Dissolving the Iron Cages? Tocqueville, Michels, Bureaucracy

D. Courpasson*, S.R. Clegg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Modern management theory often forgets more than it remembers. ‘what's new?’ is the refrain. Yet, we suggest, there is much that we should already know from which we might appropriately learn, ‘lest we forget’. The current paper takes its departure from two points of remembrance that bear on the sustained assaults on bureaucracy that have been unleashed by the critiques of recent years. These critiques include the new public management literature as well as its inspiration in the new literature of cultural entrepreneurialism. Both promise to dissolve bureaucracy's iron cage. We explain, using the classical political themes of oligarchy, democracy, and the production of elite power, why we should consider such transubstantiation alchemical by confronting contemporary discussions with the wisdom of an earlier, shrewder knowledge, whose insights we need to recall to understand the complexity of the hybridizations between supposedly opposite models of organizations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-343
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2006


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