structure, leaving him with no model what so ever. The tendency to observe the organisational phenomena from the viewpoint of a behavioural pattern is, however, interesting. It must be, of course, limited to either individual participants or to particular mechanisms (that are operated by individuals). Under the limit of this condition it might be interesting to examine possible relations between role holders and functions of the system, between and among role holders themselves, etc.

Indeed, within this sort of framework, a discussion concerning the internal communications within organisations could be useful. The question of whether or not some undefined individual is frustrated – or why – could not be traced and answered in general terms. On the other hand, it would be certainly possible to observe the behavioural patterns that result from a specific position of individual within the system. Questions that seek answers as regard to the extent or mode of change that results from the exercising of a particular role in the system that enable its holder to manipulate other people are certainly legitimate. But such questions cannot be found in Lippitt’s work. Also, open-ended or multi-ended answers could be useful, but not if they fail to be within any logical context. A mere collection of statements without foundations and directions cannot replace a serious discussion and analysis.

* * *

Organisations are important as they appear to be because – as March and Simon say – “people spend so much of their time in them.”[36] This is rather a superficial answer, as they admit themselves. But the importance of organisations or the understanding of them is embedded in the fact that distribution of wealth, labour and power, as well as the well being of each of us and the prospects of change – are all related functions of organisational patterns. This in itself means that limitations are placed on the possibility to understand and – or – to describe the core of the organisational activity. This is because the means to do so, that is: language, is by itself a related function of organised patterns. Hence, the only “open” field of understanding is that by which we try to describe through definitions and deductive rules some of the mechanisms of organisational activity. We cannot break out of the framework by merely providing suggestive formulas that can only refer to situational realities.

In this sense, the attempt made by March and Simon to seek explanations that could correspond to the most basic and simple questions arising from the observation of the organisational phenomena, is fruitful. It is so because in this way a methodology for such an observation can be developed. Albeit it is still more inductive than deductive, this type of observation is a key for the understanding of the processes that take place within a given organisation. Furthermore, it serves as a basis for correlating such processes to political change or other activities that are associated with the observed organisation, even if they are not an integrated part of it.

Adopting this policy of observation, March and Simon can cover a relatively large number of viewpoints while not slipping too much to the “absolutist approach” that characterise quite a few other works in the field of organisation.

An important aspect covered by them is that of the relations between the motivational setting of an organisation and the alternatives open to it. This is a question that, as they rightly mention, “has not been examined in any detail in the literature.”[37] The way in which they bring forward this issue is typical of their work and it is certainly worthy of praise. First they suggest a hypothesis while using theorems based on a set of previously formulated definitions. They refrain from falling into the trap of the determinist and absolutist approach and thus they keep from merely offering baseless suggestions. They put forward a series of examples taken from different private cases and make sure to comment on each of these. Only then they attempt to draw a framework for conclusions, while not ignoring that these could only be suggestive in their nature. When dwelling on the questions of motivations and alternatives they suggest the following: “In general, the greater the objective availability of external alternative, the more likely that such alternatives will be evoked.”[38] The terms are well defined and the problem of the “intentions” of the authors is avoided.

These relations seem to be crucial. They correspond to the previously mentioned inter-relations between the components of the bureaucratic system. They also have much to do with the source of political change that may occur within, or in connection with, a certain bureaucracy. Availability of alternatives, as March and Simon indicate points at two kinds of ranges. One is the objective range of alternatives. The other range is that of what seem to be as alternatives to various participants within the system. Considering the interplay of groups of interest within a bureaucratic set, the distinction between the two ranges tend to be associated with and influenced by the structure of the set. This is also true for the attempts made by the set – or its leadership – to materialise such alternatives in the least disharmonious manner. The motivational factor must therefore be closely associated with the identity of the players. It would be so both in the realm of individual-group relations and in the realm of inter-group relations.

There seems to be “an identification mechanism” that works within the system. Also, “even in the absence of positive identification, the strength of group pressures as the uniformity of group opinion increases.” It therefore seems to be valid to assume that “the perceived consequences of alternatives are, at least partly, a function of the strength of group pressures and the direction of these pressures that stem from sub groups and extra-organisational groups.”[39]

The structural organisation of a given set of groups is influenced by the alternatives – both real and imaginary. Simultaneously, it influences the range of possible and desirable alternatives. It is impossible to determine exactly where the starting point lies. But it is quite obvious that this complex of factors, namely, group identity and pressures, the nature of the structural organisation and the existence of several ranges of alternatives, are all, in fact – and when they interact – the core of any possible political change. This basic assumption must be acknowledged when dealing with any of these factors. Otherwise, the analysis will be incomplete and rather arbitrary.

