McDonaldization is a term used by sociologist George Ritzer in his book The McDonaldization of Society (1993). He explains that it becomes manifested when a society adopts the characteristics of a fast-food restaurant. McDonaldization is a reconceptualization of rationalization 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 (Ritzer, 2004:553). The process of McDonaldization can be summarized as the way in which "the principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as of the rest of the world."
McDonaldization thesis in cultural version is a comparatively recent idea of the worldwide homogenization of cultures. In contemporary society, the concept of McDonaldization is gaining attention in different aspects such as culture, as most countries have adapted to this concept because of globalization.
Ritzer highlighted four primary components of McDonaldization:
- Efficiency – the optimal method for accomplishing a task. In this context, Ritzer has a very specific meaning of "efficiency". In the example of McDonald's customers, it is the fastest way to get from being hungry to being full. Efficiency in McDonaldization means that every aspect of the organization is geared toward the minimization of time.
- Calculability – objective should be quantifiable (e.g., sales) rather than subjective (e.g., taste). 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. Organizations want consumers to believe that they are getting a large amount of product for not a lot of money. Workers in these organizations are judged by how fast they are instead of the quality of work they do.
- Predictability – standardized and uniform services. "Predictability" means that no matter where a person goes, they will receive the same service and receive the same product every time when interacting with the McDonaldized organization. This also applies to the workers in those organizations. Their tasks are highly repetitive, highly routine, and predictable.
- Control – standardized and uniform employees, replacement of human by non-human technologies
With these four principles of the fast food industry, a strategy which is rational within a narrow scope can lead to outcomes that are harmful or irrational. As these processes spread to other parts of society, modern society’s new social and cultural characteristics are created. For example, as McDonald’s enters a country and consumer patterns are unified, cultural hybridization occurs.
Irrationality of Rationality
Ritzer also outlines Irrationality of Rationality as a fifth aspect of McDonaldization. "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." (Ritzer 1994:154)
Ritzer introduces this during Chapter Two (The Past, Present, and Future of McDonaldization: From the Iron Cage to the Fast-Food Factory and Beyond) of his book "The McDonaldization of Society" in the sub-section Irrationality and the "Iron Cage." He states that "Despite the advantages it offers, bureaucracy suffers from the irrationality of rationality. Like a fast-food restaurant, a bureaucracy can be a dehumanizing place in which to work and by which to be served." In short; "settings in which people cannot always behave as human beings".
A further problem with the irrationality of rationality is that this can lead to inconsistencies; fast food is no longer fast, there are long lines and it is at the expense of taste.
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, or the loss of control due to other inadequacies.
Many corporations have been making an effort to deny the rationalization of McDonaldization. Efforts are related to focusing on quality instead of quantity, enjoying the unpredictability of service and product and employing more skilled workers without any outside control. Protests have also been rising in nation-states in order to slow down the process of McDonaldization and to protect their localization and traditional value.
Also some local case studies show how the rational model of McDonald's adjust to local cultural preferences and the result is a diminution of the original McDonald's product. In fact, the more the company adjusts to local conditions the more appeal the scientific calculations of the specifically American product may be lost. At the end of the day, McDonald's is a contributing factor to globalization.
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.
Response of McDonald's
The response from McDonald's, expressed by its representatives in the United Kingdom, is that Ritzer, like other commentators, uses the company's size and brand recognition to promote ideas that do not necessarily relate to the company's business practices.
It has been argued by a westerner that an example of the phenomenon of McDonaldization can be seen in education, where there is seen to be increasing similarity between that of Western classrooms and the rest of the world. Slater argues that the class size, layout and pedagogy in Peru closely resemble that of America, with a clear examples of Western culture focused on efficiency of transfer of knowledge in other parts of the world. Furthermore, Slater goes on to demonstrate that the McDonaldization of education could have many negative side effects; particularly that it does not promote inquiry or creativity. Therefore, schools will become less effective at educating children as they will fail to develop creative thinkers.
In addition, Wong argues McDonaldization has fundamentally changed the higher education system. Whereas examinations were once marked individually by lecturers, tests are now largely marked by computer, increasing the efficiency for lecturers. Moreover, students education is now valued on the basis of a standardised grade rather than an overview of their progress and achievements throughout Higher Education. Ritzer, further argues that McDonaldisation had had a profound effect on the development of MOOCs (massive online open courses). Firstly, it is not possible to create a new MOOC every single time; hence a basic structure is created and subsequently altered, thus creating an element of predictability for students. Moreover, the role of the teacher has been simplified and replaced with non-human instruction which in turn prevents the opportunity for 'creative mutual engagement between teacher and student'.
- (Ritzer, 1993:1)
- Pieterse, Jan Nederveen. Globalization and Culture: Global Melange. Rowman & Littlefield, 2009.3.28
- Ritzer, George (2009). The McDonaldization of Society. Los Angeles: Pine Forge Press. ISBN 0-7619-8812-2.
- Ritzer, George (2008). The McDonaldization of Society. Los Angeles: Pine Forge Press. pp. 351–384. ISBN 07619-8812-2.
- Turner, Bryan S. McDonaldization Linearity and Liquidity in Consumer Cultures. Sage Journals University at Cambridge, 2003, June 4, 2012 <http://abs.sagepub.com/content/47/2/137.full.pdf+html>
- GORDON MARSHALL. "McDonaldization." A Dictionary of Sociology. 1998. Encyclopedia.com. 8 Apr. 2013 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.
- McDonald's UK. "Questions Answered". Make up your own mind. Retrieved 2007-09-15.
Due to the global scale of the McDonald’s business, many commentators seek to use its brand and international presence to support various positions and theories that they wish to put forward.
- Slater (1999)
- Wong (2010)
- Ritzer, (2013)
- Ritzer 2013, pp. 667.
- Ritzer, G. (2013) ‘MOOCs and the McDonaldisation of Education’ Introduction to Sociology.. http://georgeritzer.wordpress.com/2013/01/12/moocs-and-the-mcdonaldization-of-education/ (Date accessed 30 October 2013)
- Slater, R.O. (1999),(trans.)‘La MacDonalizacion de la Educacion’, Educacion, Vol. 8, No. 15. http://firgoa.usc.es/drupal/node/5029 (Date accessed 30 October 2013)
- Wong D. (2010),http://www.stanford.edu/group/ccr/ccrblog/2010/02/mcdonaldization_and_higher_edu.html. (Date accessed 30 October 2013)
- The McDonaldization of Society by George Ritzer (ISBN 0-7619-8812-2)
- McDonaldization: The Reader by George Ritzer (ISBN 0-7619-8767-3)
- The McDonaldization Thesis: Explorations and Extensions by George Ritzer (ISBN 0-7619-5540-2)
- McDonaldization of America's Police, Courts, and Corrections by Matthew B. Robinson
- McCitizens by Bryan Turner
- Resisting McDonaldization, ed. Barry Smart
- Golden Arches East: McDonald's in East Asia by James L. Watson
- Sociology of Consumption: Fast Food, Credit Cards and Casinos, ed. George Ritzer
- The McDonaldization of Higher Education, ed. Dennis Hayes & Robert Wynyard
- Enchanting a Disenchanted World by George Ritzer
- The McDonaldization of the Church by John Drane