Course description

Despite (and perhaps because of) globalization, the internet, and other features of contemporary life, formal bureaucratic organizations continue to shape the world we live in. Government affairs—both domestic and foreign—are still largely the province of public agencies. Where government services are carried out by contract, as with privatization schemes, they are often implemented by large private organizations with bureaucratic forms (think of Halliburton). In economic affairs, corporations both large and small produce, invest, and consume vast shares of resources. Despite the common image of businesses as small, complex and formalized organizations still do most of the work of the contemporary economy, including finance (think of the various banks now receiving funding from the US government or being nationalized overseas), production of steel and automobiles, and software development (Apple, Microsoft, or Oracle). Billions of humans worldwide organize their faith more or less by worshipping in formally organized churches with hierarchical structures, the best example being the Roman Catholic Church. Educational institutions worldwide and at every level of training are characterized by highly formalized structures, as students at Harvard University doubtless recognize. Bureaucratic organizations are not always large organizations, but they are characterized by formalized rules and regulations, systematic record-keeping and archiving of past decisions, formalized planning for the future, hierarchies of status, defined career paths (within the organization and across organizations), a concern for organizational identity, and other features. Many of these features vary immensely across organizations and there is no single epitome of bureaucratic form. This course has several purposes: to acquaint students with different theories of organization, to learn more about governmental and military organizations in the United States (the executive branch and the American bureaucracy), and to compare different forms of bureaucracy in social, economic, governmental, and military spheres. The course focuses upon government agencies, particularly those at the federal level of government in the United States, but includes powerful lessons for other forms of organization as well. The course aims to provide students with familiarity with several different theoretical approaches and models to studying bureaucratic organizations; a sense of cutting-edge scholarship on bureaucratic politics and organizations; a sound knowledge of the broad parameters of the historical development and operation of bureaucracy in the United States, especially in the military and civilian spheres; and a theoretical and empirical understanding of selected bureaucratic organizations in the history of the United States.


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