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Iron cage

    This article reflects Max Weber’s views regarding the effects of bureaucracy
    Iron cage is a concept introduced by Max Weber Iron Cage refers to the increasing rationalization of human life which traps individuals in an "iron cage" of rule-based rational control He also called such over-bureaucratized social order "[1] polar night of icy darkness" Weber Max Weber: Political Writings (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought) Ed. Peter Lassman Trans Ronald Speirs Cambridge UP, 1994 xvi
    The original German term is stahlhartes Gehäuse; this was translated into 'iron cage' an expression made familiar to English language speakers by Talcott Parsons[2] in his 1958 translation of Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism[3] [4] Recently some sociologists have questioned this translation arguing that the correct term should be 'shell as hard as steel' and that the difference from the original translation is significant[5] [6] A more literal translation from German would be "a steel encasement"
    "In Baxter’s view the care for external goods should only lie on the shoulders of the “saint like a light cloak which can be thrown aside at any moment” But fate decreed that the cloak should become an iron cage" [7]
    Weber became concerned with social actions and the subjective meaning that humans attach to their actions and interaction within specific social contexts He also believed in idealism which is the belief that we only know things because of the meanings that we apply to them This led to his interest in power and authority in terms of bureaucracy and rationalization

    Rationalization and Bureaucracy

    Weber states “the course of development involves… the bringing in of calculation into the traditional brotherhood displacing the old religious relationship” Weber Max General Economic History Dover Publications 2003 356
    Modern society was becoming characterized by its shift in the motivation of individual behaviors [8] Social actions were becoming based on efficiency instead of the old types of social actions which were based on lineage or kinship Behavior had become dominated by goal-oriented rationality and less by tradition and values According to Weber the shift from the old form of mobility in terms of kinship to a strict set of rules was a direct result of growth in bureaucracy and capitalism Weber Max Talcott Parsons and Rh Tawney The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism Dover Publications 2003

    Effects of Bureaucracies

    Positive Contributions

    Bureaucracies were distinct from the former feudal system where people were promoted through favoritism and bribes Morrison Kenneth Marx Durkheim Weber: Formations of Modern Social Thought 2nd ed. Sage Publications Ltd 2006 363 because now there was a set of rules that are clearly defined; there was promotion through seniority [9] and disciplinary control Weber believes that this influenced modern society [10] and how we operate today especially politically Kilcullen John "Max Weber: on Bureaucracy" Macquarie University Australia 1996 7 Apr 2008
    Weber’s characteristics of an ideal : [11]
    1. Hierarchy of authority
    2. Impersonality
    3. Written rules of conduct
    4. Promotion based on achievement
    5. Specialized division of labor
    6. Efficiency

    Weber believed that bureaucracies are goal-oriented organizations that are based on rational principles that are used to efficiently reach their goals Hamilton Peter Max Weber: Critical Assessments 1st ed. Routledge 1991 294 However there are constraints within this bureaucratic system Ritzer George Enchanting a Disenchanted World: Revolutionizing the Means of Consumption 2nd ed. Pine Forge P, 2004 56

    Negative Effects of Bureaucracies

    Bureaucracies generate large amounts of power to a small number of people and are generally unregulated Kendall Diana Jane L. Murray and Rick Linden Sociology in Our Times 3rd ed. Nelson Education Ltd 2004 190 Weber believed that those who control these organizations control the quality of our lives as well Bureaucracies tend to generate oligarchy; which is where a few officials are the political and economic power[12] Because bureaucracy is a form of organization superior to all others[13] further bureaucratization and rationalization may be an inescapable fate Weber Max Economy and : An Outline of Interpretive Sociology University of California Press 1978 1403

    Iron Cage of Bureaucracy

    Because of these aforementioned reasons there will be an evolution of an iron cage which will be a technically ordered rigid dehumanized society [14] The iron cage is the one set of rules and laws that we are all subjected and must adhere to. Ashworth Rachel George Boyne and Rick Delbridge "Escape From the Iron Cage? Organizational Change and Isomorphic Pressures in the Public Sector" Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory (2007) 7 Apr 2008 Bureaucracy puts us in an iron cage which limits individual human freedom and potential instead of a “technological utopia” that should set us free[15]Benhabib Seyla and Fred R. Dallmayr The Communicative Ethics Controversy (Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought) The MIT Press 1990 29-32 It's the way of the institution where we do not have a choice anymore Weber Max Essays in Economic Sociology Ed. Richard Swedberg Princeton UP, 1999 110 Once capitalism came about it was like a machine that you were being pulled into without an alternative optionWeber Max The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of : and Other Writings Ed. Peter Baehr Trans Gordon C. Wells Penguin Classics 2002 121; currently whether we agree or disagree if you want to survive you need to have a job and you need to make money
    Laws of Bureaucracies: Weber Max Economy and : An Outline of Interpretive Sociology University of California Press 1978 289
    1. The official is subject to authority only with respect to their official obligation
    2. Organized in a clearly defined hierarchy of offices
    3. Each office has a clearly defined sphere of competence
    4. The official has a free contractual relationship; free selection
    5. Officials are selected through technical qualification
    6. The official is paid by fixed salaries
    7. The office is the primary occupation of the official
    8. Promotion is based on a achievement which is granted by a the judgment of superiors
    9. The official is subject to strict and systematic discipline within the office

