Sociological criticism of the bureaucratic model: Crozier and Friedberg

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Reminder: the alleged superiority of bureaucracy[edit | edit source]

For Weber, the primary objective of adhering to the main principles of bureaucracy at the structural and individual level is to maximise both the coordination of administrative activities and the predictability of bureaucrats' behaviour in order to ensure the security of the right to equal treatment, the rationalisation of decisions, i. e. neutrality and competence, effectiveness and efficiency of administrative action. These are elements that suggest that the bureaucratic model is superior to other models. This model can be applied to any form of organization, i. e. a broad potential scope of application as well as to public bureaucracy, private companies, the Church as well as political parties. These reflections can be found among theorists of private industrial firms, including Taylor and Fayol.

Classical dysfunctions: induced by strict application of Weber, Taylor and Fayol principles[edit | edit source]

Weber relied on the reality he had and which was the Prussia of Frederick II and the German social-democracy. It would have extrapolated from the German model a model applicable to all contemporary States and, as if it were desirable to do so in an ethnocentric approach. Weber's interest is not in analyzing social structures, but in analysing the behaviour of public servants and ensuring that they fit within a predictable framework. What interests him is how to influence the behaviour of individuals. For Marx, the state is at the service of capitalism, but this holistic approach does not interest Weber who adopts an individualistic perspective. Methodological individualism is the focus on the behaviour of bureaucrats, a social phenomenon defined as the aggregation of individual behaviours arising from actors' motivations and actors' intentionality.

The bureaucratic model, even if rigorously applied, leads to dysfunctions, the result will not be in line with what is expected and anticipated by the proponents of this model. In other words, dysfunctions are the perverse effects of strict adherence to the principles of bureaucracy. This is a theory that first emerged in the United States and shows that even if the application of this hyperrational model leads to immediate effects, it is also dysfunctional. It is a model that is intended to be functional with a set of principles, however, the dysfunction theorists will show that this model is not in line with the functions assigned to it, but that it is dysfunctional, reaching other goals than those desired. Dysfunction is at the heart of the office automation model, not an accident.

Robert Merton shows that there is a shift in bureaucracy from goals to means. With the behaviour that is demanded of bureaucrats and civil servants in the context of a "steel cage", there is a risk that civil servants will put their interests before the application of the rules rather than pursuing the missions and purposes of public administration. It uses the term "goal displacement" and also "ritualistic behaviour". What would take precedence would be the application of the specifications. For Merton, the bureaucracy model is a rigid model that can favour a spirit of caste within the framework of a corporatism that is opposed to the mission of public service. Civil servants focus on the means, rules and procedures to be followed and forget the goals and missions, so they will neglect the public interest which is the spirit of public service.

This theory has been strongly exemplified in public administration models and bureaucracy showing that public servants have difficulty in applying and adapting to the rule that leads to conflicts with either public servants' superiors or the public who are dissatisfied with the service. It is the very principle of bureaucracy itself that causes results to be considered dysfunctional.

In Le Phénomène Bureaucratique published in 1963, Crozier distinguishes between the creation and application of formal and impersonal rules. If the rules are impersonal, it allows administrative acts to be standardised and promotes equal treatment. Formal rules make it possible to combat arbitrariness, increase the predictability of behaviour and promote speed of execution.

Potential dysfunctions arise from rigid relationships with citizens and ritualistic attitudes that make it difficult to adapt to changes in society. Enforcement is also a way of protecting oneself in an organization, because no one can blame the results if they are not optimal.

App1 Dysfonctions classiques 1.png

In this scheme, insofar as the official obeys rules and standards, he is no longer subject to dependency relationships, obeying only rules and standards. What Crozier shows is that if one obeys only the norms, it can be a protection against the authority of superiors or the pressure of subordinates leading to a form of isolation of the civil servant or of non-communication between the different hierarchical strata. What is functional is that one escapes authority and pressure, and what is dysfunctional is that one no longer communicates.

The public servant may be free of any allegiance, but he or she may end up alone. The public servant finds himself isolated from his superior and inferior, but he finds himself under pressure from his peers who will be able to exert a fairly strong pressure. If there is isolation from higher and lower hierarchical strata, there may be peer submission in the same hierarchical stratum and perform the same function.

App1 principe de centralisation 1.png

The principle of centralisation says that it is necessary, as far as possible, not only that the content of the rule should be decided at the central level, but also that the way in which the rule is to be applied should be decided as far as possible at the central level, because it is the level that is not exposed to pressure from the users. Decisions will be made without taking into account a certain amount of information that may come from the field. The decisions that will be taken will be inadequate in relation to the realities on the ground because these decisions will be too abstract and there is a risk of maladjustment between centralised decisions and the realities on the ground.

