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The McDonaldization Thesis - George Ritzer

WMST6903 Seminar on the McDonaldization Thesis of George Ritzer, which is concerned with whether or not the spread of rationalization, or what he terms 'McDonaldization' is inexorable. Ritzer examines the spatial and temporal dissemination of rationaliz

Andra Keay

on 7 August 2010

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Transcript of The McDonaldization Thesis - George Ritzer

George Ritzer started his career in the Ford Motor factory in the 1960s and has never formally studied sociology. However, he has become one of the most influential and widely read sociologists of today.

“The McDonaldization of Society” was first published in 1993 and is now in its 5th edition. George Ritzer is currently Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland, College Park and cofounder, with Don Slater, of “The Journal of Consumer Culture”. Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

by Dylan Thomas George Ritzer In 1922, Max Weber wrote that there was no escaping the 'iron cage of rationalization'. McDonaldization builds on both empirical reality and Weber's theory to argue that the fast food restaurant rather than the 'bureaucracy' (Weber 1968[1921]) is the paradigm of the process of rationalization. Fast food restaurants combine the principles of bureaucracy with other examples of rationalization like the fordist assembly line and scientific management.
'iron cage of rationalization' Five basic dimensions Spatial dimension: Globalisation Temporal dimension: McDonaldization of birth and death Quote from RITZER's website - the original book

The McDonaldization of Society (1993)

In the original edition of this ground-breaking book, George Ritzer argues that society is undergoing a process of rationalization. Reconceptualizing Max Weber's argument that the bureaucracy is the ideal type of such a process, Ritzer argues that the fast food restaurant has come to replace the bureaucracy as the model for this process. He identifies the four primary components of this model to be efficiency, predictability, calculability and increased control through the replacement of human with non-human technology. Particular attention is paid to the irrationality of rationality (and therefore of McDonaldization). Blurb for latest edition from RITZER's website

The McDonaldization of Society 5 (2008)

In the latest edition of this now-classic work, George Ritzer brings the McDonaldization thesis up-to-date dealing with many new examples and manifestations. The major change in this edition is a new chapter on the “Starbuckization of Society”. This chapter assesses the Starbucks phenomenon and concludes that while it is important, it is largely a variant on McDonaldization. Thus, it is concluded that Starbucks will not replace McDonald’s as the model for the rationalization process in the contemporary world. The Globalization of Nothing 2 (2007)

A theoretical work that deals with the short and long-term effects of globalization--specifically arguing that societies are increasingly moving away from "something" (unique, indigenous culture) and toward "nothing" (globalized, standardized culture that is centrally controlled and is largely lacking in indigenous components). This book explores processes of grobalization and glocalization in order to explain Ritzer's analysis of the consequences of globalization for local cultures worldwide.
Enchanting a Disenchanted World (2005)

An examination of what are alternately called the “cathedrals” or”means” of consumption in the contemporary world (e.g. shopping malls, Las Vegas Casinos, Disney World). The dilemma facing these structures involves how to enchant themselves (and thereby attract ever more consumers) while remaining highly rationalized. "I'd like to see a society in which people are free to be creative, rather than having their creativity constrained or eliminated."

George Ritzer
http://www.georgeritzer.com/ 1: Author 1. Intro: George Ritzer's background.
2. Rationalization theory (Weber, Marx and the iron cage of rationality)
3. McDonaldization: definition, spatial and temporal growth.
4. Five dimensions of McDonaldization.
5. Class Activity: application of five dimensions to aspects of daily life
6. Other theoretical perspectives
7. Final questions
2. Max Weber "A bureaucracy is capable of attaining the highest degree of efficiency, and is in this sense formally the most rational known means of exercising authority over human beings". (Weber in Ritzer, 2004)
3. McDonaldization Ritzer, George
“The McDonaldization Thesis: Is expansion inevitable?”
International Sociology 11 (1996), 291-308. Andra Keay &
Sandra Rivera
WMST6903 Efficiency:
"The effort to discover the best posible means to whatever end is desired.” (Ritzer, 1996)

“Emphasis on quantity … to the detriment of quality” (Ritzer, 1996)

“Employees are expected to perform their work in a predictable manner and … customers are expected to respond with similarly predictable behaviour” (Ritzer, 1996)

The increasing mechanisation of process, it extends to both the employees and the consumers.

Irrationality of rationality:
“irrationality means that rational systems are unreasonable systems … they deny the basic humanity, the human reason, of the people who work within or are served by them” (Ritzer on Paterson, 2006) The temporal expansion of McDonaldization is the way in which it no longer limited to things associated with life, such as food, drink, clothing, shelter and so on, but has now expanded to what Ritzer calls “the colonization of birth and death” (1996)
Six Feet Under
TV show from HBO spanned between 2001 and 2005.
The show revolved around members of the Fisher family, who run a funeral home in Los Angeles.
During the first season, Kroener, a large corporate chain of funeral services tries either to buy the family business or make them close. In spatial terms, the fast-food restaurant has saturated the United States and is now found across the world, in all but the poorest of places.

A more subtle aspect is the expansion of fast food restaurants into other institutions, like museums, planes and schools, and also the expansion of fast food principles into other institutions, like hospitals, airports and supermarkets. We even McDonaldize our homes, from purchasing ready to cook/eat meals to going to lifestyle fitness centres and buying Ikea furniture in giant ‘home’ stores. This is driven partly by material interests and party by cultural factors.
Class exercise
Filling in the blanks: DEATH "How has McDonaldization colonised death?"

