The rationalisation process in modern society (Adapted from G. Ritzer 1993 pp 1 11) The notion that modem society was becoming increasingly rationalised increasingly influenced by scientific thought is a recurring theme in the work of Max Weber, in particular. It can be found in his writings on organisations, on social action and on the development of capitalism. In his book The McDonaldization ofSociety, Ritzer argues that McDonald’s has become a symbol of Weber’s worst fears for the rationalisation of society.
The book is not about McDonald’s or the fast food business, but uses McDonald’s as an illustration of the rationalisation process, as the following extract shows. The McDonaldization of Society George Ritzer ‘(McDonaldization) is the process by which the principles of the fast food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as the rest of the world, McDonaldization not only affects the restaurant business, but also education, work, travel, leisure time activities, dieting, politics, the family and virtually every other sector of society. ‘
The impact and influence of McDonald’s can be seen in a variety of ways: * In 1990 McDonald’s total sales were $6. 8 billion and its profits in excess of $800 million. The number of fast food restaurants has grown astronomically. For example, McDonald’s, which began franchisig ‘m 195 5, opened its 12,000th outlet on March 22, 1991. The leading 100 restaurant chains operate more than 110,000 outlets in the United States alone. The McDonald’s model has not only been adopted by other hamburger fi anchises but also a wide array of other fhst food businesses, micluding those selling fried chicken and various ethnic foods …
This American institution is making inroads around the world as evidenced by the opening of American fast food restaurants throughout Europe… Already possessing a huge Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet, Beijing, China, witnessed the opening of the world’s largest McDonald’s, with 700 seats, 29 cash registers, and nearly 1,000 employees, in April 1992… In 1991, for the first time, McDonald’s opened more restaurants abroad (427) than in the United States (18 8), Other nations have developed their own variants of this American institution, as is best exemplified by the now large number of fast food croissanteries in Paris. Other countries have begun to export their own McDonaldized institutions to the United States. For example, the Body Shop is an ecologically sensitive British cosmetic chain with 620 shops in 39 countries; 66 of those shops are now in the United States. An ever expanding number of other types of business have adapted the principles of the fast food restaurant to their needs. Said the vice chairman of one of these chains, Toys ‘r’ Us, ‘We want to be thought of as a sort of McDonald’s of toys’…
Four principles lie at the heart of the success of the McDonald’s’ model and, more generally, of the process of McDonaldization. First, McDonald’s offer efficiency. That is the McDonald’s system offers us the optimum method for getting from one point to another (e. g. From being hungry to feeling full in a short space of time). Second, McDonald’s offers us food and service that can be easily quantified and calculated… The amount of food and the timing of service are precisely calculated We often feel we are getting a lot of food for a modest amount of oney… The success of McDonald’s also involves a time calculation McDonaldized institutions offer deliveries in a certain time and service within 5 minutes, for example. Ray Kroc who established McDonalds was obssessed with quantifying all aspects of hamburger production. As an article in 2003 recalls; “The man was a fanatic. Every pound of ground beef had to make exactly ten burgers, every pound of cheese exactly 32 slices, and every French fry had to be nine-32nds of an inch thick of sufficiently dried No. Idaho russet potatoes that must be dipped once, dried, and then dipped again in oil heated to an exact temperature–as judged by a thermometer-like “potato computer. ” He was determined that the company would outlast him. ” He was aslo obssessed with the value of work – “Work,” he wrote in his autobiography, “is the meat in the hamburger of life. ” Can McDonald’s Cook Again? The great American icon ain’t what it used to be. FORTUNE Sunday, March 30, 2003 By Grainger David Third, McDonald’s offers us predictability.
We know what is eaten in New York will be, for all intents and purposes, identical to what we would eat in Beijing or Milton Keynes… The success of the McDonald’s model indicates that many people have come to prefer a world in which form and content are identical … there are no surprises at McDonalds Fourth and finally, control, especially through the substitution of non human for human technology, is exerted over the human beings who enter the world of McDonald’s. Non human technology and rigid systems of training and output ensure control over the service provided.
