Weber vs Wairua

towards a more humane bureaucracy in Aotearoa New Zealand?


  • Robert Gregory
  • Kristen Maynard



bureaucracy, wairua, Mäori, Max Weber, spirituality, public service


The essential elements of modern bureaucracy were identified by the German social scientist Max Weber (1864–1920) and remain central today to any understanding of how modern governmental systems work. At the core of Weber’s understanding was the insight that bureaucracies are profoundly impersonal, even dehumanised, organisations, which is a key element in their ability to carry out complex, large-scale tasks. However, this dehumanised character is also one of bureaucracy’s biggest weaknesses, since it inhibits the organisation’s ability to relate to people in ways that are in tune with lived social experiences. This article argues that in Aotearoa New Zealand it should be possible to draw upon knowledge from te ao Mäori, and especially the idea of wairua, to help fulfil aspirations for an improved public service, one that is more effective and humane for all New Zealanders. However, to do so will require a much greater appreciation of such knowledge than has so far been the case.


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