"McDonaldization" is the application of the principles of the fast food industry to other industries, organizations, and sectors of society. This concept is an extension of Max Weber's concept of rationality and is characterized by four principles: efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control. For many, the concept of McDonaldization is so pervasive that it is difficult to see that it is a departure from the way that things have been done in the past or even the extent to which it characterizes modern life today. Although, in theory, McDonaldization makes for more efficient processes that support today's businesses and bureaucracies, it can also lead to a condition known as the "iron cage of rationality," which Weber posited could eternally trap individuals as they moved from one rational organization to another, and could eventually reduce the ability of human beings to use their creative and imaginative powers and their ability to do things for themselves.
Keywords Bureaucracy; Capitalism; Culture; Economic Development; Ethnicity; Globalization; Industrialization; McDonaldization; Postindustrial; Postmodernism; Rationalization of Society; Religious Nationalism; Society; Turnover
Social Interaction in Groups
Many of us have visited American amusement parks intended to give visitors a taste of world cultures. The park, divided into numerous villages, intends to show the highlights of a particular ethnicity and its concomitant culture, including China, Germany, France, and Great Britain. Restaurants in each area serve the food of the region and souvenir shops sell imported goods. Entertainment ranges from panoramic 360 degree movies showing the variety of the national landscape to colorful native dances. Although it all sounds good in theory, in reality it is quite disappointing. The American interpretation of native foods ("reinvented" to be more compatible with American tastes and expectations) pales in comparison to the "real deal" as the assembly line interpretation of native customs proves to be less than accurate.
American sociologist George Ritzer posits that such experiences are the result of "McDonaldization," or the application of the principles of the fast food industry to other industries and sectors of postmodern society. McDonaldization affects not only the food industry (or amusement parks) but can be seen reflected in the standardization of many of the venues. Businesses such as big-box stores, shopping malls, cruise ships, and sports stadiums are common examples of enterprises that have been McDonaldized to make them highly rational organizations that offer workers low pay and customers ease, convenience, consistency, and familiarity. For example, although the stores may differ from venue to venue, one can walk into most shopping malls today and expect to see the area anchored by two or more major department stores (which themselves are McDonaldized so that a customer familiar with one store can easily find the same goods in the same location in another store), linked by smaller stores selling specialty goods (most of which are also McDonaldized replicas of other branches or franchises across the country), and a somewhat centralized food court (that serves the same food in all their branches so that customers can eat the same familiar hamburger, pita wrap, or French fries whether they are in Bangor, Maine; San Diego, California; or Peoria, Illinois. However, McDonaldization goes far beyond this supposedly comforting sameness of familiar retail organizations and has been extended by some theorists to include the American educational system, the travel industry, health care, and politics, among other social organizations.
Max Weber's Rationality Concept
The concept of McDonaldization is an extension of Max Weber's concept of rationality. Weber observed that as society became more modernized, customs and traditions were replaced by rationally developed and efficient processes. According to this theory, modern society of the Western world was formed by two forces: capitalism and bureaucracy. Together, these forces operated to encourage the application of regulations and universal standards to make processes more efficient. Rather than allowing for individual differences and human variation, capitalism and bureaucracy work together to create superior methods that are more successful in the modern era than more traditional practices and approaches because they were rational. This, in turn, allowed rational systems to perform more efficiently. According to Weber's theory, bureaucracies mark the high point of modern social organizations because they are rational, using abstract, universal, and regular authority and standards. Weber believed that bureaucracies were technically superior to other forms of human organizations and would eventually become the dominant organizational form. He viewed the success of bureaucracies over other types of organizations as being due to a number of characteristics including the use of fixed offices, hierarchy, documentation, focus on credentials and training, and the implementation of universal standards that were applicable to everyone within the organization.
Weber predicted that as society progressed it would become increasingly characterized by rationality. This can be observed, for example, by the increasingly meticulous ways in which employees must work in order to interact with technology. The concept of McDonaldization is another example of this concept by which common processes are reduced to their elemental steps and made as rational as possible in order to improve standardization, efficiency, and productivity. However, Weber himself noted a potential problem with this trend. He warned that the "iron cage of rationality" could eternally trap individuals as they moved from one rational organization to another and that these structures would eventually reduce the ability of human beings to use their creative and imaginative powers and their ability to do things for themselves. In many ways, this can be seen as people increasingly become creatures of habit. For example, one knows the quickest route to school or work and tends to take that rather than alternative routes that offer the opportunity to see the beauty of nature, explore new areas, or even avoid high-traffic areas. In many homes, dinner is often a pizza ordered from a McDonaldized chain from which one can expect a certain quality, or from a microwavable box purchased in the frozen food section of the grocery store rather than from fresh ingredients that were creatively combined to take advantage of seasonal produce. Shopping malls with a standard set of national department stores are increasingly becoming the norm as local chains and individual boutiques are bought out or go out of business.
Ritzer's Dimensions of McDonaldization
There are for dimensions to McDonaldization as described by Ritzer.
- First, organizations operating under this paradigm are efficient so that processes move smoothly from start to finish along a streamlined path. For example, in fast food restaurants, each hamburger is made in exactly the same way starting from the weight and shape of the meat patty and ending with the way each completed and dressed burger is wrapped before being presented to the customer. In fact, in some organizations, the process becomes so the streamlined that the customer performs all the work (through the use of an automated teller machine at a bank instead of a live teller). In many ways, this streamlining of processes is reminiscent of scientific management in which jobs are analyzed and broken down into their component tasks using a time and motion study to determine the most efficient way of performing the tasks.
- The second aspect of McDonaldization is calculability or the emphasis on the quantitative aspects of the products sold (size, cost, time to manufacture). For example, at McDonald's restaurants, managers are required to account for all supplies and ingredients, including keeping track of the cubic inches of ketchup that are used each day. Similarly, employee manuals specify how long tasks should take down to the level of the second. Ritzer argues that this aspect of McDonaldization emphasizes quantity over quality and that the success of McDonaldized organizations and processes is due to the speed and consistency of product delivery rather than the quality of the product itself.
- The third distinguishing feature of McDonaldization is predictability. This characteristic means that customers are assured that the product that they receive will be identical no matter where they order it. Because of predictability, a customer can order a Quarter Pounder with cheese in Miami, Florida, and expect (and receive) the exact same product as if it were ordered in...
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