McDonaldization: Definition and Overview of the Concept
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McDonaldization is a concept developed by American sociologist George Ritzer which refers to the particular kind of rationalization of production, work, and consumption that rose to prominence in the late twentieth century. The basic idea is that these elements have been adapted based on the characteristics of a fast-food restaurant—efficiency, calculability, predictability and standardization, and control—and that this adaptation has ripple effects throughout all aspects of society.
The McDonaldization of Society
George Ritzer introduced the concept of McDonaldization with his 1993 book, The McDonaldization of Society. Since that time the concept has become central within the field of sociology and especially within the sociology of globalization .
According to Ritzer, the McDonaldization of society is a phenomenon that occurs when society, its institutions, and its organizations are adapted to have the same characteristics that are found in fast-food chains. These include efficiency, calculability, predictability and standardization, and control.
Ritzer's theory of McDonaldization is an update on classical sociologist Max Weber's theory of how scientific rationality produced bureaucracy , which became the central organizing force of modern societies through much of the twentieth century. According to Weber, the modern bureaucracy was defined by hierarchical roles, compartmentalized knowledge and roles, a perceived merit-based system of employment and advancement, and the legal-rationality authority of the rule of law. These characteristics could be observed (and still can be) throughout many aspects of societies around the world.
According to Ritzer, changes within science, economy, and culture have shifted societies away from Weber's bureaucracy to a new social structure and order that he calls McDonaldization. As he explains in his book of the same name, this new economic and social order is defined by four key aspects.
- Efficiency entails a managerial focus on minimizing the time required to complete individual tasks as well as that required to complete the whole operation or process of production and distribution.
- Calculability is a focus on quantifiable objectives (counting things) rather than subjective ones (evaluation of quality).
- Predictability and standardization are found in repetitive and routinized production or service delivery processes and in the consistent output of products or experiences that are identical or close to it (predictability of the consumer experience).
- Finally, control within McDonaldization is wielded by the management to ensure that workers appear and act the same on a moment-to-moment and daily basis. It also refers to the use of robots and technology to reduce or replace human employees wherever possible.
Ritzer asserts that these characteristics are not only observable in production, work, and in the consumer experience , but that their defining presence in these areas extends as ripple effects through all aspects of social life. McDonaldization affects our values, preferences, goals, and worldviews, our identities, and our social relationships. Further, sociologists recognize that McDonaldization is a global phenomenon, driven by Western corporations, the economic power and cultural dominance of the West, and as such it leads to a global homogenization of economic and social life.
The Downside of McDonaldization
After laying out how McDonaldization works in the book, Ritzer explains that this narrow focus on rationality actually produces irrationality. He observed, "Most specifically, irrationality means that rational systems are unreasonable systems. By that, I mean that they deny the basic humanity, the human reason, of the people who work within or are served by them." Many have no doubt encountered what Ritzer describes here when the human capacity for reason seems to be not at all present in transactions or experiences that are marred by rigid adherence to the rules and policies of an organization. Those that work under these conditions often experience them as dehumanizing as well.
This is because McDonaldization does not require a skilled workforce. Focusing on the four key characteristics that produce McDonaldization has eliminated the need for skilled workers. Workers in these conditions engage in repetitive, routinized, highly focused and compartmentalized tasks that are quickly and cheaply taught, and thus easy to replace. This kind of work devalues labor and takes away workers' bargaining power. Sociologists observe that this kind of work has reduced workers' rights and wages in the US and around the world, which is exactly why workers at places like McDonald's and Walmart are leading the fight for a living wage in the U.S. Meanwhile in China, workers who produced iPhones and iPads face similar conditions and struggles.
The characteristics of McDonaldization have crept into the consumer experience too, with free consumer labor folded into the production process. Ever bus your own table at a restaurant or café? Dutifully follow the instructions to assemble Ikea furniture? Pick your own apples, pumpkins, or blueberries? Check yourself out at the grocery store? Then you have been socialized to complete the production or distribution process for free, thus aiding a company in achieving efficiency and control.
