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The Ups and Downs of Bureaucratic Organization


  • Johan P. Olsen


Why do democracies give birth to bureaucracies and bureaucrats? How and why has a seemingly undesirable and unviable organizational form weathered relentless criticism over many years and is possibly experiencing a renaissance? Normative democratic theory, theories of formal organizations, and Weber’s ideas are used for exploring de-bureaucratization efforts since the late 1970s and the most recent decade’s rediscovery of bureaucracy. One lesson is that there has not been a monotonic development towards bureaucratization, as argued by Weber, or de-bureaucratization, as argued by his critics. Several normative and organizational components have co-existed. Yet the significance of each component and their relationships has varied over time. While elements of a theoretical framework are suggested, no great optimism for a comprehensive theory of bureaucratization and de-bureaucratization is offered. Institutions, agency, and macro forces all matter, but there is no agreement regarding under which conditions one factor matters more than the others. A later version of this paper has been published in Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 11, 2008, pp. 13-37

Suggested Citation

  • Johan P. Olsen, 2007. "The Ups and Downs of Bureaucratic Organization," ARENA Working Papers 14, ARENA.
  • Handle: RePEc:erp:arenax:p0242

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    Cited by:

    1. Nicola Mario Iacovino & Sara Barsanti & Lino Cinquini, 2017. "Public Organizations Between Old Public Administration, New Public Management and Public Governance: the Case of the Tuscany Region," Public Organization Review, Springer, vol. 17(1), pages 61-82, March.
    2. Tom Christensen & Per Lægreid, 2011. "Complexity and Hybrid Public Administration—Theoretical and Empirical Challenges," Public Organization Review, Springer, vol. 11(4), pages 407-423, December.

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    democracy; administrative adaptation; institutionalisation; institutionalism; organization theory; organization theory; public administration; institutions; European Commission; political science;

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