McDonaldization: A Mickey-Mouse Theory

Yesterday, I commented on how pathetic sociology is on the topic of big business marketing and its ongoing commercialization and commodification of modern life.

The most renowned sociologist trying to discuss matters in this vital area is George Ritzer of the University of Maryland.

Ritzer has started a mini-industry around his contention that “McDonaldization” is the proper concept for comprehending the course of events.  The basic idea is that McDonald’s restaurants are somehow (Ritzer has no empirical evidence of McDonald’s-copying; he merely asserts that it is happening) the driving essence of what’s happening to us.

Ritzer would have you believe that it’s all a question of runaway rationalization, a.k.a. generic bureaucracy, and that Max Weber, not Karl Marx, is the deepest theorist of our hyper-commercialized reality:

McDonaldization is an amplification and extension of Weber’s theory of rationalization, especially into the realm of consumption.  For Weber, the model of rationalization was the bureaucracy; for me, the fast food restaurant is the paradigm of McDonaldization.

And “McDonaldization,” a.k.a. bureaucracy for the sake of bureaucracy itself, is supposed to be “the paradigm” for “consumer culture,” a.k.a. the dominant trend in contemporary American life…

What a sophomoric mess! Ritzer seriously argues — and consequently draws along a substantial following of supposedly smart social critics — that everybody is running around inspired to be like McDonald’s, which he treats as a mere bureaucracy, rather than a profit-seeking business. All the while, not only does Ritzer uncritically adopt the rank capitalist bias-words “consumer” and “consumption,” but labors (and belabors) to extend them into even-worse conceptual morasses like “consumer culture” and “consumer society.”

The reality, of course, is that not only is the McDonald’s Corporation itself driven by marketing, but it is the 2-trillion-dollar-a-year (in the USA alone) discipline of big business marketing, not some random bureaucracy fetish, that is driving things forward across the whole society.

And corporate marketing is all about capitalism, not bureaucracy:

[M]arketing is both an art and a science, and like any other investment activity, it must be grounded in research, planned carefully, and measured and evaluated based on return on investment.

Ritzer not only understands none of this, but covers it all up with a deeply misleading shaggy dog story.  As a result, today’s sociology, supposedly the art and science of demystifying the institutional conditions of human life, could hardly be less helpful to those hoping to explain and redress our capitalist-dominated, market-totalitarian culture.