Sociologists observe the characteristics of McDonaldization in other areas of life, like education and media too, with a clear shift from quality to quantifiable measures over time, standardization and efficiency playing significant roles in both, and control too.
Look around, and you will be surprised to find that you will notice the impacts of McDonaldization throughout your life.
- Ritzer, George. "The McDonaldization of Society: 20th Anniversary Edition." Los Angeles: Sage, 2013.
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Summary: the mcdonaldization of society / ritzer.
- Irrationality - A side effect of over-rationalized systems. Ritzer himself hints that this is the fifth dimension of McDonaldization. An example of this could be workers on an assembly line that are hired and trained to perform a single highly rationalized task. Although this may be a very efficient method of operating a business, an irrationality that is spawned can be worker burnout.
- Deskilling - A work force with the minimum abilities possible to complete simple focused tasks. This means that they can be quickly and cheaply trained and are easily replaceable.
- Consumer Workers - One of the sneakiest things about McDonaldization is how consumers get tricked into becoming unpaid employees. They do the work that was traditionally performed by the company. The prime example of this is diners who bus their own tables at the fast food restaurant. They dutifully carry their trash to friendly receptacles marked "thank you." (The extreme rationalization of this is the drive-thru; consumers take their trash with them!) Other examples are many and include: ATM's, salad bars, automated telephone menus, and pumping gas.
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6.4C: The “McDonaldization” of Society
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Sociologist George Ritzer theorizes “McDonaldization” as a contemporary form of rationalization.
- Explain how George Ritzer’s categorizes efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control with reference to the McDonalds model
- In Ritzer’s reconceptualization, McDonaldization is the process of rationalization that Weber found inherent in bureaucracies extended to fast-food chains such as McDonalds under globalization.
- According to Ritzer, McDonaldization is comprised of four main components: efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control.
- The first one, efficiency, is geared toward the minimization of time as the optimal method for accomplishing a task. The second, calculability, refers to the quantifiable objectives of fast-food chains, seeing quantity as quality.
- With the rise of predictability, the third component, all consumers can predict receiving the same service and the same product every time they interact with the McDonaldized organization. Under control, the fourth component, employees become standardized and replaced by non-human technologies.
- Under cultural hybridization, as McDonald’s enters a country, consumer patterns are unified and local cultures are westernized.
- As a response, the process of de-Mcdonaldization offers alternatives to this model of production and organization.
- Max Weber : (1864–1920) A German sociologist, philosopher, and political economist who profoundly influenced social theory, social research, and the discipline of sociology itself.
“McDonaldization” is a term used by sociologist George Ritzer in his book The McDonaldization of Society (1993). McDonaldization as described by Ritzer is a reconceptualization of rationalization, or moving from traditional to rational modes of thought, and scientific management. In sociology, rationalization refers to the replacement of traditions, values, and emotions as motivators for behavior in society with rational, calculated ones. Where Max Weber used the model of the bureaucracy to represent the direction of this changing society, Ritzer sees the fast-food restaurant as having become a more representative contemporary paradigm in contemporary societies. In Ritzer’s book, McDonald’s serves as the case model of this process in the 1990s.
The McDonaldization Theory of George Ritzer : “McDonaldization” is a term used by sociologist George Ritzer in his book The McDonaldization of Society (1993). He explains it occurs when a culture possesses the characteristics of a fast-food restaurant. McDonaldization is a reconceptualization of rationalization, or moving from traditional to rational modes of thought, and scientific management. Where Max Weber used the model of the bureaucracy to represent the direction of this changing society, Ritzer sees the fast-food restaurant as having become a more representative contemporary paradigm.
Components of McDonaldization
According to Ritzer, McDonaldization is comprised of four main components: efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control. The first one, efficiency, is the optimal method for accomplishing a task. Efficiency in McDonaldization means that every aspect of the organization is geared toward the minimization of time. From a customer perspective, efficiency is achieving the fastest way to get from being hungry to being full.
