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Response to Tony Waters - Bureaucracies and Networks

In a sense your two questions about rationalisation and command and control are related and I will try to answer them together. You are correct in pointing to a connection between my analysis and that of Weber’s – although I did not consciously apply a Weberian approach, it struck me subsequently that some of my conclusions did echo much of what he had written about the rationalisation of modern life.

However, where I would differ is in arguing for the fundamentally different nature of the bureaucracy and the network. The former corresponds to a formalised hierarchical structure in which individual roles are defined in advance in relation to each other (indeed Weber insists this differentiation between an office and its holder is characteristic of it). The latter on the other hand refers to an open structure which does not have any clear hierarchical line of communication and in which roles and the individuals fulfilling them are not clear distinguished (effectively any entry or exit from the network potentially changes its characteristics).

Now of course these pure forms (Weber might call them ideal-types) rarely, if ever, really exist anywhere. All networks have their more or less formalised hierarchies (such as can be found within tightly knit terrorist cells) while even the most rigid bureaucracies will see networks sprout from them (arising from the political or personal relations which individuals will strike up). So organisational reality fluctuates between these two different poles of organisation with Western states closer to one end and the Jihadist movement at the other, to take only those examples. The same is true in the realm of military operations where mixed forms of organisation will be found everywhere with the respective benefits and drawbacks they may present. What state militaries, and particularly the U.S., seem to doing right now is seeking to recruit the virtues of the network form of organisation while still remaining within the broader hierarchical structure of the state, an inherent source of tension which makes such a move all the more challenging.

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