On  McDonaldisation
This is a file based on some work originally presented as Powerpoint slides
Ritzer on McDonalds (NB  a good quick summary in his Sociological Beginnings…
  • The main characteristics -- efficiency, calculability, predictability,control and (non-human) technology
  • Irrational rationality
  • Hyper-rationality and the ‘iron cage’
  • Fordism (and modernity) lives!
This a very popular formulation -- catchy and easy to break into lists etc. 4 basic characteristics -- efficiency means choice of efficient means to achieve specified ends (includes assembly-line philosophy of Macs, drive-throughs, making the customer work to assemble own burgers and dispose of waste etc), calculability of process and product (quantification of meals, portion, times etc,), predictability (standardised meals and Mcworkers all over the world -- trained by the Hamburger University) , non-human technology -- factory farms, microwaves,computerisation eg cash tills, drinks dispensers -- and robot workers) 
Rational means but irrational and unhelpful outcomes --what is efficient for the company is not necessarily so efficient for us. The 2 aspects are clearly linked for marxists, although not so, perhaps, for Weber . The McLibel case shows the downside of the company and its alleged negative effects -- cruelty to animals, harmful components, poor health safety, worker tedium and exploitation. This could be a (poorly -perceived) source of dissent and resistance by customers -- so the company tried to add ‘fun’ to compensate? 
Ritzer has gone on to suggest there are possible ways in which rationalisation will triumph. Take the case of Japan and hyperrationality -- a horrible fusion occurs between rationality of companies, and what people want in life, their own personal stance towards work and living, their own goals etc
Overall -- there is clear support for old Fordists way of working and living, extended into fast food and into a good deal of other areas --education, news and media, recreation in general, including tourism. We need no new times, no ‘postmodernism’ OR (in the softer version) lots of the old modernity and Fordism still remains

M Weber on Rationalization
  • Different types of rationality discussed in Weber, especially purposive- versus value-rationality (zweckrationalitat and wertrationalitat)
  • The ideal-type bureaucracy -- rules and standardisation of operations, division of labour and hierarchy
  • Problems with the ideal-type fitting real organisations -- irrationality lives!!

We need to be brief on this, but Weber gets lots of mentions in Ritzer. He read Weber and he experienced the shift to fast food and that’s how he got into McD (he tells us in Sociological Beginnings). Weber is a great hero in Sociology, famed for lots of specific studies -- maybe there is one general theory too -- rationalisation. Worth pointing out that there is a number of standard criticisms of Weber too, and these may haunt Ritzer's version as well.
To be v brief, the rationalisation of society involves the triumph of one particular kind of rationality -- 'scientific' or 'purposive' rationality. Here, we tend to forget ultimate values and how to pursue them -- this gets us nowhere. Instead, we concentrate on efficiency -- how to define the ends or goals of a company (ideally in nice measurable terms), then pursue the best means to achieve them. This is the secret of success of capitalist enterprise -- they forget ultimate values (or let customers or regulators worry about them), forget tradition or sentiment and focus on best means (an endless search for efficiency sometimes in minute detail).
Weber applied this to several areas especially to the notion of bureaucracy. We think of them as very inefficient, bogged down in red tape -- but they express the only way to process lots of people and tasks -- like income taxes or insurance. They feature standardised procedures and forms and calculations. They offer a Fordist division of labour -- with customer greeters, clerks, risk assessors, auditors etc. The best and most rational form of organisation here is a hierarchy -- meritocracy? -- which emphasises training, qualifications (and experience) instead of kinship, tradition or 'connections'. In fact there are 7 characteristics of bureaucracy listed in one formulation of the ideal-type (and see fig 1 below, where I have reduced the list to 4 features).
Methodological controversies arise here -- is the ideal type a simple model or checklist for example? Some analysts have thought so and have been keen to apply it pretty literally to companies (and educationnl institutions). When they did, they found lots of bits that didn’t fit -- unofficial hierarchies, irrational procedures (including sexism), irrational relations between employees -- jealousies and romances, 'functional autonomy' of the parts etc. (See fig 1)
So is Weber's work flawed? Only if you think these are important. or essential characteristics of organisations ('ideal' can mean 'essential', not accidental, permanent). Here, the undoubted dysfunctions, conflict and irrationality of actual organisations, may be irrelevant -- they could be mere inefficiencies in the short term, irrelevant to the general trend.
One factor is -- what happens in a crisis? Does the organisation get hierarchical again? We could do a bit of borrowing from Weber here and predict that subjectivity dominates in periods of stability and growth -- secure organisations can afford to have nice human aspects and appearances -- but things settle back into a tougher rational form when times are hard.
This notion sounds rather imprecise and 'philosophical', and it has led to impatience with ideal-types, but judgements like this are always involved in theorising for Weber: no-one wants to build a whole theory on mere accidental, contingent, temporary features of reality, so we always have to judge that what we have is 'essential'. The trick is to try to think of adequate ideal-types, as Weber put it --adequate in causal terms and 'adequate at the level of meaning' for him.
To take the examples in Fig 1, the real methodological issue is whether educational or other organisations contain elements that can NEVER be rationalised, that offer some permananent, in-built source of resistance. Recent changes might help us here -- much of the independence and autonomy of teachers has now been removed, there are now far more rules and regulations, rational measures and interest in 'efficiency' than ever before. And not just in schools but in universities and colleges where factors might include -- expansion, a shift to a 'mass' system (in the UK), modularisation, planning by objectives, emphasis on 'learning outcomes', league tables, inspections and Quality Assurance visits, rational measures of finance and fund allocation (including, maybe, 'payment by results'), the licensing and credentialising of lecturers (via compulsory membership of the new Institute of Learning and Teaching in the UK), new measures of 'university effects' like how much 'value' is 'added' to students. My own interest in distance education (see file) could be seen as pursuing this issue -- can anything in higher education resist being rationalised?
Remember these issues when we apply Ritzer too (I am not saying Ritzer has deliberately developed his work formally as an ideal type):

