Weber and Kafka: The rational and the enigmatic bureaucracy

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Torben Beck Jørgensen

Max Weber’s and Franz Kafka’s respective understandings of bureaucracy are as different as
night and day. Yet, Kafka’s novel The Castle is best read with Max Weber at hand. In fact, Kafka
relates systematically to all the dimensions in Weber’s ideal type of bureaucracy and give us a
much-contemplated parody, almost a counter-punctual ideal type, based on four key observations:
bureaucratic excesses unfold in time and space; a ‘no error’ ideology generates inescapable
dilemmas; inscrutability is a life condition in bureaucracy; civil servants end up walking on the
spot, just like the figures in Escher’s painting: Ascending and Descending. Nevertheless, Weber and
Kafka can both be right. While Kafka looks at the bureaucratic phenomenon through persons who
are marginalized, Weber’s perspective is historic-comparative and top-down. Are the observations
of the one more correct than the other? The question is meaningless. As two opposite poles, Weber
and Kafka ‘magnetize’ each other.
TidsskriftPublic Administration
Udgave nummer1
Sider (fra-til)194–210
Antal sider17
StatusUdgivet - 2012

ID: 23064159