The Limit of Bureaucratic Power in Organizations: the Case of the Chinese Bureaucracy

Yun Ai
Hong Lian
Research in the Sociology of Organizations

Bureaucratic power – the power derived from the formal authority of the bureaucratic organization – has become a central organizing mechanism in modern societies. In this study, we develop theoretical arguments to identify institutional sources as well as limitations of bureaucratic power. We argue that the very institutional sources of bureaucratic power also cultivate the countervailing forces that set limit to the exercise of bureaucratic power in formal organizations. These arguments and considerations are illustrated in two case studies of the “inspection and appraisal” processes in the Chinese bureaucracy. Our study raises issues about organizational isomorphism and calls for a closer look at the behavioral patterns in organizational processes.