Question 1: Weber saw rationalisation as an “iron cage” that increasingly dominated all social life. Discuss what he means by this, and how rationalisation shapes bureaucracies.
In reference to Weber, as societies developed, particularly the western societies, certain set of universal laws, regulations and rules were established upon which individuals in such societies made decisions. In other words, from Weber’s perspective, the society, in a bid to achieve advantages such as improved efficiency formulated and enacts a framework that individuals in such societies rely on to make rational decisions. Whereas this is the case, the dependence on rationalisation often leads to establishment of an “iron cage”, whereby individuals depend on the existing rational framework to make decisions rather than on their traditions and values. In reference to Holmes, Hughes and Julian (2015), whereas the laws, rules and regulations under rationalisation could help select the most effective way of accomplishing a particular goal, they are not based in any way on customary, religious or even traditional authority but rather are based on legal-rational authority that is unquestionable. Therefore, since rationalisation has strict rules that cannot be violated or questions when instituted within a particular society, it traps the people living or those who are born in such as society and as such, they cannot make their decision based on anything else apart from the acceptable framework within this society (Morrissette 2017). For example, those who are born in a society where leaders are chosen through a “rational system” called elections cannot ascend to power expect through following all the laid out rules, that is, through elections. Thus, as rationalisation established itself within a society, it controlled every sphere of social lives, making it difficult for individuals to escape from such control.
One of the critical aspects of rationalisation is the fact that it has a significant impact on bureaucracy. To begin, rationalisation plays a critical role in determining how decisions are made within a bureaucracy mainly by limiting the ability of individuals to make independent choices and decisions. According to Atalay (2007), rationalisation provides bureaucracies with the power to limit the autonomy of individuals under their authority, thus safeguarding themselves against the limitations of partial and unpredictable nature of individual decision-making. In this regard, bureaucracies argue that from a rational point of view, giving individuals the autonomy to make decisions is likely to introduced flaws in the entire decision-making processes, thus undermining efficiency and as such, the desired results or goals.
Apart from limiting the individual autonomy within a bureaucracy, there is a need to observe that rationalisation has a significant influence on how bureaucracies are organised particularly with respect to different layers of authority. In their analysis on the relationship between a bureaucracy and rationalisation, Thompson and McHugh (2009) observe that it is difficult for bureaucracy to function without adherence to specific laid down procedures, hierarchy and expertise. In other words, the dictates of rationalisation that stipulates that in order to make sound decisions and promote efficiency, there is a need to follow specific decision-making framework, are inherent in a bureaucratic framework whereby efficiency and better decisions are only achieved if a certain framework is followed such as going through different layers of a hierarchy. For example, in a bureaucratic organisation, every channel of authority must be followed when making a decision otherwise it will be rendered invalid for failing to follow a “rational hierarchical” structure.