The second component, calculability, refers to the quantifiable objectives of fast-food chains. McDonaldization developed the notion that quantity equals quality, and that a large amount of product delivered to the customer in a short amount of time is the same as a high quality product. This allows people to quantify how much they’re getting versus how much they’re paying. Workers in these organizations are judged by how fast they accomplish tasks instead of the quality of work they do. This relates to the idea of availability versus variety – you can get a lot of one thing, but not necessarily the thing you want. Increase in volume does not equate to increase in choice.
Third, predictability is the idea that no matter where a person goes, they will receive the same service and receive the same product every time they interact with the McDonaldized organization. This also applies to the workers in those organizations. Their tasks are highly repetitive, highly routine, and predictable.
Fourth, under control, employees become standardized and replaced by non-human technologies. Lastly, as part of standardization, cultural hybridization occurs. Ritzer argues that as McDonald’s enters a country, consumer patterns are unified, and starting with the food chains, local cultures are westernized.
Ritzer also outlines irrationality of rationality as a fifth aspect of McDonaldization. As Ritzer said, “Irrationality means that rational systems are unreasonable systems. By that I mean that they deny the basic humanity, the human reason, of the people who work within or are served by them. ” He further states that beyond dehumanization further irrationalities emerge; including the inefficient masses of red tape, over quantification leading to low quality work, unpredictability as employees grow unclear about what they are supposed to do, and the loss of control due to other inadequacies.
Junk-journalism, defined here as inoffensive and trivial news served up in palatable portions, is an example of Mcdonaldization. Another example could be McUniversities, which features modularized curricula, delivering degrees in a fast-track pick-and-mix fashion to satisfy all tastes. The diminished quality of these products can only be disguised by extensive advertising which constantly repackages them to look new. When we look at schools and classrooms across the world, there is an ever increasing similarity between that of Western classrooms and the rest of the world. This can be considered an example of how Western culture, focused on efficiency of transfer of knowledge, has spread around the rest of the world.
As a response, the process of de-Mcdonaldization offers alternatives to this model of production and organization. Many corporations have been making an effort to deny the kind of rationalization similar to what Ritzer calls McDonaldization. Protests have also been arising in nation-states to protect localized economies and traditional values.
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McDonaldization: Definition and Overview of the Concept
By Charlotte Nickerson, published Feb 23, 2022 | Fact Checked by Saul Mcleod, PhD
- McDonaldization is a term used to describe the penetration of American cultural and economic products throughout the world. It is used symbolically and is drawn from the market and ideological success of the McDonalds fast-food franchises all over the world.
- McDonaldization is a process through which certain principles of fast food management, such as efficiency, come to dominate the ethos of various sectors in society. It was developed by sociologist George Ritzer in his 1995 book The McDonaldization of Society .
- McDonaldization is an updated version of Max Weber's rationalization, which argues that the traditions, values, and emotions as motivators for behavior in society are being replaced with rational and calculated ones.
- The four characteristics of McDonaldized systems are efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control. In essence, McDonaldized systems are built to provide consistent services to many customers in a way that is often quick and low-cost.
- Critics have argued that McDonaldization spurs on effects contrary to its principles, in some cases decreasing efficiency, introducing costs that cannot be seen until far after the fact, and reducing the rights and wages of workers.
History and Overview
McDonaldization is the process by which the principles of the fast-food restaurant — efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control — come to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as the rest of the world (Ritzer, 2018).
McDonaldization, as described by Ritzer (2013), is a reconceptualization of rationalization and scientific management. Rationalization refers to the replacement of traditions, values, and emotions as motivators for behavior in society with rational and calculated ones.
Whereas the sociologist Max Weber (2015) used the model of bureaucracy to represent the direction of his changing society, Ritzer sees the fast-food restaurant as being more representative of how contemporary societies are changing.
What are the Four Principles of McDonaldization?
