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McDonaldization of Society PDF

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Theorizing/Resisting McDonaldization: A Multiperspectivist Approach
Douglas Kellner
(http://www.gseis.ucla.edu/faculty/kellner/kellner.html)
GeorgeRitzer'sTheMcDonaldizationofSocietyhasgeneratedanunprecedentednumberofsales
andscholarlyinterest,asdemonstratedbyhighlyimpressivesalesfigures,neweditionsofthe
book,andthegrowingcriticalliteraturededicatedtothephenomenonofwhichthisbookisa
part(seealsoAlfino,CaputoandWynard1998andKincheloeandShelton,forthcoming).
Ritzer'spopularizationofMaxWeber'stheoryofrationalizationanditsapplicationtoastudyof
theprocessesofMcDonaldizationpresentsaconcreteexampleofappliedsocialanalysiswhich
clarifiesimportantdevelopmentsinthepresentmoment,callingattentiontotheircostsand
benefits,theirpositiveandnegativesides.Thewide-spreadreception--andthecontroversyit
hasevoked--suggeststhatRitzerhastoucheduponsomevitalnervecentersofthe
contemporaryerawhichIsuggesthavetodowithdiscontentsovermodernityandambivalent
attitudestowardtherapidtransformationofthepresentforwhichtheterm"postmodernity"has
been coined.
ThechoiceofMcDonald'srestaurantsasanexampleofdefiningproblematicalaspectsofour
contemporaryworldisafelicitousone.Thephenomenonof"McDonaldization"whichRitzer
elicitsfromhisanalysisofMcDonald'sfast-foodrestaurantsencompassesbothproductionand
consumption,andisappliedtoabroadscopeofeconomic,political,social,andculturalartifacts
andmechanisms.Ritzerisabletoapplyhisconceptstophenomenarangingfromworktoleisure,
fromfoodtomedia,fromeducationtopolitics.Encompassingsuchadiversefieldoftopicsand
artifactsexemplifiesthesociologicalmomentofilluminatingabstraction,ofgeneratingaconcept
sobroadastoconceptuallygraspandinterpretawealthofdatainawaythattheorizesdefining
andconstitutivefeaturesofthepresentmoment.Suchamodeoftheorizing--nowunderattack
bysomemodesofpostmoderntheory--helpsuscriticallyviewkeysocialdynamics,institutions
and problems, thus exemplifying the major strength of classical social theory.[1]
Inthisstudy,IwillattempttoilluminateboththestrengthsandweaknessesofRitzer'stheoryof
McDonaldizationandwillsuggestsomealternativeperspectives.IwillfirstdiscusshowRitzer
theorizesMcDonaldization,focusingonhismodeofsocialanalysisandwillarguethatRitzer
failstoadequatelyexplicateitsculturaldimensions.Drawingoncontemporaryculturalstudies,I
accordinglyaddaculturalperspectivetoRitzer'sanalysisanddiscusswhetherMcDonaldization
isproperlyaphenomenonofmodernityorpostmodernity,andwhetheritisbettergraspedby
modernorpostmoderntheory.Ithentakeontheissueofthestandpointandstrategyofcritique
ofkeyphenomenonalikeMcDonald's,orMcDonaldization,andsketchoutsomecritical
perspectives and strategies of resistance that explicate and supplement Ritzer's normative stance.
MyargumentisthatRitzerdoesnotadequatelydistinguishbetweenMcDonald'sandthe
broaderphenomenonofMcDonaldization,thathistakingtheinfamousfast-foodcompany
McDonald'sastheparadigmofMcDonaldizationskewshisanalysisnegatively,missingthe
dialecticsofMcDonaldization,itspositiveandnegativefeatures.YetIalsowanttoarguethat
RitzerdoesnotdevelopanadequatestandpointofcritiquetoevaluateeitherMcDonald'sor
McDonaldizationandthisthisproblemresultsfromexcessivedependenceonWeber'stheory
andthatamultiperspectivistmethodcanovercometheseproblems.Accordingly,Iarguefora
multiperspectivistapproachtocapturethecomplexityofMcDonald'sandMcDonaldizationsoas
to better critically evaluate its multifarious aspects and effects.
McDonaldization, Social Theory, and Cultural Studies
TheMcDonald'sfast-foodrestaurantscertainlyprovideausefulexampleofafamiliar
sociologicalartifactthatcanbeanalyzedtogenerateamoregeneralandmacrolevelof
conceptualization.Fewartifactsandinstitutionsofthecontemporaryworldareaswell-known
andubiquitousasMcDonald'swithitsBigMacs,GoldenArches,RonaldMcDonald's,
promotionaltie-inswithpopularfilmsandtoys,itscharities,andsaturationadvertising.Boththe
rationalizationofproductionandconsumptioninMcDonald'sisunparalleledinthe
contemporaryera,andservesasamodelforwhatRitzercallsthe"McDonaldizationofsociety"
definedbyincreasedefficiency,calculability,predictability,andcontrolthroughsubstitutionof
humanlaborpowerwithtechnology,allofwhichconstituteaquantitativeandtosomealarming
growth of instrumental rationalization.
