The Psychological Drivers of Bureaucracy: Protecting the Societal Goals of an Organization

  • Tjeerd C. AndringaEmail author
Part of the Public Administration and Information Technology book series (PAIT, volume 10)


This chapter addresses the psychological enablers of bureaucracy and ways to protect bureaucrats and society from its adverse effects. All organizations benefit from formalization, but a bureaucracy is defined by the dominance of coercive formalization. Since bureaucrats are not bureaucratic among friends, one might ask what changes someone at work into a bureaucrat and why do bureaucrats and bureaucratic organizations exhibit their characteristic behaviors?

The pattern of behavior arises from fundamental psychology and in particular (1) our capacity for habitual behavior, (2) the difference between intelligence as manifestation of the coping mode of cognition and understanding as manifestation of the pervasive optimization mode, and (3) the phenomenon of authoritarianism as the need for external authority through a lack of understanding of one’s living environment. The combination of these phenomena leads to a formal definition, the “Bureaucratic Dynamic,” in which the prevalence of coercive formalization scales with “institutional ignorance” (as measure of how well workers understand the consequence of their own (in)actions, both within the organization as well on the wider society) and “worker cost of failure.”

Modern organizational theory has become progressively more aware of the inefficiencies and dangers of bureaucracy. The framework developed in this paper can be applied to protect society, organizations, and workers from the adverse effects of bureaucracy. Yet while non-bureaucratic organizations can produce excellence, they also rely on it and are therefore somewhat fragile. Improved protective measures can be developed using the framework developed in this chapter.


Habitual Behavior Learn Autonomy Management Paradigm External Authority Societal Goal 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University College Groningen, Institute of Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Engineering (ALICE)University of GroningenGroningenthe Netherlands

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