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Resisting McDonaldization

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One of the most expressive and famous symbols of processes of globalization and Americanization is a chain of restaurants McDonald’s. Today, nearly in every major city, there are several establishments of this network that are similar to each other as photocopied: with the same yellow logo ‘M’, a uniform service system, and the standard menu. Instead of the intimate process of eating food, there is rapid and impersonal satisfaction of the need for food that is organized by the principle of conveyor’s production. The example of McDonald’s is the only partial case, but a broader social phenomenon of McDonaldization, which is gradually gaining universal character, is behind it.

The term ‘McDonaldization’ is proposed by the American sociologist George Ritzer in his work The McDonaldization of Society (1993). The author defines it as “the process by which principles of fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as of the rest of the world” (Ritzer, 2013). McDonaldization is a reinterpretation of rationalization, or the transition from traditional to rational ways of thinking and scientific management.

In the broadest sense, McDonaldization is a set of principles for the organization of activities that allow a person to quickly and efficiently achieve the goal, being guided by clear restrictions and regulations. The origin of the term is associated with the implementation and application of the principle of the activities in the fast food restaurants of McDonald’s.

In the modern society, the concept of McDonaldization attracts more and more attention in various fields, such as culture, education, religion, family relationships, etc. McDonaldization is a process that is based on the principles of efficiency, predictability and control, thanks to which the organization achieves dominance in various spheres of life.

The work of Ritzer is a continuation of the theoretical tradition that was initiated by Max Weber. It is an attempt to use Weber’s views on the phenomenon of bureaucracy as the most vivid expression of rationalization of European society in the modern terms. Another source of the concept is the critical theory of society, developed by the Frankfurt School. It is considered as a reflection and rethinking of current social issues.

The process of McDonaldization leads to a number of positive effects, such as:

  • A wide range of products and services is available for most of the population;
  • The availability of goods and services does not depend on the geographic location and time;
  • People have access to goods and services almost instantly and with greater convenience;
  • Some products and services become more accessible due to their relatively low cost;
  • Fast and effective services became available to those groups of population, which have less free time due to full-time employment;
  • In a changing and unfamiliar world, relatively stable and familiar environment of McDonald’s systems gives people a sense of comfort and stability;
  • Consumers can easily compare the products of competing manufacturers;
  • The consumption of certain products has actually become safer since food preparation is reliably regulated and controlled;
  • The difference in attitudes toward people of different races and status;
  • The most popular products of one culture are easily transferred to others.

Ritzer (2013) describes the negative consequences of McDonaldization process “the irrationality of rationality” and associates them primarily with the fact that the adherence to functional principles of McDonaldization leads to counterproductive results: inefficiency, unpredictability, loss of control, and the dehumanization of labor. The author emphasizes that the rational system inevitably generates irrationality. 

The basic principles of service at fast food restaurants contribute to creating false friendship, dehumanization of family relationship as parents and children interact less with each other. Parent’s reading to children at night is replaced by watching TV or playing computer games. The lack of emotional attraction between spouses is reproducing by Viagra pill or searching sexual partners outside of marriage. The health care system is influenced by dehumanization: the patients feel as if they are elements of the medical conveyor, which increases the time for various analyses and tests and reduces the time for live communication with a doctor. Moreover, the processes of fertilization, pregnancy and birth are also affected by McDonaldization: people may become parents artificially, when the human factor is minimized.

The education has its limitations, one of which is becoming increasingly evident. It is the so-called McDonaldization with its attributes. A concept that emerged in the 60s suddenly migrated to the educational sphere, becoming a problem. The educational activity is too influenced by McDonaldization. The educational process would function much better, if the university resisted McDonaldization.

The race for efficiency turns into the acceleration of the educational process. In many universities, the evaluation of students' knowledge is made with the help of computers within seconds. At first glance, everything became easier, faster, and more efficient. However, this was reached by the exclusion from the educational process of thinking due to the help of computer programs and transformation of education from cultural production into the consumer service. Tom Larney (n.d.) states that “the growing importance of the Internet, and especially the way in which it is being marketed by service providers as a quick and easy way to instant gratification for upwardly mobile computer junkies, is in more ways than one a reflection of a McDonaldized society”.