Ritzer'sprojectcombinesuseofWeber'ssociologicaltheorytogeneralizeaboutMcDonald's
withawealthofempiricaldatatoillustrateandfleshoutthepoints.Hisresearchmethodfollows
whatAlvinGouldnercalled"newspapersociology"(1976),assemblinginformationandnewson
McDonald'sthroughgatheringandcitingnewspaperarticlestoillustratehisarguments--as
opposedtohistoricalsociology,ethnography,phenomenology,culturalstudies,andsoon.[2]
Thisperspectivecombinesatheoreticalopticwithempiricalillustrationtoenablethereaderto
seehowthegeneraltheoreticalpointsareembodiedinconcretephenomenathatcanbeobserved,
confirmed, and discussed.
RitzerprivilegesWeber'sconceptionofrationalizationtotheorizethephenomenonof
McDonaldizationwhichheseesas"comingtodominatemoreandmoresectorsofAmerican
societyaswellasoftherestoftheworld"(1996,1).RitzerextendsWeber'sanalysistoawealth
ofphenomena,demonstratingthattheprinciplesofMcDonaldizationarerestructuringavast
arrayoffields,rangingfromthefood,media,education,andhealthcareindustries,
encompassingfundamentallifeprocessesfrombirthtodeath(1996,161ff).Thestrengthofthe
analysisisthelightthatsuchstrongperspectivesshedongeneralsocialdynamicsandthe
mappingofthemacrostructuresofcontemporarysocialorganization.Thelimitationofthe
analysisisthattheWeberian-inspiredperspectivesoftengenerateaone-sidedandlimitedoptic
that needs to be supplemented, corrected, and expanded by further critical perspectives.
Wemight,forinstance,deployaMarx/WebersynthesistotheorizeMcDonaldizationasa
combinationofinstrumentalrationalizationofproductionandconsumptionwithasustained
corporateattempttoincreaseprofit.[3]Indeed,McDonaldizationseemstoequallyinvolve
commodificationandrationalization,tocommodifyfoodproductionandtorationalizeits
productionandconsumptionsoastoincreaseprofitability.WhileRitzerappliesthe
McDonaldizationmodeltoproductionandconsumption,helargelyemphasizesconsumptionand
thusdownplaysthewaysthatMcDonaldizationhasrevolutionizedproduction--despitesome
referencestoTaylorismandFordism(Ritzer1996,24-27,passim).Likewise,althoughhe
stressestheroleofprofitindrivingMcDonaldization(1996,44,62f,87f,passim),Ritzercould
bettercontextualizethephenomenonwithintheframeworkofarestructuringofcapitalism,
aimingattheincreaseofproductivityandprofitthroughrationalizationofproductionand
consumption.Forinadditiontobeingpartofarationalizationprocess,McDonaldizationispart
ofanewglobalformoftechnocapitalisminwhichworldmarketsarebeingrationalizedand
reorganized to maximize capital accumulation.[4]
Equally,whileRitzer'slargelysociologicalanalysisilluminateskeyfeaturesofMcDonald'sfast-
foodchainsandtheapplicabilityofitsprinciplestoavarietyofotherphenomenonisstriking,he
neglectstheculturaldimensionsoftheMcDonald'sphenomenonandinparticularthewaysin
whichthecorporationmobilizesadvertisingcampaignsandpromotionalstuntstocreatean
experienceoffun,offamilytogetherness,ofAmericanizationitselfwhichisassociatedwiththe
McDonald'sexperience.Thus,whenonebitesintoaBigMacs/heisconsumingthesignvalues
ofgoodtimes,communalexperience,consumervalueandefficiency,aswellasthe(dubious)
pleasuresoftheproduct.McDonald'sisnotjustsellingfast-food,butafamilyadventureof
eatingouttogether,intergenerationalbonding,andacommunalexperience,astheiradvertising
campaignsreiterateoverandoverinvariousways.Purchasingandingestingaspecificfood
productisonlyonepartofthisexperience,whichincludestheconsumptionofsignvaluessuch
asinexpensivefood,afamilyouting,Americana,ormodernity(seethedetailedanalysesin
Goldman 1992: 85ff. and Kincheloe 1997: 249ff.).
McDonaldizationisthusanideologyaswellasasetofsocialpractices,aculturalconstructwith
itsmyths,semioticcodes,anddiscourses.McDonald'sitselfprojectsanideologyoftheU.S.asa
meltingpotinwhichallcitizensparticipateequallyinitsdemocraticpleasures,irregardlessof
race,class,gender,andage.ItfurnishesamodeloftheUnitedStatesasalandofconsumer
innovationandtechnicalrationalitywhichproducesinexpensiveanddesirablegoodsforall,
servingitscustomer'sneedsandprovidingavaluableproduct.McDonald'sassociatesitselfwith
traditionslikethefamily,nationalholidays,patriotism,Christiancharity,andtheiconsofmedia
culture.GoingtoMcDonald'sfordenizensoftheU.S.isthusjoiningtheconsumersociety,
participating in the national culture, and validating common values.
