Thursday, July 12, 2012

McDonaldization of Society

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McDonaldization of Society

I decided to just summarize the whole reader on the McDonaldization of Society. McDonaldization is the process by which the principles of the fast food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as the rest of the world( McDonaldization). These principles include efficiency, predictability, calculability and control. Taken together, they constitute the formal rationality that makes up McDonaldization. Ritzer continues to depict McDonaldization as a largely one-way process in which a series of American innovations are being aggressively exported too much of the rest of the world.

Although the author acknowledges that the McDonaldization idea is rooted in Webers reflections on rationality, specifically the notion of the iron cage of rationality, he prefers the straightforwardness of Mannheims thinking on the subject. The second, for example, locates the fundamental irrationality of highly rationalized systems, such as McDonaldized ones, in threats to the ability to think; whereas, the previous emphasizes threats to human values, an area the author deems unnecessarily messy for the purposes of his theoretical analysis. The author further justifies this position by noting the cognitive demands of the present post-industrial system in which human beings live. Indeed, it is the dehumanization resulting from the instantaneous increase in functional rationality and decrease in substantive rationality, which rationalized systems demand and carries on, that which animates the author.

The author introduces the concept of the new means of consumption to illustrate the ways in which not only business, but cultural, practices are threatened by McDonaldization. Defined as those things owned by capitalists and given by them as necessary to customers in order for them to consume, examples of the new means of consumption include fast food restaurants, credit cards, sex industries, theme parks, and sports. The critical point for the author is that each change the ways individuals consume. For example, the exportation of fast-food restaurants and American eating habits, with their emphasis on food as something to be consumed as quickly, efficiently, and inexpensively as possible, alters the way people eat and, thereby, poses a profound threat to the entire cultural complex of many societies (McDonaldization)


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Further evidence for the spread of McDonaldization is wanted in the current state of sociology, the labor process, higher education, and tourism. Indeed, the chapters devoted to the different areas are often as amusing as they are disturbing. For example, the author compares the sex industry to where it breaks sexual pleasures down to their most basic, easily packaged, mass produced components allowing maximum profitability while offering the customer easy access to goods and services, quick and convenient choices and hassle free exit from encounter (Mcdonaldization). With these generalizations it makes the dangerous sex industry seem as though it is a routine that a machine is doing instead of a human being with feelings. But this is the point of Mcdonaldization it shows how basically everything in our society has a specific routine that people are accustomed to go by.

In some ways, the authors argument is contradictory. On the one hand, he maintains that McDonaldization is a matter of degree rather than an all or nothing process, which would suggest that there ought to be some room to maneuver. Yet, on the other, he claims that those who have either spent a good deal of time living or working within McDonaldized systems are incapable of challenging the system. They have been so thoroughly socialized to accept the norms and values of the system that they willingly conform to them. This deterministic view, which also reflects his notion of culture, denies individuals any sort of agency at all. Perhaps, there is little reason to lament this dilemma. After all, life in a McDonaldized system does offer predictability, efficiency, calculability, and control, which will be valued differently by different people, assuming these concepts are relevant in other contexts.

From a different perspective, The McDonaldization Thesis would be greatly improved with a bit of ethnographic engagement. Even if McDonaldization and the new means of consumption are everywhere as the author claims, there is still a need to relate the discussion of them. Why not ask people their routinized tasks and ask if they think their current system is McDonaldized. While the author readily admits that his discussion of McDonaldization has an upper and middleclass bias, he makes a weak attempt in the text to explore issues of stratification, including race, gender, class, and age.

Still, he does not entertain the possibility that his idea may be limited to the US context. Instead, he readily applies it to settings outside the US without considering how different groups experience McDonaldization or what it means to them, assuming it has any meaning at all. Its correctness is seemingly justified by the growing number of fast food restaurants and Disneyland like amusements world wide. This is not to say that the McDonaldization thesis isn’t significant. It is thought provoking, amusing, and disturbing. However, for those who are interested in what is taking place on the ground, the theoretical output of The McDonaldization Thesis needs to be balanced with a good deal more experimental input.

Works Cited

Ritzer, George. Mcdonaldization the Reader. University of Maryland

Los Angeles Times, 1 October 2001, B-11

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