Crozier concludes that those who decide do not know the essence of the problems, and those who know the problems do not have decision-making power. The result is abstract decisions that are disconnected from reality on the ground and poorly informed.

The principle of horizontal specialisation can lead to dysfunction. We are going to specialize all the people in a given field in order to improve the competence and quality of the work done because we will have only experts in the fields of public administration. The idea is that since everyone is an expert, we improve the work of the public administration. Potential dysfunctions are a problem of coordination and information flow in the different services.

One principle would be to say that the scope of control should be limited, i. e. if the number of subordinates is reduced, it can be better controlled. Dysfunctions are that if the extent of control is limited, this can only be achieved through an extremely pyramid-like structure that could lead to a distance from the top of the pyramid with mass concerns. Thus, the summit decides on the basis of information that does not come from the base.

The efficiency principle is designed to save money and avoid waste. With this idea, we go towards efficiency in the spirit of Weber and Fayol, we go towards a machine administration. The administration would be a machine that would work with the same regularity as any other machine. Dysfunctions arise because the model does not take into account all political functions in public administration. The public administration would simply be the cogwheel of a machine at the controls of those who thought this machine.

Mr Crozier: the vicious circles of bureaucracy and the sociology of organisations (concrete systems of action: actor, uncertainty, power)[edit | edit source]

In L'acteurs et le système: Les contraintes de l'action collective published in 1977, Crozier and Friedberg propose a sociology of organizations and an approach known as strategic analysis. The aim of this book and Crozier's work published in 1963 entitled Le Phénomène Bureaucratique is to transpose the American analysis and develop an analytical framework of its own. There is always unpredictability of behaviour, an irreducibly unpredictable dimension of any form of organization.

Bureaucracy should ensure regularity and predictability of behaviour. On the contrary, strategic analysis emphasizes the irreducibly unpredictable dimension of individual and collective actions, as well as the contingency of organizational situations. There is always a contingency, which means that things are not necessary. This conception of the organization and more dynamic.

Strategic players[edit | edit source]

Crozier and Friedberg echo Simon's postulate in Theories of Decision-Making in Economics and Behavioral Science (1959) that actors have a limited rationality seeking a satisfactory rather than an optimal solution, i. e. a solution that is not the "one best way". It is an opportunistic and individual actor according to established rules whose preferences are evolving.

The organization for Crozier and Friedberg is not a "steel cage", things cannot be designed this way. Three elements appear to be important in this conception revolving around the notion of strategic actor. The actor of the organization is not a servile actor, but a strategic actor who wants to gain power and improve his position within the organization. These strategic players have limited rationality.

Crozier's organizational problem is an original way for the organization to find the optimal solution to solve organizational problems to ensure that the organization is as efficient as possible. We are in a framework of limited rationality. In an organization, there are always factors that are contingent, factors that you can't control, things that are not necessary, things that can happen unexpectedly.

In order to defend a concept of "Olympic rationality", it is necessary to go in the direction of collecting all relevant information and being able to deal with it exhaustively. For Simon, it is impossible to collect all this information and process it. In an organization, there is a need to select information and drop other information. The need to select information means that we always go in the direction of a limited rationality.

The preferences of the people who are being pursued by service and organizational managers are not given once and for all, but may change during the course of events. There are factors that we do not control, we cannot process all the information, there are strategic actors, the preferences of the actors are not given, but they evolve.

For Simon, we can't go for optimal solutions, but rather for relevant solutions. It is within a framework of satisfactory solutions that we seek an optimal solution. The strategic actor creates a "limited rationality" and not an "Olympic rationality".

Crozier shows that in an organization, power is not limited to the attributes of hierarchical positions, but that there are parallel powers. It expresses the ability of an actor to mobilize resources to make his or her behaviour unpredictable and thus use the "zones of uncertainty" inherent in any situation and relevant to the organization concerned. The people who will manage to master these areas of uncertainty will gain power within the organization and not necessarily those at the top of the organizational chart. There are necessarily parallel powers in an organization, there is always room for manoeuvre, a zone of uncertainty, something that is not reviewed by the rule. Those who manage to grasp areas of uncertainty will gain power. The flowchart is not everything and it has to deal with parallel forms.

Actors within organizations will develop strategies to gain power through negotiation. At Crozier, the game concept is fundamental. Stakeholder games are based more on negotiation than on confrontation, forming concrete action systems that are structured sets of games. The games will be influenced by the formal organization chart, but also by the way in which uncertainty zones are managed. The administration is no exception to these three characteristics allowing Crozier to reintroduce the three forms of political power highlighted by Bezes.

