McDonaldization of Society
Perhaps you are wondering why I am standing here in front of this McDonalds. It is not because I am hungry. It is because I have a bit of a story for you that has to do with McDonalds. If I were to come up with a name for this story, it would be, The McDonaldization of Our Thinking.
Now, Professor George Ritzer, who is really responsible for this story, would call it The McDonaldization of Society. I say George Ritzer here because he wrote the book McDonaldization of Society. I am borrowing from him in this tale.
I should say, the reason I like the idea of using Dr. Ritzer’s research on rationalization, and using McDonalds as an example, is because of its relevancy as well as your familiarity with fast food restaurants.
Now, I am sure you recall that we did compare the Big Mac with Sushi in a previous lesson. The reasons for that comparison is really going to make sense now, because we are going to connect those initial discussions of “time”, efficiency, standardization and product management, directly to schooling.
We will start to not only see just how much our schools resemble McDonalds, but we are going to look more deeply into the historical roots of some of the rationalistic thinking that is foundational to schooling and McDonalds. We will start to understand ‘why’ many of our schooling practices resemble a fast food restaurant. The connection we are going to make is not to food this time, but to the way the food is produced and to the business operations. And, as you probably recall, when we created our Big Mac causal frame, there were aspects of time, efficiency, process and standardization that shaped not only the Product, but also the Materials and the Form. Understanding this background context is essential to our understanding of the similar foundational aspects that exist between schools and McDonalds.
Many of the same forces that brought McDonalds into existence are the same forces, or causal agents that are responsible for shaping our schooling environments. Now I am going to start with McDonalds here, a brief review of sorts. But as I said, there is a significant connection that actually ties schools and McDonalds together. That connection is the idea of Scientific Management.
What is Scientific Management you might wonder? Well simply, it is making a science out of doing things. It is a process whereby we step away from our lived bodily experience and take on the spectator view. Then from our spectator view we turn that which we see into objects, measure those objects, compare those objects and ultimately manipulate and manage those objects. Voila, scientific management. Why use the term scientific? Well, as you know, with science comes objectification and measurement. To do science, we think of things as objects that we then manipulate and measure. We adopt a spectator view to do this. We will learn more about scientific management as we go, but being introduced to some of these ideas through Dr. Ritzer’s analysis of McDonalds simplifies our entry into some of these ideas.
When we start to examine schools more closely, and the way they were influenced by scientific management, we will shift our sights over to one of the most influential designers of schooling — Frederick Winslow Taylor. We can attribute the main ideas of scientific management to Mr. Taylor. By examining his work, in combination with he work and influence of people such as the Gilbreths, some of the American industrialists, common business men, and a whole host of compliant school men, we will begin to develop a depth and breadth of understanding regarding the connections between McDonalds and schooling.
Let’s start with Ritzer’s discussion of McDonaldization of Society. Imagine, you walk into any McDonalds fast food restaurant. There are some processes in play. Some you recognize immediately, and some you may not have thought about before. But once you become aware of them, you will recognize them. Ritzer defines these processes as: efficiency, calculability, predictability and control. I will briefly say something about each one, but keep in mind that one of the most interesting things in all of this is how this form of thinking has reshaped the thinking and actions of many different human interactions— education or educating being one of them. But, as far as education goes, the influence of scientific management made its mark in the early 1900s. So we are not dealing with a direct causal agent here, as far as McDonadization goes, but rather contextual similarities.
Let’s go through the four processes described by Professor Ritzer. One, efficiency, we discussed that earlier. Because the emphasis is on quantity rather than quality, more efficient processes mean more product and more profit. Two, calculability. Calculability refers to the collection and use of data, automated data mining, and the mathematical computations that accompany data gathering. Of course data shows up in surveys, customer actions, social media, etc. Better data means, for McDonalds, better decisions as far as profits and marketability. Three, predictability. Predictability is something you are very familiar with. I think you will agree, that when you get a food item from McDonalds you can be assured, regardless of the McDonalds location, that you will end up with a food item that is almost identical to the same food item purchased at any other McDonalds. Whether you are eating a Big Mac in Salem Oregon, Seattle, or London England, a Big Mac is a Big Mac, regardless of the location. Not only that, if you eat an Egg McMuffin in July and then order another in December, once again, the Egg McMuffin will be the same. Then, four, control. The workers are expected to do the same things, cook the same way, treat customers the same way. The workers follow the routines and rules put forth by the management. Workers are trained to do a limited number of tasks, and are expected to perform those tasks with an expected level of competency, and workers are closely monitored to ensure they are complying with the expectations laid down by management.