The humans who work in fast food restaurants are trained to do a very limited number of things in precisely the way they are told. McDonald’s also controls people by using non human technology to replace human workers… with non human technologies, such as the soft drink dispenser that shuts itself off when the glass is full, the pre programmed cash register that eliminates the need for the cashier to calculate prices and amounts… The result is that McDonald’s is able to reassure customers about the nature of the service to be obtained. It’s very healthy for a young person to work for McDonald’s. McDonald’s makes him an efficient person. If the hamburger doesn’t look right, the guy’s out. This system is a smoothly operating machine, which our army ought to emulate” US General Abrams quoted in Walraff (1985) Ritzer’s description of McDonaldization seems to fulfil Weber’s nightmare of a social world made up of rational systems and institutions which stifle creativity and dehumanise people by trapping individuals within an ‘iron cage of rationality’. The comforts of this world are seductive, as Ritzer indicates: They (people) like, even crave, the McDonaldized world and welcome its continued growth and proliferation … this is the world they know, it represents their standard of good taste and high quality and they can think of nothing better than an increasingly rationalised world. They prefer a world that is not cluttered with too many choices and options. They like the fact that many aspects of their lives are highly predictable. They relish an impersonal world in which they interact with humans and even non human robots. They seek to avoid, at least in the McDonaldized portions of their world, close human contact.
For such people, and they probably represent with each passing year an increasingly large proportion of the population, McDonaldization represents not a threat, but nirvana. ‘ (From G. Ritzer 1993 pp 160 16 1) ………………………………………………………………………………………….. Observation in Mcdonald’s Observation is vital within sociology for testing theory and also strengthening it where possible. For my observation I decided to observe a busy McDonald’s during a week day at 13. 30 for an hour and a half in order to see what kind of cross-section within society visited there and also how people inside behaved whilst there.
I chose to carry out a covert participant observation as another customer so that I could see both staff and public in a naturalistic qualitative way. I decided on McDonald’s specifically as it’s the definitive worldwide food chain and I thought that the juxtaposition of English modern society and a multi-national company which takes pride in its standardisation could be very interesting. Max Weber and then later George Ritzer, both aimed to explain how society and it’s various rituals such as eating would eventually become ‘rationalised’ through an increasing presence of beurocratic control.
McDonald’s was arguably the first fast food chain to spread worldwide in the way that it did by appealing to all cultures through it’s a uniform americanised family friendly image. Globalisation has made the world a smaller place and Mcdonald’s is a prime example of this new economically driven shared global culture. As McDonald’s aim is primarily to draw people in to eat their food and then return again, no gatekeepers were necessary in order for me to gain access, making the methodology fairly straightforward .
I decided that my observation would cover all aspects of what a typical customer might see and experience whilst there, so first I made some mental notes downstairs of my surroundings and also of the highly mechanised process of serving the public. Before I ordered most of the individuals componants that made up my meal were either already cooked or else in the process of cooking so the waiting time was less than 5 minutes. I also noted the speed with which the queue moved as a result of the number of tills available at any given time.
Taking into account my observation was carried out during the lunch hour in the city centre , the whole process struck me as efficient and incredibly fast. George Ritzer argued in his origianl thesis that it didn’t matter if McDonald’swas cheap and efficient or not, as long as it was perceived to be efficient and frugal that was enough to generate a worldwide trend in fast-food. McDonald’s offers us food and service that can be easily quantified and calculated, as shown for example by the measuring scale on the side of their cups.
Therefore the amount of food and the timing of service make us feel we are getting a lot of food for a relatively modest amount of money, even if this isnot in fact the case at all. In the wall downstairs there was a brightly lit glass display case advertising the new toys that came with the kids happy meals. The overall colour of downstairs was generally bright green whilst upstairs was predominantly orange. All of the employees at the tills were young white males except for one white young woman cleaning worktops and an older white male, possibly their supervisor.
The company’s uniform (shirt and tie) seemed casual and I noticed that it was not gender specific as the womans shirt looked awkwardly baggier on her. The only way I could identify that this was a McDonald’s in Liverpool was listening the accent of the staff member who served me. The regular script that the staff have to use was fairly basic as well. It effectively stripped my interaction with the worker down to what I wanted to order, leaving out all casual talk or opinion whatsoever. As Weber initially predicted, this identicle rational means of food consumption emplifies capitolism at its best.
I would also suspect that the script would constrain the worker to an extent making them feel de-sensitised and uninvolved, in much the same way that Goffman (1961) suggested in his early work. Once I moved I saw myself on a moniter next to a camera which was placed centrally at the top of the stairs. The table next to mine had a laptop on it reminding me that McDonald’s now provides free wifi for its customers, giving me the impression that it’s a pleasant modern place to go eat. In addition to this the music was also aimed at a younger generation as it was mainly chart music.