McDonaldization, according to George Ritzer (2018) has four key principles: efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control through non-human technology. These lie at the heart of the success of McDonald's, and, more generally, of all McDonaldized systems.
Ritzer argues that McDonald's and other McDonaldized systems have succeeded because they offer consumers, workers, and managers the advantages of these.
Efficiency involves finding and using the optimum method for getting from one point to another. McDonald's drive-through, for example, provides one of the fastest possible ways to get from being hungry to being full. The fast-food model also offers other methods for satisfying needs.
A business fashioned on the McDonald's model may offer, or claim to offer, efficiency in, say, exercising, losing weight, lubricating cars, getting new glasses, completing taxes, making online purchases, or ride-hailing.
The workers in a McDonaldized system function by following steps in a predesigned and generally well-choreographed process (Ritzer, 2018).
Calculability emphasizes the quantitative aspects of the products sold — such as their portion size or price — and services offered (how quickly someone can get the product).
In McDonaldized systems, quantity is equivalent to quantity — services that provide a lot of something, or are inexpensive or very fast are automatically better.
For example, the McDonald's "Dollar Menu" quantifies both a low cost and the feeling that people are getting a lot of food for a small sum of money (Ritzer, 2018).
Consumers can also make calculations in terms of time. They may calculate, consciously or not, how much time it would take to go to a McDonald's, be served food, eat it, and return home in comparison to the time required to prepare food at home.
Ritzer argues that this is important to other food delivery chains — say, pizza restaurants — as well as brands that emphasize obtaining any good or service quickly, such as fast fashion.
Workers within McDonaldized systems emphasize the quantitative, rather than the qualitative aspects of their work. Because the quality of work must be uniform, workers focus on how quickly tasks can be accomplished.
Ritzer (2018) argued that digital services such as Facebook and Amazon are heavily McDonalized, and that the calculability aspect of McDonaldization has been enhanced by "big data."
McDonaldization is also built on predictability, meaning that the products and services will be more or less the same over time and in all locations.
McDonald's hamburgers should be virtually identical today in New York as they will be next week in London. Consumers, according to Ritzer, take comfort in knowing that McDonald's offers no surprises.
The workers in McDonaldized systems also behave in predictable ways, by following corporate roles and the demands of the systems in which they work. What workers do and even say is highly predictable (Ritzer, 2018).
The fourth element of McDonaldization, control, is exerted over the people who enter a McDonald's. The lines, limited options, and uncomfortable seats of a McDonald's encourage its customers to eat quickly and leave.
Workers in McDonaldized organizations are also controlled, often in a more blatant way. These employees are trained to do a limited number of tasks in exactly the way they are told to do them.
This control is reinforced by both the technologies used by the company and the way the organization is set up (Ritzer, 2018).
Advantages of McDonaldization
McDonaldization has numerous advantages, both for consumers and businesses. According to Ritzer (2018), these include:
A wider range of goods and services available to a larger proportion of the population
Availability of goods and services depends less on time or geographic location.
People can acquire what they want or need near-instantaneously
Goods and services of more uniform quality
Widely-available and economical alternatives to high-priced, customized goods and services
Services for a population that has less time due to longer working hours
The comfort of stable, familiar, and safe products
Consumers can more easily compare competing products due to quantification
Some products, such as exercise and diet programs, become safer in a carefully regulated and controlled system
People are more likely to be treated similarly despite their race, sex, social class, and so on
Organizational and technological innovations can be diffused quickly and easily through networks of identical businesses
The most popular products and services of one society can be more easily disseminated to others.
Downsides of McDonaldization
Although McDonaldized systems can enable people to do many things they were not able to do in the past, these systems also keep them from doing things they otherwise could do.
Ritzer notes that McDonaldization brings with it a number of seemingly contradictory inconsistencies, such as:
Inefficiency (rather than efficiency);
High cost (despite the promise the McDonalized goods and services are inexpensive);
falseness in the way employees relate to consumers;
health and environmental dangers;
Ritzer argues that, Although there have been many benefits that have resulted from McDonaldization such as variety, round-the-clock banking and shopping, and often speedier service, these rationally built services can lead to irrational outcomes.
