International Handbook on Civil Service Systems
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International Handbook on Civil Service Systems

Edited by Andrew Massey

While there is no universally accepted definition of civil servant and civil service, this authoritative and informative Handbook compares and contrasts various approaches to organising the structure and activities of different civil service systems.
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Chapter 2: The Weberian Legacy

Peter Barberis


Peter Barberis Max Weber (1864–1920) was one of the founding fathers of modern social science. His intellectual arc was a generous one, embracing aspects of philosophy, research methodology, history, religion, politics and law. He was the quintessential ‘polymath’, though certainly no dilettante. In today’s universities he is most commonly encountered by students of sociology and, if they are lucky, public administration and management. Perhaps the most tangible and durable product of his thought as it engages with the contemporary world is that associated with bureaucracy. It is this aspect of Weber’s legacy that is featured in the present chapter – in particular his observations about state bureaucracy. The very term bureaucracy is full of connotations, often negative ones. In popular parlance it has become almost a byword for all that is stubbornly inflexible, inhuman, impervious to change, self-serving. It is seen by critics as highly imperfect if not downright perverse in its apparent inability to meet the needs of those it is supposed to serve, be they the democratically elected political masters of the day or the common citizenry (Osborne and Gaebler 1992). It has been defended by those who claim such images to be mere caricature, its virtues overlooked by the critics (Du Gay 2000). Others have adduced empirical evidence to show that bureaucracy is not inherently dysfunctional, that it has sometimes been more adaptable and flexible than is commonly supposed (Britan 1981; Goodsell 2004; Page and Jenkins 2005, p. viii). Implicitly and sometimes explicitly, it is invariably Weber’s...

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