Origins of Bureaucratic Organization: A Comparative Study of Political Careers and Elite Reproduction

Research question/goal: 

Where does bureaucratic organization come from? Bureaucracies surround us in all walks of life. Their logic of governance shapes public administration, the behaviour of firms in the economy, political parties, and even religious life. In short, bureaucracy remains the dominant mode of formal organization in modern societies. Despite their dominant role, bureaucratic organizations rarely emerge fully formed, and neither does the rationalized system of rules and roles that forms their essence. What makes bureaucracies work are those who pursue their professional careers within them. If such careers are indeed the “lifeblood” of formal organization, then understanding the nature and development of careers is essential for the understanding of the origins of bureaucratic organization.

The proposed project uses the careers of elected representatives and office holders as a case in point to examine the link between individual action and organizational forms. Typically, parties and politicians shape legislative processes through the offices they hold. Historically, offices often came with personal loyalty, where informal patronage networks dictated both the selection of clients into positions and their political future. As political systems mature into formal organizations, they challenge precisely such informal selection, seeking to substitute it with professional careers detached from personal loyalties. This project identifies the mechanisms that enable, constrain or even revert the development from informal networks to professionalization in the careers of politicians. It does so by drawing on three empirical cases in which political systems had to be created or rebuilt following a significant institutional rupture: the rebuilding of representative assemblies in (West-)Germany after 1949, the French Fifth Republic after 1958 (both until today), and the American state of Vermont—the first to join the Union without being the successor to a former colony.

Current stage: 

One part of the project examines trajectories of bills and how they travel between committees in the context of varying organizational structures of the German Bundestag. We are currently building a database that includes all bills and their trajectories in the legislative process. Next, we will operationalize politicians' career patterns to test their impact on the legislative process.

Fact sheet

2017 to 2020
in preparation
Data Sources: 
Longitudinal career data from administrative and archival sources
Geographic Space: 
Europe (France, Germany); North America (United States)