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George Ritzer and the McDonaldization of Society: Definition and Principles

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  • 0:05 George Ritzer and…
  • 1:08 Rationalization of Society
  • 2:16 Principles of McDonaldization
  • 6:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erin Long-Crowell
George Ritzer authored 'The McDonaldization of Society' in 1993, and it remains one of the bestselling sociology books of all time. In this lesson, we discuss his concept of McDonaldization and the four main characteristics of McDonaldization that he describes.

Note: For the purposes of this video, the instructor is using the American pronunciation of Max Weber's name.

George Ritzer and McDonaldization

In our modern society, trends and technology become such a large part of everyday life that people start to use them as verbs and adjectives. For example, when's the last time you 'Googled' something, 'blogged' about a recent trip, or saw that a new game had been 'Facebookized?' George Ritzer basically did the same thing with the fast food restaurant McDonald's in his best-selling book, The McDonaldization of Society. He defines McDonaldization as the process by which principles of fast food restaurants have come to dominate virtually every aspect of society.

McDonald's and other fast-food restaurants offer an alternative to labor-intensive, home-cooked meals that have been attractive to busy families since the 1950s. Two of their most appealing qualities are convenience and affordability. These qualities and similar principles are becoming increasingly important in all aspects of our modern society.

Rationalization of Society

The building block of McDonaldization is Max Weber's concept of rationalization, which is the process of replacing traditional and emotional thought with reason and efficiency. Weber believed that most societies throughout history were governed by tradition and that the most significant trend in modern sociology is an increasing rationalization of every part of our daily lives. He also believed that rationalization would continue until our society would become an iron cage, dehumanizing everyone and creating an extreme level of uniformity.

Likewise, Ritzer uses McDonald's as a metaphor for the over-rationalization of society. The popularity of the restaurant itself is a perfect example of rationalization because traditional, home-cooked family meals have been replaced with meals of practicality and convenience. Continued rationalization has led to sectors beyond the fast food industry becoming increasingly uniform and automated.

Principles of McDonaldization

Ritzer identifies four main principles of McDonaldization: predictability, calculability, efficiency, and control. These are all characteristics of McDonald's and other fast-food restaurants. However, they continue to be characteristics of other changing industries, such as shopping districts, education, healthcare, and more. Let's look at an example of each principle.

Predictability

First is predictability. Customers of McDonald's can predict the food menu: you'll find the same Big Mac in California as you would in New York. The building, the decorations, and the uniforms are also usually the same. Likewise, other industries are becoming increasingly predictable.

Most of the shopping malls across the country have the same stores. Popular fiction is 'rebooted' over and over again in all kinds of media. Many popular websites even have the same basic layout. Consumers seem to love predictability. They like knowing what to expect and what to do in any situation.

Calculability

The second principle of McDonaldization is calculability, which can be seen at McDonald's in several ways. First, there's an emphasis on quantity over quality. The size and weight of a burger that you buy are the same as the size and weight of a burger someone else buys - and the bigger, the better. Second, the cost of that burger is a big selling point. The appeal of low prices is obvious in their Dollar Menu.

Third, speed is also considered extremely important and sometimes comes at the cost of quality. Likewise, quantity is increasingly important everywhere you go. Consumers often use price and number of items sold to gauge the appeal of business. Many stores are now open 24 hours a day in order to stay competitive. They also continue to offer holiday merchandise earlier and earlier, giving consumers additional quantity of both time and purchasing options.

Efficiency

McDonald's takes pride in the efficiency of its operations, which is the third principle of McDonaldization. When your order is taken, it is usually already waiting for you while keeping warm. Each employee also has a specific role to play, and this division of labor adds to operational efficiency. Likewise, we see the same focus on efficiency in other markets.

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