  • Should we take Ritzer's 4 characteristics very literally, as a kind of list which we take to real organisations and simply try to check off? If we do, it seems inevitable that a nice safe conclusion will be that Ritzer's list fits some bits but not all. (It is tempting at this point to consider whether Weberian rationalisation alone is the best model to use, and not the work of later theorists which builds on and critiques him -- see especially Alfino et al (1998) on this)
  • Should we try to judge whether Ritzer is right about essences, rather than appearances, permanent and structured characteristics and not temporary or local or old-fashioned aspects, about trends?

 Figure 1 -- Applying the ideal-type as a checklist
Weber’s ideal-type 

1. The person in authority occupies an office. Authority is therefore impersonal, separate from ownership or personal loyalties. Office -holders are appointed, on a legal contract and on the basis of their technical qualifications. Promotion follows seniority or achievement ( i.e. job expertise) 

2. Offices are arranged in a rational hierarchy. Higher offices co-ordinate lower ones in a spirit of rational efficiency 

3. Each office has a clearly defined sphere of competence – hence a marked specialisation occurs 

4. Actions are regulated by impersonal technical rules, grounded in rational authority. All acts, decisions and rules are clearly formulated and recorded in writing 
schools/ the education system

1. Clear fit with the ways in which teachers are  officially appointed and promoted, but there are also some subjective elements (e.g. minorities and women are under-represented at the top?). The education system is increasingly controlled by non-expert laymen – e.g.the DfEE, OFSTED, HEFCE (all UK Govt organisations), parents

2. There are formal hierarchies in teaching (scale points, heads of depts etc). Knowledge can be organised as a hierarchy too (in ‘collection codes’), but there are also non-formal, non-hierarchical elements – ‘progressive’ pedagogy, team teaching, ‘integrated codes’. Teachers are autonomous professionals? ‘Efficiency’ can be hard to apply to schools – league tables? OFSTED rankings? ‘Performance indicators’ in h.e.?

3. There is some specialisation by subject expertise in upper levels, but the teacher’s role is also diffuse. Specialist managers? 

4. Teachers’ relationships are not governed by impersonal rules alone but by ‘warm, diffuse personal’ ‘relationships with kids and colleagues. Administration is still amateur and collegial 'beneath' the increasingly rational and managerial (‘line management’)?

1. Bureaucratic authority is not always unconnected with ownership or kinship. Appointments and promotions can still be subjective and/or rooted in power, class, gender, ethnicity

2. Underdogs still have informal power and the ability to resist. Bosses have to organise compliance (Etzioni). The formal models of organisation (as in flow charts etc) do not always fit actual practice. Segments can develop ‘functional autonomy’ (Gouldner) 

3. Actual individuals do not always keep to the formal limits of their jobs. It is not even always functional that they do – e.g. when the organisation is innovating 

4. Too tight a set of regulations leads to numbness or  ‘ritualism’ (RK Merton) (‘going through the motions’). Much organisational life goes on outside of formal frameworks, according to social rules – e.g. actual decision-making or ‘practical action’(try Bourdieu on this) 


How McDonaldized?
  • Fast food and its growth, the credit card
  • Disney, shopping malls, package tours, convergences in ‘McWorld’ (‘added value’?),  virtual tourism
  • Exceptions -- resistance? post-modern forms? irrationality and subjectivity?
  • The real issue -- any permanent source of opposition to McWorld?