Any "useful" dysfunctions?[edit | edit source]

App1 dysfonctionnements utiles 1.png

If we are faced with strategic players, if everything is not controllable, dysfunction and dysfunction are not the exception, but the norm of any organization. The real actors of the organization are not the Taylorian or even Fayolian actors. The organization is more dynamic and dynamic than the image of classical authors. In other words, bureaucratic dysfunctions are not the exception, but the norm in the life of organizations understood here as networks of power and dependence.

Malfunctions are a necessary reality for organizations. It is because of dysfunctions that the organization does not implode. Crozier's problem is that the way to deal with dysfunctions in the bureaucracy will be to create new rules to correct the dysfunctions. We are deepening the dysfunctioning of the bureaucratic structure. The very effectiveness of organizations is partly dependent on these dysfunctions, as they facilitate the flow of information and the negotiation of power rules.

App1 cercle vicieux bureaucratique 1.png

The bureaucratic vicious circle comes back from a tendency in the bureaucracy to authoritarianism and centralization of decisions. The preferred solution in the context of the bureaucratic vicious circle and create new rules. If we apply the rules, this does not happen to perfection, we will create rules that will lead to a sprawling increase in bureaucracy that will multiply vicious circles, deepen the problems of rigidity, cause dysfunctions and increase more and more. According to Crozier, the rules will necessarily generate other dysfunctions. Crozier shows that bureaucracy tends to operate by multiplying rules and increasing its size.

Strategic analysis according to Crozier and Friedberg (1977): a summary[edit | edit source]

According to Crozier, the desire to enact new rules to solve organizational problems is an illusion. The office automation model is not impossible to apply and implement. Against Weber, Taylor and Fayol, he will develop the strategic analysis around four central concepts:

  • actor;
  • system of concrete action;
  • uncertainty zone;
  • sources of power.

Actor[edit | edit source]

Max Weber defines sociology as the science of understanding the meaning that the agent gives to his action. At Crozier, the actors are not mere performers, but they are actors who always have a margin of execution that may have interests that are not necessarily in line with the interests of the organization. There are always specific objectives and a margin of freedom in the organisation that allows for the deployment and implementation of objectives in the interests of the people concerned. However, there is not absolute room for manoeuvre, as the organization defines a framework. In the organization, other actors exist. The actors in the public administration must play within this framework with other actors and the rules of the organisation. The organization as defined at Crozier is a human whole, a whole where people with diverse goals, interests and interests interact and coexist and any person in an organization will have the objective of gaining power within the organization.

In L'acteur et le système: Les contraintes de l'action collective published in 1977, Crozier and Friedberg attempt to explain the construction of the rules of organization from the game of empirical actors, calculators and interested parties. The organization is defined as a human construct or structured human whole.

Concrete system of action[edit | edit source]

This gives a more vivid vision of the organization than Weber, Fayol and Taylor. For Fayol, an organization is a complex set of people who will try to interact to try to find a satisfactory solution within the organization. It will be a matter of finding solutions that appear to be satisfactory solutions. It's a framework where relationships are going to be complex.

Crozier's notion of system will be different from Parsons' notion of system, which says that if you have a moving component, the other components will have to adjust almost automatically. If component A moves, the other components will have to adapt. At Crozier, the system is something much more contingent, the system will depend greatly on the action of people. We are not in a system that imposes on people a mode of doing, which automatically adjusts itself, but in a complex system of interactions that will be influenced by the system, but at the same time will influence the content of the system. In a system, there are formal rules, flowcharts, and planned things that will influence the way people act, but this is not going to determine the way they act. People in the organisation always have room for manoeuvre, can interact with the rules and can influence them. An interaction will take place between the system and its people. The system influences people's ways of being and in turn interactions will be able to change and evolve the rules that influence this system. For Crozier it is a system of complex interactions where everything is not foreseen by a formal organization and impersonal rule.

According to Crozier, with this analysis, we move from the formal organization that is Weber, Fayol and Taylor's, to the organized action that is the strategic analysis that he tries to put forward:"a structured human group that coordinates the actions of its participants through relatively stable game mechanisms and that maintains its structure, that is, the stability of the games and the relationships between them, through regulatory mechanisms that constitute other games". There are relatively stable play mechanisms. A concrete system of action therefore represents the way in which actors organize their relationships to solve the problems posed by the functioning of the organization.

Crozier distinguishes two components of a concrete action system:

  • a system of regularising relations, i. e. what is the official procedure to be followed, for example, by the production worker if a breakdown occurs on a machine? How is an administration's annual budget drawn up? This system of relationship regulation would be similar to the vision of Weber Taylor and Fayol.
  • A second component is that the systems of alliances are built according to logics that have nothing to do with the organizational charts. Alliances are going to be formed and they will have an impact on the other component of the system. Such an actor knows that in order to carry out such an action, he can count on the support of another actor. Parallel powers can be created and influence the more formal component of the system of concrete action.

