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Two Types of Bureaucracy: Enabling and Coercive

Paul S. Adler and Bryan Borys
Administrative Science Quarterly
Vol. 41, No. 1 (Mar., 1996), pp. 61-89
DOI: 10.2307/2393986
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2393986
Page Count: 29
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Two Types of Bureaucracy: Enabling and Coercive
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Abstract

This article proposes a conceptualization of workflow formalization that helps reconcile the contrasting assessments of bureaucracy as alienating to employees or as enabling them to perform their tasks better. Interpreting formalization as an organizational technology, we use recent research on the design of equipment technology to identify two types of formalization-enabling and coercive. Whether the impact of formalization on employees' attitudes is positive or negative is, we argue, a function of whether that formalization enables employees better to master their tasks or functions as a means by which management attempts to coerce employees' effort and compliance. We identify some forces that tend to discourage the enabling orientation to the benefit of the coercive orientation, as well as some persistent countertendencies that encourage the enabling orientation. We suggest some ways in which this typology can be extended beyond workflow formalization to other facets of bureaucracy such as internal labor markets, hierarchy, and the role of staff functions.

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