University of Illinois
The McDonaldization of Society 6 by George Ritzer. California, Pine Forge Press, 2010, 328 pp., £27.99 (paperback), ISBN-10: 1412980127; ISBN-13: 978-1412980128
Ritzer’s sixth edition is a current analysis of a ubiquitous structure he calls “McDonaldization” that leads to the mundane routine, irrational standards, homogenized culture and dehumanization that now invades almost all areas of society worldwide. Ritzer argues that no social system is immune from this fast-food phenomenon that is serving to elevate quantity over quality, fast over slow, and nothing (lacking unique substance) over something (rich in unique substance). Ritzer argues that this system is one of the processes brought on by globalization, shaped by the compression of space and time and leading to a world that is growly increasingly similar (Grobalization). In the book, McDonaldization is used as a tool to analyze suburban housing, online dating, supermarkets, mega churches, health care, shopping malls, entertainment, hotels, etc. While the book was originally published almost 20 years ago, the concept remains especially timely and relevant as McDonaldization threatens to continue its expansion and is more deeply ingrained in the cultures of the world than ever before.
The book is a successful social criticism and is accessible to college students of multiple disciplines, scholars, and the average person through its informal tone and readable style. It provides information about society that could lead to a stimulating debate. The first two chapters provide an introduction to McDonaldization and its past, present and future. Chapters three to six describe the key elements of McDonaldization and focus on many of the seemingly positives and negatives created by this system. Chapter seven and eight discuss the irrationalities caused by McDonaldization. Chapter nine and ten provide a ‘practical’ guide for dealing with McDonaldization and the possibility of a backlash to McDonaldization thereby providing humans to live up to their potential. Even though Ritzer admits that the trend reversal isn’t likely, the book is meant as a successful warning to counteract the surface advantages provided by McDonaldization and makes the reader think about something that has become so embedded in our psyche.
Ritzer states that McDonaldization is primarily composed of four elements that allow for speed, quantity, and expected processes and people management. They are: Efficiency, Calculability, Predictability and Control. These elements are based on the idea of rationality created by the German sociologist Max Weber. Using McDonalds as the example, efficiency refers to getting the customer from hungry to full as quickly as possible. Calculability refers to the impression of getting a lot of food for a small price. Predictability offers the same hamburger anywhere in the world with no surprises. Finally, control provides customer management through lines, limited menus, self-service and measures to keep the visit short. This system offers perceived rational advantages in speed, price, tradition and stability for customers and profit for companies.
McDonaldization provides a product and stream-lined service in society’s just-in-time culture that people have come to rely upon, yet it counter intuitively hurries people even more. Ritzer argues that these seemingly advantageous and rational outcomes and actually quite irrational. These outcomes can create a decrease in product quality, false friendliness, unhappy workers, health and environmental damage, a consumer culture, a homogenized society and dismantled families. These outcomes waste people’s time (10 minute wait at the drive-through), put customers to work (the empty cup and drink station) and aren’t as affordable as one might think ($20 for a fast food family meal is more than what most dinners at home cost). Ritzer states that the only people that these ‘rational’ outcomes benefit are the people pushing them in the first place.
Ritzer encourages perceiving the four elements of Weber’s rational theory not as an “Iron Cage”, but as a “rubber cage” where people can bend the bars effectively choosing which portions of McDonaldization they accept. He offers suggestions on how to limit the negatives effects by creating reasonable alternatives such as: Slow Food, avoiding superstores, avoiding daily routine, and other, as Ritzer admits, often time-consuming techniques. Chapter ten is new to this edition and covers what he calls “deMcDonaldization” or the countertrends to McDonaldization. He believes deMcDonaldization is a possibility and that many of the trends such as Web 2.0 actually fit into both schools of thought. Ebay for example, is both consumer driven yet highly regulated and what Ritzer calls “Sneakerization” or mass-customization in computers, sneakers, etc. is a slight pushback, yet really much more of the same.
With our mobile society, single-parent families and woman increasingly working outside of the home, time is becoming a valuable commodity. People see what our hurried lifestyle does to the individual, family and culture as a whole. It is often upsetting and can make one wish for simpler times when people truly knew their doctor, when travel really immersed you in the place or when families ate together. But just as Ritzer doesn’t believe the McDonaldized society will end, it truly seems as though it won’t. Unless a slower pace becomes more profitable, companies won’t have the incentive to make many changes. His idea of the “rubber cage” allowing for some personal choice seems appropriate, as does his decision to abandon calling this phenomenon
“Starbuckization” since Starbucks is based on McDonald’s system even though it feigns worldliness and social justice. It is still about profit, carbon copied stores, drive-through ease, making the consumer work and predictability/control. Ritzer is quite successful by increasing awareness of the unconscious rules people are following for the benefit of companies.
As for the critique, chapter nine makes one wonder if Ritzer is able to be totally objective in his analysis since he naturally views McDonaldization from the negative perspective. Also, several of Dr. Ritzer’s points are difficult to imagine realistically. The average employed person doesn’t have time or money to follow many of his suggestions such as cooking dinner from scratch, sending their kids to private institutions, knitting clothing, avoiding chain stores or organizing protests. He mentions that McDonaldized companies offer the same product in the same way around the world yet Euro Disney had to make many changes to fit into the local market as did McDonalds in India. Another issue involves the fact that Ritzer suggests avoiding movie sequels yet his book is a sequel of itself. He also suggests staying away from pre-packaged education, yet he sells Instructor’s CD-ROMS for this book. He also argues that it is cheaper to eat at home and which is not always true. Without buying in bulk, that .99 burger would cost more to make at home guaranteed. Lastly, society has been simplifying processes since the beginning of time. Consider an ancient Roman buying pre-caught fish from a town’s market instead of fishing for it himself. The merchant and buyer would be considering many of today’s McDonaldized elements, albeit in a much simpler way.
Unfortunately, education is not immune to McDonaldization as seen by standardize tests, limit student choice and press teachers into unreasonable molds that allow for little flexibility for students with multiple intelligences or interests. With the multiple choice tests (efficiency), quantitative grading (calculability), preset learning objectives (predictability) and regulated activities (control) we see a microcosm of the McDonaldized system. Students are taught to obey and memorize while teachers must follow the almighty clock. The current system of education was created for a time that has long since passed. It was successful in creating workers for assembly lines, but it is not optimal for the globalized world of today that requires people to be flexible, creative, and critical among many other traits. Even higher education falls to this system for fast pace and profit. Professors teach to large auditoriums and don’t know their students. Students have limited choice in their degree plan. Teachers don’t have the time to provide valuable feedback to students. Education leads the student directly from the McDonaldized school into McDonaldized work, leisure, health, family, etc. The quality and purpose of learning suffers in this environment. Seeing learners as submissive recipients of knowledge effectively takes the human contact and fun out of education thereby creating a society that isn’t interested in life-long learning and is more likely to blindly follow the McDonaldized leader.