Efficiency _____________________
Calculability _____________________
Predictability _____________________
Control _____________________
Irrationality _____________________ Example of extension of 5 dimensions: BIRTH

Efficiency Caesarians, Operating theatres (handle any surgery), Institutional setting
Calculability Ovulation charts, due dates, ultrasound measurements
Predictability Research into stages of labour, size of foetus, maternal indicators, chekups
Control Stirrups, Inductions, Monitors, Measurements, Blood Tests, drugs, Registration
Irrationality Surrounded by strangers staring at your most intimate parts/process Is saving life dehumanizing or irrational? Why do we resist McDonaldization? Is McDonaldization inexorable?
What could other theorists offer instead?
How does this shape our role as consumers? REFERENCES:
Bohman, James, Rehg, William, "Jürgen Habermas", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2009 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2009/entries/habermas/>.

Goode, L. Habermas and the Public Sphere. (2005) London: Pluto Press

Kalberg, S. “Max Weber’s Types of Rationality: Cornerstones for the Analysis of Rationalization Processes in History”, American Journal of Sociology (1980) 85:1145-79

Lemke, T.“The Birth of Bio-Politics – Michel Foucault’s Lecture at the College de France on Neo Liberal Governmentality” in: Economy & Society, Vol. 30, No. 2, (2001) 190-207

Paterson, M. “McDisneyfications” Consumption and everyday life (2006) 58-86 New York: Routledge

Ritzer, George. “The McDonaldization Thesis: Is expansion inevitable?” International Sociology 11 (1996), 291-308.

Ritzer, G. & Goodman, D. J. Sociological Theory Sixth Ed. (2003) Boston: McGraw Hill

Sanders, G. Late capital: negotiating a new American way of death. (2008) Unpublished Dissertation, Vanderbilt University, Nashville Tennessee.

Weber, M. Economy and Society. (1968 [1921])Totowa, NJ: Bedminster Press

Weinstein, D. & Weinstein, M. A. “McDonaldization enframed”. In B. Smart (ed) Resisting McDonaldization (1999) 57-69. London: Sage
Ulrich Beck
Pierre Bourdieu
Anthony Giddens
Michel Foucault
Jurgen Habermas Foucault's Theory of
Governmentality and Biopower Habermas's Theory of Communicative Action Is McDonaldization relevant today? George Ritzer discusses: Additional Material References In Brief Seminar Videos for Seminar Seminar Questions Seminar Activity Ritzer's thesis of McDonaldization (Ritzer 1983,1993,1996) is derived directly from Max Weber's theory of the rationalization of the Occidental world (Weber 1968 [1921]), which in turn built on Marx’s theory of capital and class. Marx, Weber and Durkheim are considered the principle thinkers of sociology, which is the study of society, or groups, that emerged in the 19th century. Modern Times : Charlie Chaplin Fritz Lang's Metropolis Queen's "Radio Gaga" using Metropolis "Do not go gentle" by Dylan Thomas Theory of Rationalization For Weber, the purest form of legal authority was bureaucracy. Modern Times : Charlie Chaplin This process results from the application of automated factory systems, Fordism, to the provision of services that involve interactions between service providers and individual human beings. According to Ritzer, the principles of the fast-food restaurant have permeated into all the aspects of our social lives. Ritzer defines McDonaldization as "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" (Ritzer, 1996). Efficiency is achieved in both production and consumption, through a variety of rules, procedures and structures (like drive thru). Calculability is achieved through timing (speed) which alienates workforce and customer, reducing the quality of the cooking and dining experience as the food quality is also affected.

Predictability is achieved through scripted exchanges, unvarying (minor) choices all creating a ritualized environment. Control is in the 'hands' of non-human technology determining both the work and the product (no personalized chips). The irrationality of the rational is that we put up with slow service or poor food and a dehumanizing experience. By executing pre-scripted jobs, rather than having authentic communication, or being controlled by machinery rather than being allowed independent action, people lose their humanity.

According to Ritzer, the ultimate irrationality is the dehumanization of life processes. This is based on the Weberian ‘iron cage of rationality’. Democracy, which represents people, creates bureaucracies that then control people, thus sacrificing the foundational democratic principle.
Ritzer claims that McDonaldization is an inexorable process, both spatially and temporally. Ritzer sites our resistance to the process of McDonaldization in our own uniqueness and the inherently non-rational causes of birth and death, like cancer. Also the rational drive to improve our practises results in changes that can be rehumanizing, like recommendations to reduce caesarean rates, and personal power can be returned through technologies, like euthanasia web sites.

Can counter reactions impede McDonaldization or will they be rationalized? Ritzer believes we must continue to struggle regardless, because it is ennobling and struggle is a non-rationalised individual or collective activity allowing people to express genuinely human reason in a world that increasingly denies it to us. (1996)
Some modern theorists who have also explored rationalization and governance are Ulrich Beck, Pierre Bourdieu, Anthony Giddens, Michel Foucault and Jurgen Habermas. Foucault’s relatively unexplored theory of biopower, which was only recorded in lectures before his untimely death, describes the evolution of governance into all aspects of life through the processes of rationalization of the exercising of power. The increasing regulation of the self extends Foucault’s work on governmentality, and the recipricocity of knowledge and power. (Lemke, 2008)

Habermas developed a theory of “communicative action” at the foundation of society and believes that a pessimistic view of instrumental rationalism misses the power of culture. (Bohman, Rehg, 2009) On Habermas, “Rationalization here involves emancipation.” (Ritzer, 2003)
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