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Some Notes to Accompany Chapter 4 of Ritzer (McDonaldization)



I.          Purpose of Chapter:


A.        This chapter seeks to explain the meaning of calcula­bility to a McDonaldized society.


B.        Review: Four elements of formal rationality:


1.         Efficiency: "...the choice of the optimum means to a given end."  Bureaucracy is the best way to coordi­nate the distribution of vast numbers of resources over great distances to large numbers of people.  Ritzer's example of the IRS is one good example; the military is another.


2.         Calculability: Bureaucracies organize tasks into easily calculated bits and pieces that can be measured and quantified.  Therefore it is easy to measure work output.


3.         Predictability: Bureaucracies remove uncertainty by "well-entrenched rules and regulations" that try to cover as many contingencies as possible.


4.         Control: Bureaucracies exert a lot of control over people (and the social environment).  To do this, they employ non-human technology; rules and regu­lations defining behavior in each office; re­stricting the type of goods and services (options) available;


II.        "McDonaldization involves an emphasis on things that cam be calculated, counted, quantified.  It means a tendency to use quantity as a measure of quality.  This leads to a sense that quality is equal to certain, usually (but not always) large, quantities of things."


A.        I don't know if this tendency to quantify things is innate to human nature or whether it is fostered by social structure-- eg. children love to count things; parents get into deep trouble if they give one child a bigger slice of cake, etc., than the other.


B.        Ritzer's point is that McDonaldization reinforces our tendency to quantify things and determine merrit by numbers rather than qualities.


1.         We quantify everything from animal intelligence-- (I actually saw an animal I.Q. ranking some time ago)-- to wealth--(Forbes's 500 wealthiest people)


2.         The general attitude becomes; "more is better; bigger is better"


a.         One might think that weight is an exception to this, but even here, we quantify in terms of the number of pounds lost.


III.       Examples of quantification (from Ritzer):


A.        Signs touting the "billions and billions" of McDonald's burgers sold.  (Social Proof-- the burgers must be good because so many people are buying them).


B.        Product names like "Big Mac;" "Big Gulp;" "Big Foot;" "Whopper;" etc., in the fast food industry impart the notion that the customer is getting more value for the dollar.

1.         You can also see the same tactics used on the shelf at the grocery store-- "Value Packs," etc.


C.                    Ritzer argues that McDonalds and its competitors ignore quality factors for quantity-- see quote on the bottom of page 63-- but I think he's wrong on this count.  McDonalds and its Madison Ave minions are far too clever for this.  Remember the campaign, "Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, all on a sesame seed bun?"

1.         The industry is certainly intelligent enough to include quality as a selling point.

2.         However, this doesn't mean that quality wins out over efficiency. There's a great quote from Col. Sanders about the company that bought out his business in 1964: (See p. 64).

a.         "That friggin'...outfit... They prostituted every goddam thing I had. I had the greatest gravy in the world and those sons of bitches they dragged it out and extended it and wa­tered it down that I'm so goddamn mad."


D.        Presentation of the food is such that everything is arranged to look BIG.  There are even special scoops and bags for the fries that make them spread out and look abundant.  (Eat at a gourmet restaurant-- food pre­sentation is artful the portions actually look skimpy). 

1.         Does the customer actually get a good value at a fast food restaurant?  Ritzer begrudgingly allows that they probably do give the customer more food for less money, but the mark-ups range from 400 to 600 percent over just the cost of the food.


E.         Speed of service is also something that can be calcu­lated.  Modern industrial society is a reflection of speed-- in transportation, work, and even travel vaca­tions-- 12 countries in 10 days! (Not my idea of a qualtiy vacation...)

1.         Burgers must be served fast; service at Pizza Hut is guaranteed in five minutes or the meal is free; home delivery used to be guaranteed in 20 minutes until delivery people started having accidents.


F.         Ritzer also talks of the pricision with which every component of fast food is measured-- the burger must have a slightly larger diameter than the bun; Arby's roast beef sandwiches must have 3 ounces of meat; etc.


G.        Precise measurement gets carried over into weight reduction programs, where precise caloric intake is monitored (including cholesterol, and fat), as well as the amount of pounds gained or lost.


H.        Television: shows are evaluated by the numbers of viewers they draw-- (Nielsen Ratings).  Do the Nielsen Ratings reflect the quality of the programming?  PBS programs are widely regarded as being high in quality, but their viewing audience is limited.

1.         The ratings game has become so sophisticated that it can target segments of the population that spend lots of money

2.         The TV time-out (I'm not sure what this has to do with quantifiability; but it does show the power of television to change sports when money is con­cerned).


I.          Sports, themselves have always been highly quantifiable with individual and team scoring averages, etc. (Ken Burns' series on baseball is one example).  Ritzer claims that now, with the advent of more acccurate timers, quantification in sports has reached even higher levels. (There is one exception-- during the 94 olympics when Nancy Kerrigan tied with Oskana Byoul (sp?) they gave the medal to Oskana because artistic merit has weight over technical merit.

1.         On the other hand the shot clock in basketball has forced an increase in the tempo of both college and pro basketball.  Ritzer claims that "...a `run and shoot' style of basketball fits will in the McDonaldized `eat and move' world of dinners pur­chased at drive-through windows and consumed on the run." (p. 72)

2.         Ritzer maintains that they have also tried to pick up the pace of Baseball with "liver" balls, astro turf, and the designated hitter.


J.         Quantification has also taken on a greater role in the world of educa­tion-- GPA's PSAT's, SAT's, GRE's,   MEDCATs, LSAT's, etc.

1.         Colleges and Universities, themselves are periodi­cally ranked.

2.         Degrees also serve as a means of quantifying one's education--BA; MA; PhD; LLD; etc.

3.         Teachers are also ranked and rated on quantitative systems at the end of the semester.

4.         Lists of publications also serve to measure a professor's worth, along with the prestige level of the journal they are published in. (Surprising­ly, some low -quality articles appear in the more prestigeous journals!)


K.        In Medicine profit-making medical organizations have encouraged physicians to quantify their health care provisions in ways that can be easily reported and evaluated.


IV.       Note Ritzer's treatment of F. W. Taylor's paper on increas­ing worker output in loading pig iron.


V.        Finally, all this increase in calculability would not be possible without the computer.  It makes one wonder what's driving the beast.  Is it our increased capacity for cal­culation (via computers) that is causing us to quantify more and more of our lives?  Or, is McDonaldization driving our desire for more statistics-- causing us to invent the com­puters that manage the numbers?



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