By Soumyaditya Dasgupta, WBNUJS.

Globalization is a very recently coined term in human history. It is characterized by the advent of global corporations & institutions which operate in multiple nations as if there are no real boundaries between them and the intermixing of different cultures, leading to a common global identity & Consciousness. In 2000, IMF identified four basic aspects of globalization- trade and transactions, capital and investment movements, migration of people & wide dissemination of knowledge[1].

There are is no single accepted definition of Globalization, as it has multifaceted aspects which cannot be accurately generalized. Some definitions have been attempted-

  • Globalization is a process of international integration arising from the interchange of world views, ideas and culture[2].
  • Globalization as a concept refers both to the compression of the world and the intensification of the consciousness of the world as a whole….. both concrete global interdependence and consciousness of the global whole[3].
  • Globalization can be defined as the intensification of world-wide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice-versa. This is a dialectical process because such local happenings may move in an obverse direction from the very distanciated relations that shape them. Local transformation is as much part of globalization as the lateral extension of social connections across time and space[4].
  • Globalization is the widening, deepening and speeding up of worldwide interconnectedness in all aspects of contemporary social life, from the cultural to the criminal, the financial to the spiritual[5].

When the definitions of globalization that are put together, five essential characteristics of globalization can be identified[6]

  1. Global in nature- long distance transnational extensions of economics, polity, culture etc.
  2. Globally inclusive in inputs as well as reach. Ideas/products from one part of the world is an extension of that in another part of the world.
  3. Interdependency between multiple facets of trade, society etc.
  4. Stability and regularity in those relations.
  5. Must include the ‘masses’ not just the ‘elites’. Existence of a global consciousness which must include all the people on the planet, not just a select few.

The term Globalization is often interchangeably used with liberalization, internationalization, universalization & westernization. But these terms are actually a part of the bigger picture of Globalization[7].

GLOBALIZATION & McDonaldization

McDonaldization is a by-product of “Americanization” or “Westernization” which is a part of the wider phenomenon of Globalization. The terms are used to refer to the influence that USA has all over the world and the American mania of rationalization in every sphere of life. American ideas and values have permeated to almost every household in the world, thanks to satellite television and the internet. American owned brands dominate the international market, especially the fast food market, with chains like McDonald’s, KFC and Starbucks having outlets in almost every country in the world. These chains follow the same principles and practices in respect to their business and it is these practices that have inspired “McDonaldization”.

THE McDonaldization OF SOCIETY

The term “McDonaldization”[8] was invented by eminent sociologist George Ritzer in his book, ‘The McDonaldization of Society’. Essentially McDonaldization is the process of “rationalization”, i.e. the substitution of traditional rules or views for logical or pragmatic rules or views & how it can be applied to any task. Ritzer considers a fast food restaurant typically, McDonald’s to be a representative of the contemporary global paradigm[9]. He uses the example of McDonald’s to show how the principles of the fast food industry have come to dominate other sectors of the society as well[10].

The process of McDonaldization takes a bigger task & breaks it down into smaller tasks. This process is reiterated until all tasks can be effectively broken down into the smallest possible level. These tasks are then rationalized to find a single most efficient method for completing each task. The result is an efficient, logical sequence of methods that can be completed the same way every time to produce the desired outcome. A particular outcome is expected which makes it predictable. All aspects of the process are easily and heavily controlled. Also quantity becomes the measurement of good performance. This is basically a kind of “Fordism”[11]. Fordism is the name given to the process of mass production which was pioneered by Henry Ford in the 1920’s. Ford’s model of mass production was based on the “assembly line”. The process of manufacturing a car was broken down such that each worker was responsible for the fitting or manufacturing of only one part of the car, contributing in the manufacture of the final product. Each worker works on only one aspect of the production and his skill is immaterial to the task. This model of production resulted in high efficiency and greater productivity.

Ritzer identified four major dimensions of McDonaldization[12]

  • Efficiency- It is the process of choosing the optimum means to a given end. Every business venture looks for efficiency even in a non McDonaldized society. But in a McDonaldized society, efficiency is thrust upon an individual. The single most efficient method is the one that needs to be followed mandatorily. No one is free to choose his own methods of efficiency, one is forced to accept the methods followed by the other institutions. Ritzer uses the example of an ATM to explain the scenario of how over-rationalization defeats the purpose of efficiency- A person has to pay to obtain an ATM-cum debit, then to use it, he has to find an ATM; pay for withdrawing his own money. Ultimately the person is ending up doing something which was usually done for him till now[13], and also pay for doing the work himself; all in the name of efficiency and convenience.
  • Calculability- There is an emphasis on the quantity of the products sold & speed of the service offered. The more the number of products sold (Size/Cost) & the faster the service provided, the better. This emphasis leads to the erroneous conclusion that if the number of products is more, the product must be of good quality[14]. McDonald’s serves items like ‘Big Mac’ which are perceived to be the better products on the menu due to their size.
  • Predictability- There is an emphasis on things such as “discipline, order, systemization, formalization, routine, consistency, and methodical operation”[15]. The experience of the customer at McDonald’s in Kolkata, India will be similar to that in Bismarck, North Dakota, so will be the taste of the food. This totally defeats the purpose of experiencing a new culture if one is vacationing in Ibiza, Spain and still eats McDonald’s burgers. This predictability has spilled into other industries as well, especially in the television & the movie industry[16].
  • Control- There is an emphasis on controlling the workers and the customers. This is done to maintain a greater control over the complete rationalizing process through increased mechanization. By substitution of humans by non-human technology and by making tasks repetitive, forcing workers not to think, employers maintain greater control over their employees[17]. For example, checkers at a store can do their job by simply pushing a few buttons and scanning the barcodes of products; for customers, now there are ‘self-serve’ scanners, where they can scan the barcodes of the products they intend to purchase; airplanes are being flown by computers- pilots just oversee the process[18]. Human skills and capabilities are of lesser value than before.

