Research

Charisma and Subcultural Bureaucracy - 2014 International Sociological Association World Congress of Sociology, Yokohama, Japan

Faculty Research Grant
Grant Year
2013-2014

(Research presentation, 2014 International Sociological Association World Congress of Sociology, Yokohama, Japan)

Charisma and Subcultural Bureaucracy: Challenging Weber’s Ideal Typical Distinction

What role does charismatic authority play in the inculcation of subcultures of Weberian bureaucratic practice within otherwise non‐bureaucratic environments? McDonnell's research investigates the conditions that support the emergence and flourishing of subcultural niches of administrative excellence, which are characterized by proto‐bureaucratic practices uncommon in the broader administrative environment. Using interview, observational and documentary data from cases in the Ghanaian state, including more than 100 interviews with civil servants and expert observers of the state, McDonnell analyzes the formation and functioning of subcultural bureaucratic niches.

These subcultural niches facilitate Weberian bureaucratic practice by concentrating scarce administrative resources—especially bureaucratically experienced and highly skilled personnel—which helps incubate transformative administrative practices. Charisma and cultural competence navigating social networks enables niche leaders to attract high quality personnel even where skills are scarce. Such charismatic leaders strategically offer skilled subordinates “high profile” work connecting them to “big men” influential within the larger patronage culture, essentially trading the leader’s social capital for the subordinate’s human capital. By strategically leveraging social capital rewards, charismatic leaders can cultivate meritocracy and the corporatist ethos even where nepotism and rent‐seeking are the norm. In this sense, charismatic leaders bridge conventional patronage political cultures and the Weberian bureaucratic ethos. This suggests that, in contrast to Weber’s ideal typical distinctions between charismatic and bureaucratic authority, charismatic authority may sometimes be a step transitioning from traditional authority to bureaucratic organization of power within state structures. However, charismatic leaders working to inculcate the Weberian bureaucratic ethos creates a crisis of succession, whereby leaders must figure out how to 1) transfer subordinates’ allegiance from personalistic attachment to corporatist affiliation with the office and attachment to the organization and 2) how to preserve their subcultural niche through changes in political leadership beyond the niche. 

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