If we look at these two elements, the logics are not the same. In the first case we are in a formalized and predictable case, while in the second case the alliances are shifting and can have an impact on the other component of the concrete system of action offering a much more dynamic vision of the organization. Not everything is determinable at the level of the behavioural regulation system, it is necessary to involve the system of alliances.

Areas of uncertainty[edit | edit source]

It is a concept at the heart of the concept of organization. What Crozier and Friedberg put forward is that the bureaucratic Weberian apparatus cannot manage to constrain the action that unfolds in an organization mechanically. Any organization necessarily has areas of uncertainty associated with three types of circumstances:

  • There are external events that cannot be controlled by the organisation itself as changes or technical innovations. This can change the situation. Technical change comes from outside or even the evolution of markets: it is a circumstance that is not controlled by the organization, there are changes external to the organization that can lead to areas of uncertainty within the organization.
  • there are unforeseen events;
  • events that have not been formalized in the official rules.

Through these three types of events, zones of uncertainty will intervene in the functioning of an organization.

Crozier and Friedberg will show that people are not passive towards areas of uncertainty in order to gain more power within the organisation. These uncertainties are an integral part of the actors' game, reinforcing or diminishing their autonomy and, therefore, their power. The actors will try to seize areas of uncertainty to strengthen their power within the organisation. The actors who will be best able to control the zones of uncertainty and gain power through the zones of uncertainty are actors who will maintain a form of unpredictability in their behaviour. In other words, actors whose behaviour is unpredictable because of the control of areas of uncertainty (relevant to the organization) exercise power. There are those who master the zone of uncertainty and those who are unpredictable who can negotiate more favourable conditions.

Power[edit | edit source]

The power of Crozier and Friedberg lies at the heart of every organisation and therefore within the public administration. Crozier and Friedberg propose a relational definition of power as a central organizational problem. Power is not an attribute given to the hierarchical leader, but power is something that is played out in a complex relationship between a leader and his subordinate. For Weber, the power of A over B is A's ability to get A to do something that B would not have done without A's intervention by means of physical coercion, obedience or legitimate domination in order to elicit buy-in. Crozier will say that this is too mechanical a vision: if the pressure from the line manager is too great, then the subordinate asks for something in exchange, for example additional resources, access to a particular department or the recruitment of a new employee. There is also a power of subordinates over the leader, a power that is being put in place from the bottom up, which will be able to be exercised in areas of uncertainty.

With Crozier, the superior must be a strategist, convincing to show that it is in his interest to go in his direction. The subordinate must also be a strategist. In Crozier and Friedberg, there is this relational definition of power, because the power of A over B is A's ability to obtain that, in its relationship with B, the terms of trade are favourable to it. There is no pure "steel cage".

Crozier and Friedberg identify four sources of power:

  • possession of a functional skill or specialisation that is difficult to replace: expertise of machine maintenance workers, lawyers, accountants, computer scientists, etc.
  • control of relations with the environment: if people in the field in a public administration in contact with interest groups and associations, and if they have contacts that people in the service sector do not have, it is these actors who will control communication. They are sequential marginal actors. It is a form of intermediation power. If people master relationships with the outside world, they also acquire a form of power.
  • control of information communication: retention of relevant information that provides control of information and communication.
  • knowledge of organisational and operational rules: these include, for example, promotion rules in the civil service, budgetary procedures and control procedures.

Example of the Industrial Operation Service for Tobacco and Matches (SEITA)[edit | edit source]

Crozier applied this strategic analysis method to the case of the monopoly of the Service d' exploitation industrielle des tabacs et matches (SEITA) in France. Crozier speaks of an industrial monopoly, because there are no zones of uncertainty that can come from outside. It will analyse power relations on the basis of emotional relationships between different categories of staff in this service:

  • managers;
  • Production workers: 60 to 120 per workshop and low-skilled;
  • maintenance workers: 12 per workshop, qualified and attached to an engineer who is a member of the management.

Crozier highlights a very bureaucratic organisation through empirical findings based on field surveys:

  • good relations between workshop managers and production workers;
  • conflict between production and maintenance workers, who consider the former as their subordinates;
  • open conflicts between maintenance workers and shop managers.

The main conclusions of Crozier's strategic analysis on the case of SEITA are that stopping a machine is the only source of uncertainty in the context of SEITA, which has a monopoly on its market. Maintenance workers therefore enjoy the resulting power until all maintenance instructions are removed to ensure an absolute monopoly of expertise. Informal powers are organised in parallel with formal powers. The strategies of the three types of actors are oriented towards this informal power structure, particularly the aggressiveness of maintenance workers, whose power is very real but not legitimate. Production workers want more bureaucracy, while maintenance workers want to maintain the shadow zone.

References[edit | edit source]