Time in Bureaucracies: Organizational Determinants and Effects of Temporal Orientation


Over the course of the last two decades, international relations and, to a degree, comparative politics as well, have begun taking explicit note of the importance of time, with fully-fledged theories slowly emerging. However, even a brief glance at existing works on this topic reveals that Kenneth Waltz’s "second image," "the internal organization of states," is largely absent from the discussion. This is surprising given the voluminous literature on various aspects of governmental apparatuses, especially on the crucial role of bureaucratic organizations in influencing policy formulation and shaping implementation. Furthermore, the field of management and organization studies has devoted considerable attention to the role of time in organizations, but the findings have gone largely unnoticed in both international relations and political science more generally. These heretofore underutilized works must be interpreted within a broader bureaucratic politics framework to be of use to international relations and security studies.

More specifically, the question is: How do bureaucratic organizations perceive and shape time, and what effect does that have on how they function? The primary goal of this paper is, in other words, to investigate how temporal discounting—which essentially describes the extent to which an actor is future- or present-oriented—operates on an organizational level. The paper also explores to which degree extant observations about perceptions of time and the resulting pathologies apply to a unitary actor model of bureaucratic organizations, and, relatedly, considers the issue of modeling the time horizons of organizations with large internal variation in patterns of temporal discounting.
Last updated on 03/24/2019