Bureaucratic Politics: Military, Government, Economic and Social Organizations

Spring 2010

Daniel Carpenter, Freed Professor of Government, Harvard University




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 (Halliburton). In economic affairs, corporations both large and small produce, invest and consume vast shares of resources. 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 will 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. My aim is to leave the student individually, and the class collectively, with four "products" from the course: (1) a familiarity with several different theoretical approaches to studying bureaucratic organizations, (2) a sound knowledge of the parameters of the historical development and operation of bureaucracy in the United States, (3) a sense of "cutting edge" scholarship on bureaucratic politics and organizations, and (4) a theoretical and empirical understanding of selected bureaucratic organizations in the history of the United States.

I do not intend this course to substitute fully for (a) courses in organization theory, (b) courses in public management, or (c) courses on bureaucracy in economic, social or religious settings. Still, it is my hope that much about organization theory, public management and non-government bureaucracies can be learned from taking this course.


Assignments and Paper Questions

First Paper Question

First Paper Results and Suggestions Page

Second Paper Question

Third Paper Question

Final Examination (Fourth Paper) Question


Summary ("Crib Sheet") of Theoretical Perspectives on Formal Organizations


Lecture Slides (in pdf)

Lecture 01 [20100126] -- Introductory Session and Discussion of Bureaucracy

Lecture 02 [20100128] -- Survey of Bureaucratic Politics and Why Organization Matters

Lecture 03 [20100202] -- Weberian Theory and Contingency Models

Lecture 04 [20100204] -- Behavioral Theories of Organization

Lecture 05 [20100209] -- Contractual and Transaction-Cost Theories of Organization

Lecture 06 [20100211] -- Cultural and Reputational Theories of Organization and Bureaucracy

Handout: Timeline of U.S. Army History

Lecture 07 [20100216] -- Transformation of the U.S. Army

Lecture 08 [20100218] -- Organizational Learning between Wars

Lecture 09 [20100223] -- The Basis of Twentieth-Century Organization and Control

Lecture 10 [20100225] -- Military Manpower and the War on Terror [Guest Lecture by Brig Gen. Kevin Ryan, US Army, ret.]

K. Ryan, Army Manpower and the War on Terror [pdf]

K. Ryan, Background Readings for Army Manpower and the War on Terror [pdf]

Lecture 11 [20100302] -- Inter-Organizational Politics in Foreign Policy and Military Agencies [Blankshain]

Lecture 12 [20100304] -- The Emergence of U.S. Pharmaceutical Regulation

Lecture 13 [20100309] -- Reputation and FDA Drug Regulation

Lecture 14 [20100311] -- Behavioral Rationality, Structure, and U.S. Politics [Blankshain]

Lecture 15 [20100323] -- Civilian/Domestic Agencies: Recruitment and Retention, Selection and Socialization

Lecture 16 [20100325] -- The Pre-History and Revolutionary History of Economic Organization in the U.S.

Lecture 17 [20100330] -- The Emergence of the Multidivisional Form in the United States

Lecture 18 [20100401] -- Organizational Transformation and Corruption

Lecture 19 [20100406] -- The Business Firm as a Political Coalition

Lecture 20 [20100408] -- The Early Modernization of Harvard

Lecture 21 [20100413] -- Politics in the Modern University

Lecture 22 [20100415] -- The College and the Core

Lecture 23 [20100420] -- Status and Survival

Lecture 24 [20100422] -- Loose Coupling in Education and the Modern Hospital

Lecture 25 [20100427] -- Patients, Hospitals and Doctors: Contractual and Exchange Relationships