McDonaldization Essay

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McDonaldization is the process by which the principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more spheres of US society and the world. Coined by George Ritzer, the term invokes the famous fast-food chain as a metaphor for a widespread change in the delivery of goods and services toward more instrumentally efficient means of distribution.

Ritzer derives five principles of McDonaldization from Weber’s writings on rationalization. These are efficiency, calculability, predictability, control through the substitution of non-human for human technology, and the irrationality of rationality. Efficiency refers to the optimal means for achieving a given end. Efficiency is often achieved by the functional differentiation of tasks and the development of discrete routines that are engineered to save time and labor. Calculability places an emphasis on the quantifiable aspects of a product or process such as units sold, speed, size, or cost. Predictability means that the settings, procedure, and product of a McDonaldized system are consistent from one time or place to another. Control may be exercised through the substitution of non-human for human technology. Automation is also used to prompt workers to perform their specified routines, typically using a system of timers and blinking lights. The enlistment of customers as active participants contributes to the overall efficiency of the operation. The irrationality of rationality refers to the negative consequences of McDonaldized systems. McDonaldization has adverse effects on the environment because of the amount of disposable material it generates. It has had a negative effect on public health as the emphasis on quantity over quality has been identified as a contributor to an increase in obesity among Americans.

McDonaldized systems alienate consumers by submitting them to the dehumanizing controls of a rationalized environment. Operators are at pains to make their rational system more attractive settings for consumers by using themes and spectacles, but they remain a systematic threat to genuine human sociality and diminish the possibility of deriving meaning from consumer activities.

Ritzer worries that the success of McDonaldization has contributed to the decline of local and regional forms of consumer culture by subjecting less efficient forms of production and service delivery to intensive competition. The principles of McDonaldization have diffused primarily in two ways: first, through the competitive expansion of the franchise (now 30,000 outlets worldwide); second, by the emulative actions of competitors. Simplified products, low labor costs, and no-frills service are elements of a dominant paradigm that has spread to many sectors of the economy. Others have described the McDonaldization of non-commercial institutions, including higher education, the church, and the justice system.

The theory of McDonaldization has been subject to a variety of critiques. Critics have asked whether customers are truly alienated by McDonaldization. The moral objection of groups such as vegetarians has been cited as evidence of resistance to McDonaldization. Critics also question the scope of McDonaldization suggesting that it is an issue only for a relatively wealthy fraction of the world’s population. Finally, counter-examples point to the limits of McDonaldization: for example, the diversity found in art markets suggests that streamlining is not incommensurate with creative and personal products.


  1. Pine Forge Press, Thousand Oaks, CA. Ritzer, G. (2005) Enchanting a Disenchanted World: Revolutionizing the Means ofConsumption, 2nd edn.
  2. Pine Forge Press, Thousand Oaks, CA. Smart, B. (ed.) (1999) Resisting McDonaldization. Sage, London.
  3. Ritzer, G. (1998) The McDonaldization Thesis. Sage, London.
  4. Ritzer, G. (ed.) (2006) McDonaldization: The Reader. Pine Forge Press, Thousand Oaks, CA.
  5. Ritzer, G. (2007) The McDonaldization of Society 5.

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