This post discusses the concepts of Rational-Legal Authority (Scott and Davis, p. 47) and Formal Rationality (Scott and Davis, p. 52) from Chapter 2 of Organizations and Organizing.
This is one of three types of authority that were described by Weber. This type of authority relies on a belief in the “legality” of patterns of normative rules and the right of those elevated to authority under such rules to issue commands. Modern bureaucracy is the most highly developed form of the impersonal and formal structures which are made possible by rational-legal authority. Because of the formal and impersonal nature of rational-legal authority, it is the best foundation for building an administrative structure upon. This can be said because traditional authority – the other stable structural form – is fast being replaced by rational-legal authority because of its technical superiority over other forms of organization. (Scott and Davis, p. 47)
Weber defined bureaucracy as being rational, primarily in the formal sense of rationality (as opposed to technical rationality). This applied to procedures where legal norms or monetary calculations were involved, since it refers to orientation of action to formal rules and laws. Formal rationality holds in Weber’s pure type of bureaucracy, wherein procedures require impersonality and expert knowledge – any such procedures were intrinsically rational to him regardless of their relation to organizational goals. Weber recognized the shortcomings of this strict definition of formal rationality, and the possibility of conflict created by it. He recognized the difference between perfection of legal procedures and the attainment of justice, and between abstract formalism of legal certainty and objective accomplishments. (Scott and Davis, p. 52)