McDonaldization of Society by George Ritzer

Not until I started reading this book and preface from the author did I realize how long ago this book was written or know that the idea of “McDonaldization” itself has been around for nearly 30 years. This is a book that I have been meaning to read from my college days when I was first introduced to it during in excerpts by my professor in Soc 134: Introduction to Sociology. The idea of McDonaldization seems quite basic at first glance, but further delving into this book, I saw the lines blur between what I thought was a great realization to more of different spin on things we already know. Also, maybe Ritzer was stretching in some instances and making inferences more complex than need be. Before I go any further, it is important to note that this book is from a particular school of thought. One that derives itself from the field of sociology. But there are many schools of thought (philosophy, religion, psychology, anthropology, etc) that try to help us explain how, why things happen in society, and can be as bold to try to predict was is going to happen in society next. I thought I would bring that point up for I found myself reminding myself of it throughout reading the book.

 Sometimes I view sociogy and its theories flimsy because they often go unsupported and can’t be proven since drivers can rarely be isolated in the solutions and or creations of problems. McDonaldization results from the vision of Ray Kroc who took the basic of idea of eating out at a local diner and propelled it to a multi-billion dollar hamburger fast-food chain known as McDonalds. His idea was replicated by other fast food chains who too have shared great success. Not only did other franchises and fast food chains use the McDonald’s method, but other sectors of retail and service industry became copycats as well. Hotels, coffee shops, pet stores, tire and lube centers, etc have adopted or sampled McDonalds practices or philosophies. McDonalds redefined convenience, efficiency and overall consuming of food, which led to a whole new way of life for many, many people. The author does a wonderful job of drawing for the reader a map of how McDonald’s became so successful and copied among so many areas of business. Few business probably admit that saturation, maintaining the same processes, store design, or recreating the same uniform brick and mortar stores in nearly all geographic locations was because of McDonalds, but then again, don’t we all subconsciously follow a successful leader or method in the hopes to recreate their success? Either way, Ritzer weaves a compelling argument in how McDonalds copied practices from Henry Ford and naturally companies must have taken a few tips from McDonalds’s success in the betterment of their own operations.

The center focus of this book though is how the McDonaldized method has impacted society. Ritzer uses majority of the book to explain the tools; efficiency, control, calculability, and predictability and how in their practice at McDonalds has been observed in the ways society has progressed. Whether it is religion, politics, health care in the big macro picture or how ATMs, USA Today and home cooking have been affected by McDonaldization, all of us have experience it somewhere in daily life. Most of these arguments seem to have some truth or correlation and fit nicely into the theme of the book. Discovering the impacts and patterns unveiled, I found them quite enjoyable and easy to comprehend. I will refrain from any sort of detail since the book is short and broken up very nicely into little sections within the chapters that are referenced by page number in the table of contents. Toward the latter half of the book is where majority of my criticism lies. When Ritzer starts talking about the “Iron Cage of McDonaldization” and the “Frontiers of McDonaldization” (chapters 8 and 9), he begins to lose me somewhat. Talks of pre and post industrialization in comparing the effects and similarities of Fordism and McDonaldization are confusing as I found myself in a close tennis match, back and forth, trying to keep the two separate and still understand the author’s points underlying them. Also when Ritzer goes on talk about “Sneakerization” and how it in itself could be another form of McDonaldization “since that’s where the future is heading” was not explained or developed very well, leaving me confused on why he even brought up sneakerization in the first place, since it was talked about so briefly. Finally, when George Ritzer gets into how eventually babies could becomes “designer babies” or made to order based on gender, “defects” or even personality, I feel he was overstepping quite a bit for the original purposes of the book. By the time I got through the “Frontiers of McDonaldization”, I felt like I had gone from reading a book on sociology to a science fiction parallel universe setting where Brave New World was the inspiration for creation.

 Ritzer, in this book, seems to leave out of account how the government has been a huge driver in how society has changed over the last 100 years. Or how globalization has changed the very way we all look at the world each and every day. There is no doubt that McDonalds has had a hand in globalization, but without mentioning other contributors of change, his argument weakens ultimately. He instead leans more towards rationalism, that bigger, quick, and cheaper is better, and though technology has pushed us there, there had to be a desire to push towards this more McDonalized society or otherwise we wouldn’t have embraced it as much as we have in past decades. Realizing the best of limitations of one book (especially a short one), Ritzer definitely exploits thought from his readers, but also allows for holes to punch through his theory in arguments too. This book is a puddle jumper to deeper discussion and further research, which Ritzer deserves a lot of credit for. And besides two out the last three chapters, this book was an interesting read, but one could get a basic gist of McDonaldization by reading excerpts like I did back my old sociology intro class and not necessarily need to read the whole thing. Rating: 5/10

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