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Max Weber and the Bureaucratisation of Early Childhood. Key points:-

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Key points:-

Weber argued for a ‘scientific’ approach to the research of social situations in order to uncover the importance of the relationship between material conditions, social meaning, and consciousness in understanding human actions;

Interested in historical development of western societies and the rise of the modern state: its economic, political, legal and religious facets;

Research focus was on the interrelationship between economic development and individual behaviour;

Wanted to understand how monopolies were constituted – as part of the development of rationalization;

Often identified as one of the founders of ‘classical’ sociology.


Marx and Weber

  • Weber's views have some obvious similarities to Marx's notion of alienation:-
  • Both agree that modern methods of organisation have tremendously increased the effectiveness and efficiency of production;
  • Both agree that this has allowed an unprecedented domination of man over the world of nature;
  • Both agree that the new world of rationalised efficiency threatens to turn into a monster that dehumanises its creators

Weber believed that Marxist theory was too simplistic because it reduced all society’s problems to economic causes. He rejected Marx’s assertion that the mode of production is responsible exclusively for the worker’s alienation and stated that other, non-economic, factors needed to be taken into account to understand modern western societies. Marx’s alienation of the worker from the means of production becomes for Weber an instance of a more general trend – bureaucratisation means the separation of the soldier from the means of violence, the teacher from the means of learning, etc. Weber proposes instead that rationalisation, as enacted in bureaucratic processes, is the real alienating force.


For Marx, the operation of capitalism is irrational because it is so riven by contradictions, between productive forces and conditions of production, between growth and the falling rate of profit, etc. For Weber, on the other hand, the institutions of capitalism are the embodiment of instrumental rationality. The promotion of rational efficiency and precision goes along with the rational management of state or privately run institutions, and in these specialized bureaucratic functions take centre stage.

Although Weber recognises class divisions are structural and orientated to economic relations, his theory of class is a ‘subjective’ one which is not deterministic about the relation of economic position to subjective attitude.

Weber makes a distinction between class and status and differentiates between types of classes and types of status groups in order to explain complex forms of social ‘layering’ or stratification.



  • A principle of development inherent in the process of civilisation and western society.
  • The widespread use of technical and procedural reasoning as a way of controlling practical outcomes.
  • Process by which nature, society and individual action are increasingly mastered through the adoption of planning, technical procedures, and rational actions.
  • Capitalism and instrumental rationality destroy the naturalism of pre-modern production and consumption, and introduces the mechanical regulation of bureaucracy. In such a world authority is lost: rationalized authority is incompatible with the charismatic power of individuals.

Weber develops an analysis of the “fateful connection between industrialisation, capitalism, and national self-preservation” (Marcuse, 1988:201). “Whatever capitalism may do to man, it must, for Weber, first and before all evaluation, be understood as necessary reason” (ibid., p.202).

    • “[The] specifically Western idea of reason realizes itself in a system of material and intellectual culture (economy, technology, “conduct of life”, Science, art) that develops to the full in industrial capitalism, and this system tends towards a specific type of domination which becomes the fate of the contemporary period: total bureaucracy” (Marcuse, 1988: 203).

Phases in the development of reason into bureaucracy:

1)     The progressive mathematization of knowledge and experience, starting with the natural sciences and developing to include many aspects of life – it’s universal quantification; and alongside this, the eradication of pre-modern ‘magical’ thinking’;

2)     The development of the need for rational proofs in science and in everyday life;

3)     As a result of this organisation of knowledge and experience, and of the need for proofs, the establishment of a technically educated and organized officialdom – including (bureau-professional) teachers.


For Weber, capitalist industrialization is an inescapable matter of power politics – only the development of mass industrialization can guarantee the success of the nation in a climate of ever more fierce international competition. Historical reason requires rule by that class of society which is capable of carrying it through and effecting the development of the nation state – the bourgeoisie.

  • When analysing the historical form of rationality realised as industrialization and bureaucracy, Weber divides rationality into
  • formal rationality (Zweckrationalität or ‘purposeful rationality’ or ‘subjective rationality’) – in this case humans only enter into equations insofar as they represent variables in the calculations of gain and profit;
  • material rationality (Wertrationalität or ‘value rationality’ or ‘objective rationality’) –  the economic maintenance of humans is considered in such a way as to take in value judgements.

“[F]ormal rationality does not go beyond its own structure and has nothing but its own system as the norm of its calculations and calculating actions” (Marcuse, 1988: 214) and is thus dependant upon something other than itself for its development. The apparatuses of capitalism and bureaucracy are in fact instruments of a force outside of themselves.

The point at which rationality ends is called by Weber, charisma. This is a kind of personal domination, carrying a semi-religious reverence. “What begins as the charisma of the single individual and his personal following ends in domination by a bureaucratic apparatus that has acquired rights and functions and in which the charismatically dominated individuals become regular, tax-paying, dutiful “subjects”.” (Marcuse, 1988: 218).


Subjugation to the bureaucratic order is established because it puts at the individual’s “calculable disposal the world of goods and performances of which the single individual no longer has an overview of a comprehension” (Marcuse, 1988: 220). The inability of the individual to understand or grasp the means of production of the society results in their subjection to its calculating managers. “The formal rationality of capitalism celebrates its triumph in… computers, which calculate everything, no matter what the purpose, and which are put to use as mighty instruments of political manipulation” (ibid., p.225).

(Think of the last government’s vast investment in ever more comprehensive data bases.)


Weber’s two forms of rationality – Zweckrationalität (‘purposeful-rationality’) and Wertrationalität (‘value-rationality’) – are contrasted with irrationality.

Morality and rationality are also separated. In assessing rational actions, one takes morality as given.  Rationality cannot be employed to assess competing ethical standards; “it follows that what is ‘worth’ knowing cannot itself be determined rationally, but must rest upon values which specify why certain phenomena are ‘of interest’” (Giddens, 1972: 42).

This puts moral questions about schooling and education beyond the realm of the bureaucrat, yet it is within the bureau that the instrumental decisions are made which enact the values of those in power.


Weber’s theory of social action results in four classifications:-

1. Traditional action: habitual or routine that isn’t subject to rational analysis. The actor has no explicitly considered/stated goal because action is informed by a fixed body of traditional beliefs, where ends and means are fixed by custom.

2. Affectual action: action motivated by sentiment rather than reason, not orientated to a specific end, but ‘driven’ by emotional.

3. Value-based action (wertrational) - use of rational means to achieve a goal that is value-based. The purpose of the action is the realisation of that value. As valued ends are paramount, this can be viewed as irrational behaviour if the ends are pursued without calculation of the ‘possible costs’.

4. Instrumental action (zweckrational) - systematic rational orientation to activity. The use of rational means to attain rational goals: the actor’s means of action are selected exclusively in terms of their rational efficiency.


In order to avoid ‘death’ by PowerPoint, this presentation ends here. The web-notes go further. There is a section dealing with Weber’s analysis of the ‘spirit’ of capitalism that should be read (ideally from the primary text) in relation to what many of you now know about the Communist Manifesto.

Beyond that, Simon has added a very useful final section on bureaucracy, hierarchy, and professionalism related to education. In terms of your assignment, understanding this section – and how it embodies the ideas introduced in this presentation – is very important.