There is an inherent essential difficulty that attempts to analyse bureaucracy – or even organisations in general – face. Such attempts could basically be either descriptive or theoretical. Yet, a descriptive attempt, particularly if it would also try to be accurate, must refer to particular phenomenon (or phenomena) that only exist in exact and particular frame of time and space. It would then be confined to inductive suggestions that may only concern some aspects of the general phenomena. It cannot state absolutely proven theorem and remains logical at the same time. Moreover, if accuracy is to be maintained, it should also refer at least to the previously mentioned factors. At the same time, it cannot confine itself merely to the structural aspects. Motivations, alternatives, technical operation of the system, definitions of power for the various levels of hierarchy and other such factors must also be referred to.

The theoretical type of attempt is even harder to pursue. For once, it has to cover all of these aspects that must be included in the theoretical setting. The main factor, however, is the theoretical “backbone” on which the entire movement within the suggested system depends. It must remain open-ended and in a constant flux so as to enable changes in the forms and – or – essence to enter the set, either as new givens or as renewed or unchanged ones. These act and perceived in accordance with the changing conditions. The effort here must include, therefore, a logically closed theory of dynamics as well as techniques that allow the work in several levels of definition that may vary according to different natures of the qualitatively different components of such a theoretical setting.

In order to deal with the complexity and to study the phenomena of bureaucracy, organisation, political change and their like, some of the logical and philosophical strict limitations must be sacrificed. Thus, some of the observations and theoretical relations between components of a given theoretical setting would be treated out of the frame of the formal logic. Yet the demand for examination of such relations must not e neglected altogether. It is still of great importance. Martin Albrow in his Bureaucracy reveals many of these. He also tries to analyse them and to seek justification for them. Thus, when touching the relations between bureaucracy and ideology he suggests that “some justification for paying even slight attention to the concept of bureaucracy in ideological contexts appears to be necessary.” There are three reasons for this. Firstly, while ideologies are designed to incite men to action, this does not mean that their content is wholly emotive. On the contrary, it is a feature of modern ideologies that they purport to be based upon an objective view of the nature of man and society. Secondly, it is notoriously difficult for the social scientist to remove all traces of ideological commitment from his or her work and it is therefore important to be aware of the nature of the ideological concepts of bureaucracy. Thirdly, Marxist (or self-proclaimed Marxist) and to a lesser degree also Fascist ideologies claim to erase the distinction between ideological and scientific thought – at least as far as their own doctrines are concerned. Political leaders set themselves up as arbiters of scientific truth and academicians avowedly direct their work to political ends. That the scientific element in this conflict of ideology and knowledge cannot be lightly disregarded is obvious when we consider the high prestige as a political scientist that Karl Marx, the most successful ideologist of all time, has in non-Marxist circles.[40]

Albrow’s approach is highly advantageous. Not only does he lack the absolutist tendency that characterises many of the writers dealing with the discussed phenomena. While examining some of the literature, he tries to gain access to pieces of information that could be consulted when pursuing the study of related subjects.[41] In this he uniquely achieves a degree of reliability that many works fail to maintain because they do not concede the possibility of open-ended changing relations. Adhering only to a one-way solution, as is the case with many of the works in the field (and most of those mentioned here) tend to culminate in the construction of static models and limited understanding – not only of bureaucracy and of organisation in general. But also, it confines and limits the discussion of political change and only allows for a static model and formulas to be presented. This is inadequate logically and academically but even more so – it is entirely unrealistic and untrue. It must be noted, however, that such works can still benefit their readers even though they suffer from such important shortcomings. If not with insight, they can at least still provide us with information pertaining to bureaucracy, organisation and political change and to their inner and inter relations.

[*] Prof. Ben-Asher is the Academic Director of the Institute of Social & Behavioural Sciences.

Notes & References

[1] Peter M. Blau (1968), “Organization: Theories” in David L. Sills, ed., International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, New York, Macmillan & Free Press, Vol. II, pp 297-98

[2] Max Weber (1928), Essay in Sociology [edited & translated by H. H. Gerth & C. Wright Mills], New York, Oxford University Press, “Introduction”, p. 47

[3] Ibid., p. 49

[4] Israel, in the aftermath of the 1973 war could be a case in point. The incumbent leadership managed to retain power mainly because it had full control over the sources of information (albeit not over all of the means of communications).

