Ideal Type

Ideal types are one sided exaggeration of the essence of what goes on in real world. Ideal types are heuristic devices which are derived inductively and are used for empirical research. Ideal types are not necessarily present in the real world, they are important tools to understand and analyse any sociological or economic phenomena. Ideal types help researchers to find out the deviation of a particular social phenomenon from its ideal type.

For example, Weber proposed certain features of ideal type of bureaucracy, and the deviation of any bureaucratic organisation from those very features will unfold the reality of its functioning.

Ideal type of bureaucracy

Weber termed bureaucracy as the purest form of exercise of rational legal authority. Bureaucracy is capable of attaining the highest degree of efficiency, and in this sense formally the most rational known means of exercising authority over human beings. It is superior in precision, stability, the stringency of discipline and reliability. It is formally capable of application to all kinds of administrative tasks.

Features of an ideal type bureaucracy


  • A continuous organisation of official functions bound by rules.
  • Each office has obligation and required authority to perform functions
  • It is an hierarchical system
  • Staff does not own the means of production, they are provided with things required to perform their duties.
  • All administrative works are recorded in written form.
  • It follows principles of rationality, objectivity and consistency.
  • Formal and impersonal relations among members of the organization.

Negative aspects of bureaucracy

Weber had some reservation about bureaucratic organisations. Bureaucratic organisations are prone to red-tapism means unnecessary delay in decision making due to plethora of rules and regulations . The excessive rationalization in these organizations reduces workers to merely a cog in the bureaucratic machines.

Iron Cage of bureaucracy

The above characteristics bureaucratic organizations will lead to a rigid and dehumanized society. It limits individual freedom and enslave him in an iron cage of excessive rules and regulations. Bureaucracies, according to Weber, are “escape proof” and difficult to destroy once they are established. Bureaucracy will become more pervasive with time.


Is there any alternative to bureaucracies ?

According to Weber there is no alternative to bureaucracy because modern societies need rational bureaucratic structures for their growth. Weber says that even socialist societies would need bureaucratic structures in order to achieve efficiency comparable to capitalistic societies. In fact, in a capitalistic society bureaucrats are not owners, so it is easy to restraint them. In socialism even the top level leaders will be bureaucrats.

How to keep a control over bureaucratic system ?

Apart from professionals who are outside the bureaucratic system, Weber had great hope from politicians to keep a control over bureaucracies and bureaucrats. He specifically mentions in his essay Politics as a Vocation that political leaders should be developed to oppose the rule of bureaucratic system.