“THE IRRATIONALITY OF RATIONALITY”: CRITIQUE OF McDonaldization[19]

Prima facie the breaking down of the task at hand looks attractive and if it increases productivity manifold, it looks too good to not be implemented everywhere. But sometimes, this rationalizing is overdone which can lead to undesirable results, which were not intended. Breaking down a task into smaller units than necessary can lead to inefficiency. In fast food chains or in a drive-through restaurant, it results in long queues for food which totally defeats the idea of ‘fast’ food. It may even result in higher prices in the name of rationality. For example- to increase convenience a pineapple is sliced into thin slices, packaged nicely and sold. The customer buys that pineapple, then he has to get through the packaging to get to the pineapple slices and inevitably discard the packaging. A lot of time and effort was spent in packaging the product and it leads to the sliced pineapple costing much more than a whole pineapple[20], also the package is ultimately discarded, adding to the over-flowing human waste.

Globalization has helped the growth & spread of McDonaldization. It has transformed into a dogma that controls the working of society from being a typical American phenomena. It has seeped into all sectors of the society, be it business or education. Rationalization has become a mania, an obsession, a communicable disease that has spread through the world like wildfire.

In a McDonaldized society there is no scope for any creativity nor any value for human skills. There is no freedom of choice. It renders human skills and abilities redundant. Workers are like cogs in the big wheel of rationalization and profiteering. It is like living in an “iron cage”[21] as stated by Max Weber, where one is trapped in a world where individual freedom is being eroded and is being replaced by the ‘irrational’ rationality of efficiency & control[22].

McDonaldization, has its positives as well as negatives, it must be looked at as both “enabling” and “constraining”[23]. In a McDonaldized setup we are now able to do a lot of things which was impossible in the past and we are not able to do what we usually would do[24]. “McDonaldization is a “double-edged” phenomenon”[25].

[1] Globalization: Threats or Opportunity, International Monetary Fund, http://www.imf.org/external/np/exr/ib/2000/041200to.htm#II.

[2] Martin Albrow & Elizabeth King, Globalization, Knowledge and Society 8 (1990).

[3] Roland Robertson, Globalization: Social Theory & Global Culture 8 (1992).

[4] Anthony Giddens, The Consequences Of Modernity 64 (1990).

[5] David Held, Anthony McGrew, David Goldblatt & Jonathan Perraton, Global Transformations, Politics, Economics and Culture 2 (1999).

[6] Luke Martell, Sociology Of Globalization 15 (2010).

[7] Jan Aart Scholte, Globalization: A Critical Introduction (2005).

[8] George Ritzer, The McDonaldization Of Society (1993).

[9] George Ritzer, The McDonaldization Of Society: New Century Edition 553 (2004).

[10] George Ritzer, The McDonaldization Of Society 1 (1993).

[11] Antonio Gramsci, Americanism and Fordism in Prison Notebooks (1934).

[12] George Ritzer, The McDonaldization Of Society 14 (1993).

[13] George Ritzer, The McDonaldization Of Society 73 (6th ed. 2011).

[14] George Ritzer, The McDonaldization Of Society 81 (6th ed. 2011).

[15] George Ritzer, The McDonaldization Of Society 98 (6th ed. 2011).

[16] George Ritzer, The McDonaldization Of Society 109-112 (6th ed. 2011).

[17] George Ritzer, The McDonaldization Of Society 118 (6th ed. 2011).

[18] Ibid.

[19] George Ritzer, The McDonaldization Of Society 17 (6th ed. 2011).

[20] Irrationality of Rationality, Department of Computer Science Cornell University,       http://www.cs.cornell.edu/boom/2003sp/projectarch/reflectdesignproj/irrationality.html.

[21] Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905).

[22] Peter Kaufman, The Rationality of Irrationality, Everyday Sociology Blog- Theory (Sept. 10, 2012) http://www.everydaysociologyblog.com/2012/09/the-rationality-of-irrationality.html.

[23] George Ritzer, The McDonaldization Of Society 18 (6th ed. 2011).

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.