[5] Talcott Parsons (1960), Structure and Process in Modern Society, Glenco, Il The Free Press

[6] These, in fact, consist of limited number of agreed presuppositions that in many times have been selected arbitrarily. On these operate some rules of mathematical deduction so as to allow desired conclusions. Unlike in statistical models, where they might be permitted, in pure mathematical models deviations would not be acceptable and be considered as false.

[7] This is because social and behavioural sciences deal with human beings of which the definition includes such values as “individualism,” “mind,” “brain,” feelings,” “sensitivity” and so forth. These values cannot be measured and summed-up mathematically, nor can they be reduced linguistically to the status of concrete value. For a detailed discussion see: Ben-Asher, Z. (1972), “Language, Mathematics and Social Sciences” in Philosophia, VII (1): 85-127 (March) and Pears, D. E. (1973), Logic by Set Theory, London, Durham & Barr, pp. 321-60

[8] Parsons, op. cit., p. 2

[9] Ibid., p. 17

[10] Ibid., p. 20

[11] Weber’s administrative staff was defined as having professional expertise as well as the right to give orders. Parsons argues that such attributes may well give rise to a conflict within a given bureaucracy, as it would be impossible to ensure that higher authoritative positions should be matched by equivalent professional skills. Also, members of the organisation would face the problem of whether to obey those who have the right to give orders or to obey those with higher degree of expertise.

[12] Parsons, op. cit., p. 21

[13] For example, political parties that demand of its members that their loyalty to, say, the state should take priority over loyalty to the Party.

[14] Parsons, op. cit., p. 61

[15] Ibid., p. 62, 116-128 passim

[16] Ibid., pp. 130-31 (reference to the Israeli case)

[17] Eisenstadt, S. N. (1969), “Bureaucracy, Bureaucratisation and De-bureaucratisation” in A. Etzioni, ed., A Sociological Reader on Complex Organisations, New York, Holt & Winston, Inc. [Enlarged; first published in 1961 as Comlex Organisations: A Sociological Reader], pp. 304-305

[18] Ibid., p. 305

[19] Ibid., p. 306

[20] Ibid., p. 307

[21] And also from his sub species of bureaucracy like “Patrimonial bureaucracy” etc.

[22] Max Weber (1967), “The Ideal Bureaucracy” in Organisational and Human Behaviour [edited by G. D. Bell], Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice-Hall, p. 88 [reprinted from Weber (1947), The Theory of Social and Economic Organisation [translated by T. Parsons], New York, the Free Press] [23] Ibid., p 89

[24] At least the two cases mentioned above, of China and of Israel, seem to represent such a mode of control.

[25] “The Ideal Bureaucracy” op. cit., p. 89

[26] March, J. G. and H. A. Simon (1958), Organisations, New York, John Willey & Sons

[27] Etzio, op. cit., p. 293

[28] Ibid.

[29] It could be seen in many works that examine the process of decision-making. Often it is possible to identify the tendency, in such works, to isolate the particular process and mechanism of the decision-making from the complex of relations that operate between and among the various agencies. Rather, there can be found discussions on the relations between the “centre” and the agencies (or some of them).

[30] Torgensen, P. E. (1969), A Concept of Organisation, New York, American Book, p. 52

[31] See the long standing discussions in this matter in (for instance): Russell, B., Principia Mathematica and Problems of Philosopy, Ryle, G., The Concept of Mind etc. For a discussion and analysis of the problems of time and space in social organisation see also: Ben-Asher, Z. (1972), “Logic and Questions of Time and Space in Descriptive Models of State-Societies” in The Israeli Quarterly of Social Research, II (4): 31-56

[32] Lippitt, G. L. (1969), Organisational Renewal, New York, Meredith Corp.

[33] Ibid., Introduction, p. 1

[34] Ibid., p. 143

[35] Ibid., from the glossary that he wrote because – so he states – “I feel it may be helpful to the reader to have a glossary…”, p. 1

[36] March & Simon, op. cit., p. 2

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid., p. 59

[40] Albrow, M. C. (1970), Bureaucracy, London, Pall Mall Press [American edition by Praeger], p. 67

[41] Ibid., p. 125

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