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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - The End of Bureaucracy?

11th November 2010, 20:00, Penthouse Suite, Collingwood College, Professor Stewart Clegg (University of Technology, Sydney)

Many listening to this lecture may well belong to bureaucracies: they may work in them, be educated in them, worship in them, or be regulated by them. Yet, bureaucracy is under attack and has been for some time, specially these past thirty years. In this talk I will outline the specific qualities of bureaucracy; the challenges to it that different critics have posed, and the possible futures of bureaucracy that are being imagined. 

The specific qualities of bureaucracy were first systematically outlined for modern times by the great German sociologist, Max Weber. His views were very much the post-war orthodoxy of Corporate and Public Sector life everywhere until the 1980s. Then a strange thing happened: ideas of 'cultural revolution' that had first been mobilized by Mao Zedong through the Red Guards against his enemies in the Party, who sought to criticize him after the failure of the Great Leap Forward, and had been picked up by student activists in the West, re-appeared in the 1980s as a key part of an extremely liberal and influential critique of bureaucracy. New imaginings of how to organize corporations and public sector organizations began to emerge. By the late 1990s, a view had developed that the way forward was to replace bureaucracies by flatter and more distributed networks of organization.

This lecture will suggest that the global future of bureaucracy is not as simple as some of these suggestions propose - left to one side to wither away.  Instead, it is suggested, new and possibly unsettling or perhaps even necessary forms of bureaucracy are emerging, which need to be grasped in a re-evaluation of the future and value of this historical form of governing life.

Professor Stewart Clegg is one of the world's leading organization theorists and has published extensively on power and organizations, social theory, globalization and postmodernism.  He is currently an IAS and Holland Fellow, hosted by Collingwood College and engaged with the Institute's annual theme on 'Futures'.  For further information please visit: 

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