RitzerthusunderplaysthewaysthatMcDonald'sisanideologicalandculturalphenomenon,as
wellasaneconomicandsociologicalsetofpractices.Althoughheapplieshisanalysisof
McDonaldizationtoawiderangeofculturalphenomena(themedia,education,travel,food,
etc.),Ritzerdoesnotreallyengagethespecificallyculturaldimensionoftheoperation.In
Weberianterms,heneglectsthecharismaoftheGoldenArches,RonaldMcDonald'sand
McDonaldland,thetie-insandpromotions,andtheubiquitousadvertising,aimedatavarietyof
gender, race, class, and national subject positions.[5]
Consuming McDonald's
Ritzeralsoexcessivelygeneralizeshisanalysisofthehomogenization,massification,and
standardizationofMcDonaldization,neglectingthevarietyanddiversityofconsumerpractices
indifferentregionsandpartsoftheworldandthevarioususestowhichconsumerscanput
McDonaldization,usingitsproductsandprocedurestoservetheirownneeds.Britishcultural
studieshasstressedtheimportanceofanalyzingthewaysthataudiencesorconsumerscreate
theirownmeaningsandexperience.TheMcDonald'sfast-foodchainsandotheraspectsofwhat
RitzercallsMcDonaldizationgenerateavarietyofwaysspecificpleasures,meanings,and
effectswhichamicroanalysisofparticularformsandexperiencesofMcDonaldizationcan
interrogate.AsIsuggestbelow,peopleindifferentcountriesnodoubtexperienceboth
McDonald'sandMcDonaldizationinavarietyofwaysandtherearedifferentgender,race,class,
andregionaldifferencesinthephenomenaoffast-foodandsocietalrationalizationthatRitzer
fails to explore in much detail.
BylargelyprivilegingWeber'stheoryofrationalizationinhisanalysisofMcDonaldization,
Ritzerthusmissesthesubjectiveaspectsoftheprocessandthewaysthatvariousindividualsand
groupsdeployMcDonaldizationtoservetheirownneedsandinterests.Hisprivilegingofthe
categoryofrationalizationisthustooobjectivisticandfailstoarticulatethesubjectiveand
culturalcomplexofMcDonaldization.Indeed,IamnotsurethatWeber'smetaphorofthe"iron
cage"thatRitzersuggests,northealternativemetaphorsheproposesofthe"velvet"or"rubber"
cage,arethebestwaystointerrogatetheMcDonald'sphenomenon.InthecaseofMcDonald's--
andmanyotherfast-foodemporiums,sitesofmassentertainmentandconsumption,andmedia
culture--,perhapssomethinglike"theplasticfunhouse"ismoreappropriate.Whereassocietal
rationalizationaccuratelydescribesaspectsofthesocio-economicrootsofMcDonaldization,
thereisamorehedonisticandfun-orientedculturalsidethatmetaphorsofa"cage"donot
adequately capture.
Itis,forexample,unlikelythatmanyMcDonald'scustomersseethemselvesastrappedina
cage,althoughnodoubtmostofitsworkersfeelenclosedandencagedintheirconstrictivelabor
conditions,asevidencedbytheirespeciallyhighturnoverrates(seebelow).Ontheculturalside,
McDonaldizationhidestheconditionsofrationalizationwithacolorfulenvironment,often
decoratedwithimagesfromcurrentfilmsandiconsofpopularentertainmenttoprovidea
funhouseexperienceandtoentertainthecustomeraswellastofilltheirstomachs.Beneaththe
glitzyandkitchsyappearance,inexorableconditionsofrationalization(andattemptstomaximize
profits)workbehindthebacksofthecustomers,maskedbythefacadeofthepromised
experienceofMcDonald'srestaurantsasprovidingfunandpleasurablefasteatingforafast-
paced consumer society.
McDonald's Between the Modern and the Postmodern
RationalizationisitselfequatedwithmodernizationinstandardinterpretationsofWeber,and
onemightraisethequestionofwhetherMcDonaldizationisproperlyinterpretedasan
expressionofmodernity,asRitzerargues(1996,148f.),orofpostmodernity.Clearly,the
rationalizationorindustrializationoffoodproductionconstitutesarupturewithtraditionallife
(Forearlieranalysesofthemechanizationofagriculture,food,labor,house-cleaning,theobjects
ofeverydaylife,anddeath,seeGiedion1969).AsRitzerargues,followingWeber'smodel,
increasedrationalizationofeverydaylifeinvolvesruptureswithtraditionandthesubstitutionof
new"modern"forms,thuscreatingtensionsbetweenthemodernandthepremodern.Claimsthat
wearenowleavingmodernitybehindforanewpostmodernitywouldsuggestthatweare
leavingmodernsocialandculturalformslikeMcDonaldizationbehindinfavorofnew
postmodern conditions.
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