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George Ritzer (1940–) is an American sociologist focusing on capitalist world-systems, and is known for his concept of the McDonaldization of society. He was born in Manhattan, New York to a Jewish family. His socioeconomic status in his family was neither upper nor lower class, and therefore was able to attain a decent education in sociology. He was able to use this education and societal understanding in his evaluation of the companies that he worked in: he discovered that in his job forays, that the work he was given was in fact very little and that he had to look busy. He even found that the overeducated workers constantly defied the undereducated ones, and that he eventually came to the conclusion that he desired a society where freedom was not stymied by bureaucracy such as in those workplaces. While he didn't actually get a degree in sociology, he still followed core tenets of the study and was essentially a social theorist. Mostly influenced by Max Weber, he proceeded to analyze the world through a reimagining of Immanuel Wallerstein's interpretation of globalization.
McDonaldization of society
Stemming from Weber's view of overrationalization in bureaucracy, George Ritzer went on to analyze the effects of this on a global scale. It reflects the overencompassing nature of capitalism and technology designed to make things as efficiently run as possible, forgoing interests in the form of the system in favor of honing the preexisting system to the fullest extent within the confines of the system. This hyper-focusing on efficiency holds parallels to critical theory, in that it references an irrationality of rationality, that the capability for us to reason becomes lost the more narrow the application.
The four modes of McDonaldization
There are four parts of McDonaldization that Ritzer points out. When one can identify all four aspects shown here, one can know that McDonaldization is taking place.
- Efficiency, in that things are designed to be as efficiently developed as possible. Higher speed, higher production, and cut corners in production all to contribute to the speed of development are all prioritized.
- Calculability, in that things are not only designed quickly, but also to clearly defined parameters. Designed to reduce as much subjective judgment as possible, things are defined instead in terms of measurements, calculated costs, and in general rules and regulations that can be abided by without input from any individual.
- Predictability, in that things are not just designed quickly for a certain measurement, but that those measurements are carefully abided by and that no matter which institution you go to at which geographically, it will nonetheless be the same. It's about universal requirements acknowledged.
- Control, in that things are all being enforced by management from above. Not only do rules exist and are expected to be followed, but also are enforced by management above based on the hierarchical nature of employment. While employment is suggested to be voluntary, workers nonetheless volunteer for strict rules and regulations that are consistently sanctioned.
Glocalization is a combination of globalization and localization. It refers to the act of producing goods to be distributed on a global scale, yet are appropriated for specific tastes in certain countries based on where they are distributed. For instance, a car company produces its cars in different ways reflecting the geography of where it's sent. Another example is where McDonald's sells certain fish native just to Japan, yet is a product and institution that is universally recognizable fundamentally. Essentially, it refers to the specific reification and re-appropriation of objects to suit a specific country, developing a global culture industry.
Grobalization is a combination of grow and globalization. It refers to the political nature of countries interested in establishing their control over other such nations through political means or otherwise. Specifically, it refers to the imposition of already existing institutions and philosophies upon other types of countries and cultures. While glocalization is where the company reappropriates the content to that specific geography, grobalization would refer to the fact that that company exists at all in that country, seeking to expand its political and economic power in the context of the global sphere.
Using these concepts of world-capitalism, the continuous McDonaldization, irrationality of overrationality, and glocalization and grobalization, he puts them all together in the epitome of understanding the things that are produced: the difference between something and nothing. In the context of Ritzer's work, these words mean very specific things pertaining to the capitalist world-structure he analyzes.
'Something' refers to an object that is produced and is rich with content. It is locally conceived and locally produced, and is therefore subjectively determined and has its own ascribed meaning. Things such as home-cooked meals, homemade clothes, and cooperative work centralized within a personal sphere encompass this type of good. 'Nothing', on the other hand, refers to quite the opposite. Industrially collected, centrally planned and produced, and therefore devoid of meaningful content. Things such as this are related to the overrationalization of production; things are produced in cookie-cutter styles without any sort of 'love' placed into it, no subjectivity beyond the rule that was developed.
These concepts matter because, in a globalized rational society, more and more objects are being centrally planned and distributed, ergo 'nothing', whilst paradoxically being marketed as 'something'. There is a fundamental lie that the things that you buy on a marketed scale and consistent distribution aren't actually developed with content in mind, but simply as mindless contraptions developed for the sake of keeping the profit engine moving. Similar to the culture industry, things are produced and chosen from rather than made personally and developed outside of the private production sphere. You'll find that these days more and more things are being marketed as 'something' when in fact they are 'nothing'. The general hope from these type of theorists is that eventually we will get to a point in our economy where 'something' can truly be made again.