    Costs of Bureaucracies

    “Rational calculation . . . reduces every worker to a cog in this [16] machine and seeing himself in this light he will merely ask how to transform himself… to a bigger cog… The passion for bureaucratization at this meeting drives us to despair” Weber Max Economy and : An Outline of Interpretive Sociology University of California Press 1978 lix
    • Loss of individuality;Smart Barry Resisting McDonaldization Sage Publications Ltd 1999 84. labor is now being sold to someone whose in control instead of individuals being artisans and craftsmen and benefiting from their own laborWeber Max From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology 1st ed. Routledge 1991 412
    • Loss of autonomy; others are dictating what an individual’s services are worthBoucock Cary In the Grip of Freedom: Law and Modernity in Max Weber University of Toronto P, 2000 65
    • Individuals develop an obsession with moving on to bigger and better positions but someone else will always be determining the value of our achievementsWeber Marianne Max Weber: a Biography Transaction Publishers 1988 427
    • Lack of individual freedom; individuals can no longer engage in a society unless they belong to a large scale organization[17] where they are given specific tasks in return for giving up their personal desires to conform to the bureaucracy’s goalsGrusky David B., ed. Social Stratification: Class Race and Gender in Sociological Perspective 2nd ed. Westview P, 2000 825 and are now following legal authorityThompson Grahame Jennifer Frances Rosalind Levacic and Jeremy C. Mitchell eds Markets Hierarchies and Networks: the Coordination of Social Life Sage Publications Ltd 1991 119
    • Specialization; with specialization society becomes more interdependent and has a less common purpose Baurmann Michael The Market of Virtue: Morality and Commitment in a Liberal Society Springer P, 2002 13-15 There is a loss in the sense of community because the purpose of bureaucracies is to get the job done efficientlySlipp Samuel Curative Factors in Dynamic Psychotherapy McGraw-Hill Companies 1981 256

    Bureaucratic hierarchies can control resources in pursuit of their own personal interestsAndrain Charles F. Comparative Political Systems: Policy Performance and Social Change ME Sharpe 1994 162-164 which impacts society’s lives greatly and society has no control over this It also affects society’s political order and governments because bureaucracies were built to regulate these organizations but corruption remains an issueTurner Bryan S. "Max Weber on Individualism Bureaucracy and : Political Authoritarianism and Contemporary Politics" Organizing : New Weberian Perpectives on Work Organizations and Society Ed. Larry Ray Routledge 1994 122-124 The goal of the bureaucracy has a single-minded pursuitBoucock Cary In the Grip of Freedom: Law and Modernity in Max Weber University of Toronto P, 2000 165 that can ruin social order; what might be good for the organization might not be good for the society as a whole which can later harm the bureaucracy’s futureMaheshwari Shiram A Dictionary of Public Administration Sangam Books Ltd 2002 72-75 Formal rationalizationMommsen Wolfgang J. The Political and Social Theory of Max Weber: Collected Essays University of Chicago P, 1989 155 in bureaucracy has its problems as well There are issues of control depersonalization and increasing domination Once the bureaucracy is created the control is indestructibleHamilton Peter Max Weber: Critical Assessments 1st ed. Routledge 1991 322 There is only one set of rules and procedures which reduces everyone to the same level Depersonalization occurs because individual situations are not accounted for Hess Beth B., Elizabeth W. Markson and Peter J. Stein Sociology Prentice Hall 1988 91. Most importantly the bureaucracies will become more dominating over time unless they are stopped In an advanced industrial-bureaucratic society everything becomes part of the expanding machine even people [18]
    While bureaucracies are supposed to be based on rationalization they act in the exact opposite manner Political bureaucracies are established so that they protect our civil liberties but they violate them with their imposing rules Development and agricultural bureaucracies are set so that they help farmers but put them out of business due to market competition that the bureaucracies contribute to. Service bureaucracies like health care are set to help the sick and elderly but then they deny care based on specific criteria[19]

    Debates Regarding Bureaucracies

    Weber argues that bureaucracies have dominated modern society’s social structureHyden Goran Julius Court and Kenneth Mease Making Sense of : Empirical Evidence From Sixteen Developing Countries Lynne Rienner 2004 21. ; but we need these bureaucracies to help regulate our complex society Bureaucracies may have desirable intentions to some but they tend to undermine human freedom and democracy in the long run est Steven and Douglas Kellner The Postmodern Turn 1st ed. The Guilford P, 1997 76
    “Rationalization destroyed the authority of magical powers but it also brought into being the machine-like regulation of bureaucracy which ultimately challenges all systems of belief”Weber Max From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology 1st ed. Routledge 1991 xxiv

    It is important note that according to Weber society sets up these bureaucratic systems and it is up to society to change them Weber argues that it is very difficult to change or break these bureaucracies but if they are indeed socially constructed then society should be able to intervene and shift the system

    References