We can see a powerful spread of principles of fast food production all over US life says Ritzer -- banking and the news. Especially  in areas we know and like in Leisure and Tourism -- Disney, shopping malls, whole themed environments or cityscapes. These can develop into whole McWorlds -- Barber cited in Ritzer's chapter in Rojek and Urry (1997) -- where shopping malls plus parks plus sports arenas plus machine banking plus TV plus internet cafes etc all cluster to deliver some sort of total Mac experience). Implications arise for tourism -- the package tour is an example of McDonaldisation which is still around a lot says Ritzer, and new virtual tourism -- which despite its gee-whizz technology is still nice and predictable, calculable, and efficient as well as non-human (at least IF you accept the restrictions of the medium). The organisation of these sites and activities are still very important for Leisure Studies.
There are some exceptions. Even Macs sometimes fail with some intitiatives ( and in 2003 the company does seem to be in some financial trouble). Alternative enterprises can emerge to pick up on the dissatisfaction with McDonaldised experience (e.g..connoiseur restaurants, 'quality' experiences). There are forms of escape, there are even possibilities within rationalised work to keep boundaries round little enclaves of subjectivity and human interaction - local managers do their best to personalise the place, and you can even chat up a Macworker. Ritzer’s main book ends with a list of alternatives for the active citizen - seek out proper restaurants and holidays, oppose TV, defend social interaction and so on.. Yet he is still pessimistic as good Weberians must be-- these resistances are only temporary, they are only possible now while the system is developing. (We might add that only those old enough to remember alternatives can resist?) The underlying trend is stilll -- more Macs. 

For a decisive critique of Weberian methodology in general you could also try Hindess
A critique

I found this excellent essay by Douglas Kellner on the Zupko popular culture website at Texas (see external links).

A final exercise
I've given lots of hints about this -- now you try out the argument for yourselves,on, say the universities you know. Keen persons might want to go on to read Parker and Jary (1995) or even Prichard (1996). Anyway, how rationalised are universities really? Above all, what is the underlying nature of the modern university -- is it: 
  • A thoroughly McDonaldised company, interested mostly in profit, trying to find ways to reduce costs and get more efficient? Specifically -- is it this drive to efficiency that lies behind all the changes of recent years, especially towards more management, inspections, audits, and different 'student centred' teaching styles ('making the customer do more of the work'?)
  • An organisation trying desperately to retain its traditions, its subjectivity, its collegial management, its personal teaching, (genuinely relating to individual students), its value-rational 'pursuit of the good life', education 'for its own sake'. Is all the new management-speak (objectives, plans, mission statements, internal markets, units of resource, staff-student ratios, financial viability) mere appearance, just 'going through the motions' to keep our masters happy?
  • An organisation that can NEVER be fully rationalised, that must retain its non-rational elements? Or an organisation in transition, still with its old-fashioned personalised teaching technologies but on the verge of a thorough modernisation and overhaul as soon as political circumstances permit?
Alfino M et al (eds) (1998) McDonaldization Revisited: critical essays on consumer culture, Praeger: Westport, Connecticut 
Parker M and Jary D (1995) 'The McUniversity: Organisations, Management and Academic Subjectivity' in Organisation, 2,2: 319--38. 
Prichard C and Willmott H (1996) 'Just how managed is the McUniversity?', unpublished, a paper given at the Dilemmas of Higher Education Conference, Staffordshire University, UK, April 10-12, 1996 (should be available from the authors via the University of Nottingham or the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) respectively). 
Ritzer G  (1993) The McDonaldization of Society, Sage: London 
Ritzer G (1994) Sociological Beginnings: On the origins of key ideas in Sociology, McGraw-Hill Inc., New York 
Ritzer G (1997) The McDonaldization Thesis: explorations and extensions, Sage: London 
Rojek C & Urry J (eds) (1997)  Touring Cultures: Transformations of Travel and Theory, Routledge: London 
Smart B (1999) Resisting McDonaldization, Sage: London 
Vidal J (1997) McLibel Macmillan: London 

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