WEBER AND KAFKA: THE RATIONAL AND THE ENIGMATIC BUREAUCRACY
Version of Record online: 10 AUG 2011
© 2011 The Author. Public Administration © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Volume 90, Issue 1, pages 194–210, March 2012
How to Cite
BECK JØRGENSEN, T. (2012), WEBER AND KAFKA: THE RATIONAL AND THE ENIGMATIC BUREAUCRACY. Public Administration, 90: 194–210. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9299.2011.01957.x
- Issue online: 20 MAR 2012
- Version of Record online: 10 AUG 2011
- Date received 23 September 2010. Date accepted 7 November 2010.
Max Weber's and Franz Kafka's respective understandings of bureaucracy are as different as night and day. Yet, Kafka's novel The Castle is best read with Max Weber at hand. In fact, Kafka relates systematically to all the dimensions in Weber's ideal type of bureaucracy and give us a much-contemplated parody, almost a counter-punctual ideal type, based on four key observations: bureaucratic excesses unfold in time and space; a ‘no error’ ideology generates inescapable dilemmas; inscrutability is a life condition in bureaucracy; civil servants end up walking on the spot, just like the figures in Escher's painting: Ascending and Descending. Nevertheless, Weber and Kafka can both be right. While Kafka looks at the bureaucratic phenomenon through persons who are marginalized, Weber's perspective is historic-comparative and top-down. Are the observations of the one more correct than the other? The question is meaningless. As two opposite poles, Weber and Kafka ‘magnetize’ each other.