By this, Ritzer means that they "deny the basic humanity, the human reason, of the people who work within or are served by them" (Ritzer, 1996).
For instance, the lines at a fast-food restaurant can be very long, and waiting to get through the drive-through can take longer than going inside. This rational system does not save people money: while people may spend less, they may do more work in the form of waiting for food.
Additionally, the food that people eat at restaurants is often less nourishing and contains high levels of flavor enhancers, fats, salt, and sugar. This contributes to the downstream health problems of society, such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, ultimately costing more than was saved by the convenience of this fast food.
As children grow up within these systems, they can develop habits that ensure their increasing dependency upon the systems.
The packaging used in the fast food industry pollutes the environment. And the ritual of fast food may take the place of that of the communal meal, reducing quality social time (Ritzer, 1996).
Examples of McDonaldization
Worker's rights and wages.
One notable criticism of McDonaldization is that it has, in many ways, replaced skilled work with workers who must engage in repetitive, routinized, highly focused, and compartmentalized tasks.
This, sociologists have observed, has reduced workers' rights and wages throughout the world, as workers have become easier to replace and in higher supply due to the lack of skill required to do McDonalized jobs (Ritzer, 2013).
McDonaldization occurs when any institution follows its four principles: control, predictability, calculability, and efficiency. Amazon has a large database of items that they work with and sell. This includes groceries, electronics, and digital content.
With Amazon, consumers can order virtually any item online and these products will be delivered quickly and inspected carefully. This embodies the principle of efficiency.
Amazon also exhibits calculability — an emphasis on the quantitative aspects of products served and services offered. Amazon's price listings provide the perception that one can seek out the best deal.
Amazon has also trained its employees to behave predictably. Customer service agents follow scripts when dealing with inquiries, and Amazon moderates what sellers can sell on their website. As a result, customers can make purchases, in theory, without worrying about whether or not sellers are trustworthy.
Finally, Amazon exerts control on both its consumers and employees. The company — albeit not without ethical criticism — emphasizes timing their workers when packaging goods to ensure that these are delivered within a specific amount of time.
Robots also automate the picking of some products from warehouses. In all, this allows the company to provide a reliable and uniform experience to customers throughout the world (Ritzer & Miles, 2019).
In a culture built on the diverse contributions of various immigrant groups over time and the development of innovative technology, what will be the long-term effect of increased McDonaldization?
About the Author
Charlotte Nickerson is a member of the Class of 2024 at Harvard University. Coming from a research background in biology and archaeology, Charlotte currently studies how digital and physical space shapes human beliefs, norms, and behaviors and how this can be used to create businesses with greater social impact.
Content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication.
This article has been fact checked by Saul Mcleod, a qualified psychology teacher with over 17 years' experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in psychology journals including Clinical Psychology , Social and Personal Relationships , and Social Psychology .
Cite this Article (APA Style)
Nickerson, C. (2022, Feb 23). McDonaldization: Definition and Overview of the Concept . Simply Sociology. https://simplysociology.com/mcdonaldization-of-society.html
Hartley, David. " The ‘McDonaldization’of higher education: food for thought? ." Oxford Review of Education 21.4 (1995): 409-423.
Ritzer, George. " An introduction to McDonaldization ." McDonaldization: The Reader 2 (2002): 4-25.
Ritzer, George. The McDonaldization of society: Into the digital age. Sage publications, 2018.
Ritzer, George. The McDonaldization of society. Sage, 2013.
Ritzer, George. "The McDonaldization thesis: Is expansion inevitable?." International sociology 11.3 (1996): 291-308.
Ritzer, George, and Steven Miles. "The changing nature of consumption and the intensification of McDonaldization in the digital age." Journal of Consumer Culture 19.1 (2019): 3-20.
Weber, Max. "Bureaucracy." Working in America. Routledge, 2015. 29-34.
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