(noun) “[A] formal organization characterized by a hierarchy of authority, a clear division of labor, explicit rules, and impersonality” (OpenStax College 2012).

Example: The department of motor vehicles or city hall.

Audio Pronunciation: (bu·reauc·ra·cy)

Download Audio Pronunciation: bureaucracy.mp3

Usage Notes:

  • Plural: bureaucracies
  • Commonly, bureaucracy connotes hierarchical structures in a negative light due to the absence of individual freedom of initiative and the overuse of delegation.
  • A (noun) bureaucrat works in a (adjective) bureaucratic organization.

Related Quotations:

  • “Bureaucracies generally reward compliance, not defiance. In bureaucratic settings, one does not typically advance by being the defiant, rugged, and fiercely independent individualist of American folklore, but by going along to get along, being a team player, following the rules and procedures, and slowly climbing the bureaucratic ladder one step at a time” (McNamee and Miller 2013:171-172).

Additional Information:

Related Terms: 



McNamee, Stephen J., and Robert K. Miller. 2013. The Meritocracy Myth. 3rd. ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

OpenStax College. 2012. Formal Organizations. Connexions, June 12, 2012. (http://cnx.org/content/m42833/1.3/).