George Ritzer authored ‘The McDonaldization of Society’ in 1993, and it remains one of the bestselling sociology books of all time. In this lesson, we discuss his concept of McDonaldization and the four main characteristics of McDonaldization that he describes. Note: For the purposes of this video, the instructor is using the American pronunciation of Max Weber’s name.
George Ritzer and McDonaldization
In our modern society, trends and technology become such a large part of everyday life that people start to use them as verbs and adjectives.
For example, when’s the last time you ‘Googled’ something, ‘blogged’ about a recent trip, or saw that a new game had been ‘Facebookized?’ George Ritzer basically did the same thing with the fast food restaurant McDonald’s in his best-selling book, The McDonaldization of Society. He defines McDonaldization as the process by which principles of fast food restaurants have come to dominate virtually every aspect of society.McDonald’s and other fast-food restaurants offer an alternative to labor-intensive, home-cooked meals that have been attractive to busy families since the 1950s. Two of their most appealing qualities are convenience and affordability. These qualities and similar principles are becoming increasingly important in all aspects of our modern society.
Rationalization of Society
The building block of McDonaldization is Max Weber’s concept of rationalization, which is the process of replacing traditional and emotional thought with reason and efficiency. Weber believed that most societies throughout history were governed by tradition and that the most significant trend in modern sociology is an increasing rationalization of every part of our daily lives. He also believed that rationalization would continue until our society would become an iron cage, dehumanizing everyone and creating an extreme level of uniformity.
Likewise, Ritzer uses McDonald’s as a metaphor for the over-rationalization of society. The popularity of the restaurant itself is a perfect example of rationalization because traditional, home-cooked family meals have been replaced with meals of practicality and convenience. Continued rationalization has led to sectors beyond the fast food industry becoming increasingly uniform and automated.
Principles of McDonaldization
Ritzer identifies four main principles of McDonaldization: predictability, calculability, efficiency, and control.
These are all characteristics of McDonald’s and other fast-food restaurants. However, they continue to be characteristics of other changing industries, such as shopping districts, education, healthcare, and more. Let’s look at an example of each principle.
First is predictability.
Customers of McDonald’s can predict the food menu: you’ll find the same Big Mac in California as you would in New York. The building, the decorations, and the uniforms are also usually the same. Likewise, other industries are becoming increasingly predictable.Most of the shopping malls across the country have the same stores. Popular fiction is ‘rebooted’ over and over again in all kinds of media. Many popular websites even have the same basic layout.
Consumers seem to love predictability. They like knowing what to expect and what to do in any situation.
The second principle of McDonaldization is calculability, which can be seen at McDonald’s in several ways. First, there’s an emphasis on quantity over quality.
The size and weight of a burger that you buy are the same as the size and weight of a burger someone else buys – and the bigger, the better. Second, the cost of that burger is a big selling point. The appeal of low prices is obvious in their Dollar Menu.
Third, speed is also considered extremely important and sometimes comes at the cost of quality. Likewise, quantity is increasingly important everywhere you go. Consumers often use price and number of items sold to gauge the appeal of business. Many stores are now open 24 hours a day in order to stay competitive. They also continue to offer holiday merchandise earlier and earlier, giving consumers additional quantity of both time and purchasing options.
McDonald’s takes pride in the efficiency of its operations, which is the third principle of McDonaldization.
When your order is taken, it is usually already waiting for you while keeping warm. Each employee also has a specific role to play, and this division of labor adds to operational efficiency. Likewise, we see the same focus on efficiency in other markets.For example, if you have to go to the emergency room of a nearby hospital, you will see a triage nurse who will assess your symptoms and treat minor conditions before you ever see a doctor. This allows the ER doctor to treat patients more efficiently. Another example is speed dating, which allows individuals to gather for a production-line style of short face-to-face meetings with each other, simplifying and speeding up the normally time-consuming process of meeting a variety of people.
The final principle of McDonaldization is control. McDonald’s controls its employees by giving them specific direction on how to act, what to say, and how to dress – there’s even a training program called Hamburger University that is designed to introduce employees across the globe to the company’s standards and practices. Ritzer says that the substitution of nonhuman for human technology is also a part of control. Most food ingredients at McDonald’s are pre-packaged, pre-measured, and automatically controlled whenever possible.
Machines help the employees make and serve all of the food. It goes on and on.Likewise, technology is being used in all industries to maximize control. During the cruise phase of airplane travel, pilots rely heavily on the use of the autopilot.
Consumers scan their own merchandise during checkout, movie-goers purchase tickets from machines and standardized forms are required almost anywhere you go.
In summary, George Ritzer was the author of one of the most influential sociology books of all time. He coined the term McDonaldization, which represents the process by which principles of fast food restaurants have come to dominate virtually every aspect of society. The theory is based on Max Weber’s concept of rationalization, which is the process of replacing traditional and emotional thought with reason and efficiency.Ritzer uses McDonald’s as a metaphor for the over-rationalization of society.
It consists of four main principles: predictability, calculability, efficiency, and control. These characteristics can be seen in McDonald’s and other fast-food restaurants, but they continue to be seen in other industries as well.
Upon completion of this lesson, you should be ready to:
- Define George Ritzer’s McDonaldization and Max Weber’s concept of rationalization
- Name and describe the four principles of McDonaldization