The difference between universities is now defined in quantitative terms, not by quality. Very little attention is given to the qualitative aspect of the educational process in American schools and universities. Schoolchildren and students are similar to the visitors of fast food restaurants, who came to consume calories and carbohydrates. In the U.S., the ratings of pupils, students as well as professors are carried out. Thus, the system of education becomes computable: there are rankings of universities, which show the relationship between them based on the number of courses, faculties, researches, publications, etc.

The standardization of programs, requirements, and procedures shows that higher education is becoming more predictable. The control over what happens in universities is established through the introduction of minimum requirements for teachers and Institute of Higher Education.

There is a bureaucratization of academic life: the introduction of quality control of higher education led to a situation, when a significant part of working time of employees is given for preparation and submission of various reports, filling out forms and a large number of plans. According to Eric Margolis (2004), “rapidly increasing student faculty ratios, mass classes, and the use of low-wage teaching assistants and adjunct faculty have changed the job of professor” (368). The modern university is becoming a place of dehumanization, where students and staff feel like machines that are managed by a bureaucratic system.

Previously, the purpose of higher education was preparation of qualified personnel. Today, the state seeks to satisfy socially significant needs. It is transforming into the executor of educational activities. According to Daniel (2002), “students are now consumers” (5).

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The process of McDonaldization deals also with the agencies that help students. The demand for services of these agencies affects the quality of education of future graduates. The agencies aimed at helping students deal with ordered educational work. These companies offer a wide range of services, from writing essays and tests to writing reports and diplomas.

At first glance, it seems that these structures are not influenced by the process of McDonaldization. The academic work cannot be the same due to the fact that students have different themes of the works. However, none of these structures specifies selection criteria for writing. It means that those organizations are willing to help everyone.

Moreover, the activities of these agencies fully coincide with the principle of McDonaldization, as services are available regardless of location and time. Most of these organizations provide their services not only in the real world, but also virtually via the internet, since almost every company has its own website, on which it is possible to order any work.

The modern university becomes an extremely irrational place. The influence of McDonaldization is obviously manifested in the way of students’ attitudes to professors. Learners treat them as service personnel in the fast-food industry. If this staff does not meet certain standards, students can complain. In other words, the role of education in such a situation becomes dehumanized. The masses of people, impersonal hostels, and huge audiences make it difficult for students to know each other. Strictly timed lectures in huge halls prevent students from knowing the teachers personally. The scores, which become a quantitative indicator of students’ education, are derived from the results of passing the tests with multiple choices, modeled on a computer and evaluated impersonal, often signed not by name, but by some number. As a result, students feel that they are objects, which are filled with knowledge.

The analysis of the principles of McDonaldization leads to the conclusion that this process not only promotes instrumentally rational actions, strengthens discipline, creates effective and controlled acts of behavior, but also leads people to simple economic resources that somehow contributes to the reproduction of dehumanization of the person.

There are many ways of resisting the process of McDonaldization such as organizing protests, cooking a homemade food, humanizing relationships. People can resist McDonaldization by direct means: requiring that the design of fast food restaurants fit the traditions of the community. Moreover, the fat content, as well as packaging of the food, should be modified. For example, Phil Sokoloff's National Heart Savers Association achieved the reduction of the fat in burgers and fries. These measures will be effective in the case of the proper consumer response. Thus, Mexican pizzerias and restaurants are moving toward health food.

In order to resist McDonaldized institutions in the society, it is important to pay the largest attention to the quality, but not to quantity. The efficiency of the process of resisting McDonaldization consists in the everyday life of every person. People should avoid routine, living in large apartments, buying artificial products.

In terms of education, it is impossible to make the universities completely McDonald’s structure. They have many traditional components of free university (e.g. intensive individual (or small group) lessons of teachers and students). The government should do everything possible to bring the humanity back to the educational process. The impact of calculability and control should be reduced. This will provide more autonomy in the educational process. “The best ways to help students succeed include providing them with ‘a critical mass of interesting peers, interactions with professors and outside-the-classroom experiential learning,’ says Boston College’s Arnold” (Pratt, 2013).

The most important measure in resisting McDonaldization is individual’s personal life. Person’s choice is the most efficient mean in struggling against McDonaldization. Therefore, everyone should pay more attention to humanization of own life in order to reduce contemporary problems of society.