Upstairs the mixture of chrome and orange leather suggested to me that McDonald’swas now determined to shed it’s original image of cheap plastic furniture, keeping in sync with StarBucks, the new rationalised contender vying for customers. The quality feel and also abundance of bright colours everywhere makes it more akin to a theme park in terms of theatre compared with restaurants. this was reflected in my earlier observation of the brightly lit happy meal case in the main wall downstairs and also , perhaps more obviously with their clown mascot Ronald McDonald.
As Sian Luxemburg (1982) has pointed out ,’ Restaurantes have become a form of entertainment….. I would rather eat mediocre food in a fabulous room than sit somewhere dull and boring and eat fabulous food,’ (george Ritzer: Explorations in the sociology of consumption: fast food, credit cards and casinos 2001). The building itself had large window divides between various sections of the top floor but they had holes in them in order to let the whole room look bright and pleasant as opposedto, for example a restaurante where light may be dimmer.
The seats where arranged in such a way as to promote concersation, yet people seemed to sit on the outskirts of the room, leaving the tables at the centre all free. It seemed as if people went to Mcdonald’s not for the standardised unnaturally large tomatos and watered down coca cola, but for social interaction as there were quite a few couples, groups there, builders in high visible jackets were eating there, various ethnic groups such as asians and blacks were also there and I would also suggest that different social classes sat there as well because of their items of clothing and shopping bags.
Clothes gave away personal interests as well for example I obeserved people in rock t-shirts, builders high visibility jackets, designer jackets and tracksuits so there was a lot of variance. McDonald’s could therefore be viewed as appealling to the masses rather than a specific select few. However in contrast to the groups of people there I noticed how outsiders i. e. those sitting alone acted as well. They seemed to be conscious of the fact they were alone in a social setting as they texted or phoned people in order to make themselves look less isolated.
About half hour into my observation I chose to move to the other side of the room as it was more densely populated and once I sat down I overheard a girl behind me comment to her friend or possibly boyfriend ,’ in Mcdonald’s on your own, horrible,’ in reference to a woman reading two tables away. In stark contrast to the customers, a homeless man actually came to my table before I moved as I was carrying out my observation and asked me for money, which I gave him.
Later when I’d moved to the far side he appeared upstairs again only this time the staff ushered him out promptly. I found this to be a very significant event as it was a microcosm for the social variance that exists in modern britain and our attitudes towards those lower in terms of social class than ourselves as well. Within the staff there was also a disabled member of staff who was an older white male upstairs.
He was busy cleaning tables when an older female white member of staff came over and asked him if he was ok managing by himself , which indicated to me that she seemed to adopt a maternal bond to an extent with him especially. The older members of the public there from their 40’s onwards tended to clean upafter themselves while the younger generation there rarely carried their empty rubbish over to the bin, which seemed to make the staff feel dissatisfied as one commented sarcastically ,’oh fabulous,’ when approaching the table nearest my own.
This particular member of staff happened to be the older female, which may be importanat as she isnt just disssatisfied with the nature of her job , but may have generational concepts of how people ought to act in restaurante i. e. clean up after themselves to help staff. The other thing that was very significant was that people tended to adopt a segreagated seating pattern based not on social class, sex or ethnicity but age. This was very clear as one side of the room was considerably louder than the other.
Another observation I made was the ownership of personal space that people seemed to handle differently in Mcdonald’s. The males seemed to put their bags on the table or the inner part fo the bench while they sat on the outside, expressing fairly open body language whereas the females there often put their bags on the seat/bench beside them, making themselves less accessible so while McDonald’s is a place where conversation is important it isn’t necessarily an open forum for meeting new people hence the prolonged isolation of some individuals.
Drawing from past observations of those such as George Herbert Mead Charles Horton Cooley and John Dewey I have specifically studied society from a qualitative micro-level in order to better understand the interactions that arise within the setting of McDonald’s. The symbolic interactions that I observed were varied e. g. how staff treated the customers as opposed to the within the beggar.
The values and meanings attached to each role became more physically identifiable as well because the staff were more noticable in their uniforms (Blumer 1986). Goffman suggested in ,’ The Presentation Of Self In Everyday Life,’ that on the surface, people ,’act,’ more easily when they wear a uniform and that this prop provides some protection in a similar way to the use of standardised staff scritps.
Detaching oneself from the job and becoming part of the company through uniform possibly could be seen as yet another example of Weber’s ,’rationalisation,’ as it takes away the individuals identity and marks them out as someone there solely to serve the customer. By giving the staff members a unifying image to uphold the customer then in turn can interpret them as such and associate them with the service provided , in contrast to smaller more personalised resataurantes etc. where the staff may be less restricted by appearance codes of conduct.