Now here is a bit of history that you might not know. Ritzer tells us: “In 1958, McDonald’s published an operations manual that detailed how to run a franchise. This manual laid down many of the principles for operating a fast-food restaurant: It told operators exactly how to draw milk shakes, grill hamburgers, and fry potatoes. It specified precise cooking times for all products and temperature settings for all equipment. It fixed standard portions on every food item, down to the quarter ounce of onions placed on each hamburger patty, and the thirty-two slices per pound of cheese. It specified that French fries be cut at nine thirty-seconds of an inch thick. And it defined quality controls that were unique to food service, including the disposal of meat and potato products that were held more than ten minutes in a serving bin.
Grill men were instructed to put hamburgers down on the grill moving from left to right, creating six rows of six patties each. And because the first two rows were farthest from the heating element, they were instructed (and still are) to flip the third row first, then the fourth, fifth, and sixth before flipping the first two.
You can immediately see that the process is very structured and standardized. Think of this for just a moment. Here we have a manual that is written out in great detail, to exacting specification, the movements expected, the operations demanded, and the expectations of management to be followed by all employees has been concretized, externalized. Perhaps the fact that one has an employee manual is not so unusual. But what might make this manual unique is the degree of specificity and standardization of expectations. Now that was 1958. Let’s go a bit farther back in McDonalds history and consider the process. “The McDonaldization process” Ritzer tells us, “was created by two brothers, Richard and Maurice McDonald, in their first restaurant in Pasadena, California, in 1937. They based that restaurant on the principles of high speed, large volume, and low price. To avoid chaos, they offered customers a highly circumscribed menu. Instead of personalized service and traditional cooking techniques, the McDonald brothers used assembly-line procedures for cooking and serving food. In place of trained cooks, the brothers’ “limited menu allowed them to break down food preparation into simple, repetitive tasks that could be learned quickly even by those stepping into a commercial kitchen for the first time.” Ritzer, George. The McDonaldization of Society: Into the Digital Age. Ninth edition. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2019.
That’s interesting. Notice the connection between efficiency and the assembly line procedures. It is also interesting to note that personalized service was diminished. Let’s keep in mind, there was already a context in place that allowed the McDonald brothers to even think about incorporating assembly line thinking into their restaurant design. Another thing that we will witness in our historical studies is the way that ideas revolving around scientific management can flow out into the public — becoming part of the background context for other activities and endeavors so to speak. Consider this as you think of how background context can infiltrate our everyday experiences. Rizter points out “. . . meals at home often resemble those available in fast-food restaurants. Frozen, microwavable, and prepared foods, which bear a striking resemblance to meals available at fast-food restaurants, often find their way to the dinner table. There are even cookbooks—for example, Secret Fast Food Recipes: The Fast Food Cookbook—that allow one to prepare “genuine” fast food at home.Then there is also home delivery of fast food, especially pizza, as revolutionized by Domino’s.” Ritzer, The McDonaldization of Society.
Professor Ritzer points out another effect of the fast food industry. He refers to it as vertical McDonaldization; Professor Ritzer refers to Eric Schlosser’s book Fast Food Nation, speaking to the idea that industries servicing McDonalds have had to change the way they do things in order to satisfy the quantity demands. He says, “Potato growing and processing, cattle ranching, chicken raising, and meat slaughtering and processing have all had to McDonaldize their operations, leading to dramatic increases in production. That growth has not come without costs, however. As demonstrated in the movie Food, Inc. (2008), meat and poultry are now more likely to be disease ridden, small (often non- McDonaldized) producers and ranchers have been driven out of business, and millions of people have been forced to work in low-paying, demeaning, demanding, and sometimes outright dangerous jobs. Ritzer, The McDonaldization of Society.
In what follows, we will learn a bit more about McDonaldization. In addition we will deepen our understanding of schooling foundations by digging in to Max Weber’s theory of rationalization, and Frederick Winslow Taylor’s development of Scientific Management.
Let the Big Mac be our guide.
Oh, that reminds me:
A bear walks into McDonald’s
and goes to order at the cash register.
“What can I get for you, sir?” Asked the employee.
“I would like a Big Mac… … … … … … … … … … and fries.”
“What’s with the big pause there, sir?”
The bear looks down, “Oh these? I was born with them.”
Question Set Number Two (Continued)
Question 23: I briefly talked about scientific management. Scientific management is one of the foundations of schooling. In your own words, what is scientific management, and what does it have to do with the spectator view (or the mirror view of reality)?
McDonaldization Theory of George Ritzer
Question Set Number Two (Continued)
Question 24: How would you define McDonaldization?
Question 25: What are four components of ‘rationalization’ according to Ritzer?
Question 26: Give an example of each of the four components.
Let’s dig a bit deeper into history to see if we can dig up a few of the contextual aspects that brought McDonalization into existence.
To get a better understanding of McDonaldization, and the shared commonalities with schooling, it would be helpful if we took a step back in history and took a brief look at the work of Max Weber. Max Weber is known as one of the principal architects of social science. Living in Prussia at the end of the 19th century and the early 20th century, Weber was dwelling in a time of rapid industrial change. This, of course, was the industrial revolution. As you will see, the background context of the industrial revolution had a significant impact on the foundations of schooling.
In what follows here, we will get a brief introduction to Max Weber and some of his main ideas.
SOCIOLOGY – Max Weber
Max Weber & Modernity: Crash Course Sociology #9
Let us reflect briefly on a few points made about Weber’s ideas and how these ideas might be related to our own schooling practices. We do experience Weber’s concept of rationality in schools. For Weber, rationality meant calculability, methodical behavior, and reflexivity.
Calculability is deriving the outputs by knowing the inputs. McDonalds restaurants make Big Macs by carefully following regulated inputs resulting in an output of exacting standards. This differs from the way you might put together a meal on a Saturday afternoon.
Procedure, or methodical behavior, helps ensure standardization. The materials including not only food, but also equipment and machines helps the process.
Thinking reflexively is tantamount to keeping an eye on the Purpose and thinking of ways to improve efficiency.
The rise of Bureaucracy: Weber identified six traits that account for modernity’s rationalization and drive for efficiency. Hierarchy with specialized roles and chains of command held together by formalities, rules and communication. Detailed rules and regulations structure work and formalize the necessary technical competencies. This is done impersonally with little regard to the people being served.
Everyone is treated the same, disregarding their individuality.
Legal-Rational Legitimacy: a belief in the system. One follows the rules of the system because they are the rules. Procedures are in place that specify what is to be done and how it is to be done.
Charismatic-Legitimacy: Someone had to make the rules. People follow the commands of a charismatic leader. Charismatic leaders direct others to adhere to the rules.
Society is organized into power groups (political groups) to run the bureaucracy.
There are a number of elements that affect a person’s place in society as a result of social stratification: class, political parties, status groups.
Weber made the point that it is easy to lose reflexivity that gives meaning to one’s role. When this happens, people are moved mindlessly by the system, locked in routine. It is at this point that the system or institution begins to operate on its own. At the extreme, our lives become little more than a series of actions and interactions based on the rules by which the system operates. Thus the meaning one derives from being an active participant in establishing the direction of their own lives is lost.
Max Weber developed his theories within the context of the industrial revolution. And, if you recall, we heard about the McDonald brothers talking about their procedures as an assembly line. Perhaps we should take a quick look at factories.
Question Set Number Two (Continued)
Question 27: Now it’s your turn. Think of three specific examples in your life where you experience any of Weber’s aspects of rationality. In other words, tell me where you have experienced calculability, or procedure, or thinking reflexively, or bureaucracy, or everyone being treated the same, or legal-rational legitimacy, or charismatic legitimacy, or power groups. Don’t use McDonalds as an example.
Should we talk factories today? Why not!
To understand schooling narratives, we have to understand the factory, and the way factory narratives made their way into schooling.
Education has to do with the development of a depth and breadth of understanding. If the role of schooling is to help students become educated, we can presume that schools will help develop students’ depth and breadth of understanding.
So, you might be wondering, what does schooling have to do with factories?
What on earth would schooling have to do with factories? Is it in the narrative?
I guess I should start with the cookie cutter. I think we have all heard the saying that schools are like cookie cutters.
How Ann Clark Makes Cookie Cutters
This factory narrative is an important one because it is a narrative that drives a great deal of what and how we do things in school — even if we didn’t ever think of school like a factory. We would be safe to say that factory, (and I will include business) thinking is a foundation of schooling. It is not a foundation of education.
Let’s look into this more closely.
I will begin by considering what it is that allows factories, and factory assembly lines to ‘come into being.’ This will have some significance to our understanding of schooling later on, but let us leave an examination of those connections until a little later. First the factory: Question: “What is necessary for a factory to exist?” We could, of course, come up with a very long list — raw material, equipment, a place to house the factory, skilled workers, etc. But that is only part of the story.
This is just a rough causal modality frame of a typical factory. But it does help us focus on a few of the necessary aspects of the ‘factory’. In this example, the Purpose of the factory is to produce a product. What is it that would allow the Factory Owner to even consider producing a product? The owner would have to have the necessary background context in place to think of ‘product’ and ‘produce’. For product and producing to appear, the contextual ideas of objects, efficiency, assembly, managing, production, etc. would have to be in play to bring about the idea of producing a product. Without these contextual ideas, the idea of producing a product wouldn’t come into being as it has. The materials are available to put the production process into play. And, the Form, in this case an assembly line, seems to make the most sense in terms of the efficient production of product.
So, we see the factory and the things that make the factory what it is. Now, if somebody didn’t come up with the idea that objects could be assembled in pieces we probably wouldn’t have assembly-line factories. Also, if people were not able to objectify things, and think of things as objects, we probably wouldn’t have assembly-line factories. And, if somebody didn’t have the idea that efficiency was important, we probably wouldn’t have assembly-line factories (at least not in their current form). We might go deeper and ask, what it is that is necessary for the idea of efficiency to exist? And then, with efficiency, it might be desirable to ensure that the product is produced as efficiently as possible. In this case we might need a division of labor–a worker and a foreman/woman.
I Love Lucy
So, assembly-line factories didn’t just magically appear. A number of people had to see the world in such a way that objects, bit-by-bit assembly, and efficiency was intelligible. In a sense, these people had a way of viewing the world (a set of lenses so to speak) that made it possible for these factory ideas come into being. I suppose we could say that the ideas of efficiency, disassembly and assembly, and discrete objects had to be in place (part of our intelligibility) before we would have designed factories.
When we adopt a particular perspective, or, metaphorically, wear lenses of a particular kind, we are able to see the world in certain ways. In our assembly-line factory perspective, the world shows itself in ways that allows the factory to come into being. Again, if someone didn’t see the possibility of piecing things together bit by bit, or see ‘things’ in such a way that they might put together as discrete objects, we wouldn’t have much of a factory.
As far as the production of products, factories seem to make good sense. But should schools adopt the factory assembly line model?
Looking Around at Artifacts
Now, if we were to walk into an assembly-line factory and started taking note of the artifacts, we could tell quite a bit about the way people ‘saw’ the factory world (a world that would be suitable for a factory to come into existence and to maintain itself). We would be able to get a sense of the lenses they were wearing (or their own perspective so to speak). Another way of deriving a deeper understanding of the assembly-line factory would be to listen to the language people were using to describe and talk about ‘things’ in the factory (i.e. the discourse). We would hear talk of ‘workers,’ ‘efficiency,’ ‘management,’ ‘controlled environments’. This talk would be part of the factory narrative.
Let’s spend some time and try to understand the factory. It will become evident over then next few lectures just how influential the idea of the factory was on schooling.
Let me share your response questions so that as you watch the following Modern Marvels documentary, you can answer the questions.
Response Question Set Two continued
28. How are schools like assembly-line factories?
29. One of the ways we know that schools have adopted factory/assembly-line thinking is that we here the same words being used in factories and in schools. List 5 words that you hear in the factory documentary that are also used in school environments.
Modern Marvels: The Evolution of the Assembly Line (S7, E32) | Full Episode | History
Let’s apply the factory model to everything (or let’s not)
Of course the language and ideas of the assembly-line factory model can be extended to living things. We hear of animals being dis-assembled, we hear of automation, processing, uniformity, inspection, automatic scaling, individually monitored, production, precision, care, quality, etc. You will get the idea by listening to the first 5 minutes of the following:
The factory model depends on manipulating objects. So what happens when schools adopt a factory assembly-line model? A lot of students and teachers become objectified.
Response Question Set Two continued
30. In our last lesson we saw how the camera obscura contributed to the idea of the ‘outside world’ being mirrored in our heads. We also learned that many philosophers started to talk about knowledge as objectified. In the above video we see how animals are objectified and treated as objects. Please give me three examples of students being objectified in school.
Let’s contrast treating animals as objects to be disassembled and processed and take a more ‘humane’ view. Perhaps humane required more of a ‘lived bodily’ perspective.
Baxter Black: High Horned Red Cow’s Calf
after the sweat, and the strain,
the slick the sticky
the hope and the pull, the grunt and the sigh,
when that little creature plops out on the ground
sometimes there is a moment that time stands still
a second or two or five,
we stare and our world is suspended waiting for a sign,
and when that new baby sniffs or blinks or sneezes or wiggles an ear
and at that moment it feels like the burden has been lifted from our shoulders.
(High Horned Red Cow’s Calf)
Here we hear Baxter Black speaking about ‘the waiting,’ ‘the anticipation for life,’ and the way the caretaker-nurturer-steward takes it upon himself to be a part of that process. He helps us enter into the ontological realm to sense how the one who cares for life wears a particular lens that allows the birth of a calf to show itself in a particular way. We could contrast this with a large breeding factory, a factory farm, that has a primary interest in getting as many cattle as possible to the stockyard.
Bring in the horse whisperer
In that last few years there has been a recognition and change in the way trainers think of training horses. There is a now a recognition that “breaking a horse” is not the best way to train horses. The horse whisperer understands the horse’s temperament–the horse’s natural way of being, the horse’s natural way of learning– and works from that.
Buck resisted the more brutal ways of training animals. And he found a way to communicate that with others. I don’t know about you, but I think there is something to the value of having a gentle spirit, a humanity, trust, understanding, and tolerance, when we deal with any body or any animal.
Let the horse whisperer be our guide.
Until next time