McDonaldization refers to the homogenization and standardization of the world as a result of globalization and capitalism.
The term was developed by the American sociologist George Ritzer (b. 1940) in his bestselling work, The McDonaldization of Society (1993).
Rtizer compared the increasing homogenization of global cultures to a fast-food restaurant where efficiency, speed, and uniformity are prized over diversity and quality.
Ritzer showed that the world is increasingly becoming like a McDonald’s outlet where standardization, efficiency, and quantity are valued over diversity, variety, and quality.
The 4 Principles of McDonaldization
The 4 principles of McDonaldization are efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control.
- Efficiency – Efficiency means the most optimal means of doing something. In the context of a McDonald’s, efficiency can be defined as the fastest way hunger can be satisfied. Thus, a McDonaldized entity seeks to achieve a solution in the shortest time possible.
- Calculability – Calculability means that the desired outcome should be objectively quantifiable. In the context of a McDonald’s, this means sales numbers. A McDonald’s outcome seeks to maximize an objective value such as sales rather than aim to fulfil a subjective criterion such as taste and aesthetics that a more upscale restaurant might hanker after.
- Predictability – Predictability is the standardization of products and services. Customers at all McDonald’s outfits can expect the same service and for the most part, the same menu the world over. Thus, any McDonalidized entity aims for standardization so that its customers know what to expect.
- Control – Finally, a McDonaldized entity seeks to exert rational-bureaucratic control in order to maximize its output and objectives. This can take the form of providing the same kind of training to all its employees or even replacing humans with non-human systems wherever possible in order to increase efficiency and lower costs.
A McUniversity is a university or college that delivers standardized course material in a fast-tracked delivery mode to a mass audience. It has the aim of maximizing revenues at the expense of quality and diversity of offerings.
Today, this often takes the form of “online degree” where course material is created in advance via videos and students have minimal interaction with professors, allowing the universities to save money on staff.
McUniversities are characterized by greater bureaucratic powers vested in the management and diminished autonomy for academics (Parker & Jary, 1995) .
Just like how McDonald’s has a standard menu across locations, different McUniversities offer the same curriculum to their students. This minimizes the differences between universities and reduces choice.
Sociologists warn that excessive McDonaldization of education could have adverse effects in the long term, stifling creativity and critical thinking among learners (Hayes & Wynyard, 2002).
2. Junk-food News
Junk food news refers to sensational and homogenized news that is often of little consequence. It is churned out by media portals at the expense of serious, meticulous journalism.
Such news is typically produced by portals focused on mass producing news items in the most cost-effective manner in order to maximize views. (Jensen, 2001) This is usually done by following a fixed template in which to package and present news. Much like a McDonald’s then, such news too is the result of efficient production processes meant to deliver news that appeals to the widest possible audience in the shortest possible time.
A related phenomenon is the proliferation of content farms. Content farm or a content mill is a web portal that churns out high-volume, low-quality, SEO optimized content in a short period of time with the sole purpose of maximizing page views, and hence maximizing advertising revenue from the web page. Content farms typically employ a large number of low-paid freelance writers, or in many cases, even automated content generation software that mass produce low-value content.
The term McJobs refers to low-skilled, low-paying jobs with a high employee turnover rate that offer bleak career prospects.
The term was coined in the 1980s with the sociologist Amitai Etzioni being among the first to use it in a Washington Post op-ed published in 1986 (Etzioni, 1986).
It was also popularized by the Canadian novelist Douglas Coupland in his influential international bestseller, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture published in 1994.
Both Etzioni and Coupland were critical of McJobs, comparing them to junk food that is low on nutrition but is easy to mass-produce.
Goos and Manning (2003) contrasted McJobs with MacJobs:
- McJobs: Low-skilled, low-paying jobs with high turnover and low career prospects.
- MacJobs: High-skilled and prestigious jobs. This term is derived from Apple Inc’s line of computers and operating systems. Apple Macs are noted for their high-end design and development, representing the state-of-the-art in technology and aesthetics. Similarly, MacJobs have prestige and are state-of-the-art.
The two kinds of jobs symbolized by two of the most instantly recognizable symbols of 21st century consumerism – McDonald’s & Apple Inc – represent opposite ends of the occupational spectrum.
Where a McJob is low paying, low-skilled, and low-prestige, a MacJob is high paying, high-skilled, and prestigious.
McChurch is a term applied to religious groups that attempt to apply the principles of corporate consumerism to “sell” themselves, or gain more followers.
In doing so, a church may try to blend in elements of element and spectacle, along with the classic ingredients of efficiency, predictability, and homogeneity.
An example of McChurch are multi-site churches. A multi-site church is one that has multiple branches in a single city, state, country, or even the world.
While the sermon is presented to the gathering at the primary site, the same sermon is broadcast digitally to all the other sites simultaneously, thereby ensuring uniformity.
In Franchising McChurch: Feeding Our Obsession With Easy Christianty, Thomas White and John Yeats argue that McChurches defeat the very purpose of a church, which is to serve as a place for physical congregation.
Further, such multi-site churches go against what many Christian theologians go against the fundamental principle of church planting – that new churches should be autonomous and serve the local congregation (White & Yeats, 2009).
5. McDojo/Degree Mill
Dojo is a Japanese term used to refer to a meditation hall. McDojos are low-quality versions of Dojos designed to quickly churn through clients.
With the spread of Japanese martial arts to the west, the term Dojo came to denote a school or institute where training in the martial arts is provided.
Mastering the martial arts is a process that requires immense self-discipline and patience.
But a number of imitators began to mushroom, promising to offer short-cuts to martial arts experts by offering watered-down training.
Such McDojos typically offer their own certifications or black belts that can be achieved without the years of painstaking effort and training that is required to attain such a qualification from a traditional dojo.
The term McDojo is also sometimes applied to degree mills or diploma mills which are institutions that similarly award fraudulent degrees or diplomas in exchange for money.
A McMansion is a cheaply designed house that imitates older, more classical architectural forms.
What it lacks in character, it attempts to make up in size.
The term was coined in the 1980s to describe a large number of similar looking suburban houses in the North America that resembled, in the words of one critic: “vinyl Georgian estates and foam Mediterranean villas” (Wagner, 2017).
In their attempt to distinguish themselves from their surroundings, McMansions end up looking similarly outlandish and out of sync with their environment.
McMansions are also sometimes referred to as Garage Mahals, a pun on the Taj Mahal.
A related and more recent phenomena are McModerns, houses that resemble McMansions in all respects, except that they do not attempt to imitate architectural forms from the distant past.
McModerns are large houses built in a modernist style with usually cheap construction material, similar layouts, and prices going up to a few million dollars.
The term McWorld was coined by the American political scientist Benjamin Barber in 1992 to describe two dominant but opposing forces pulling the world in different directions.
These are: tribal fundamentalism and global homogenization (Barber, 1992).
The McWorld, according to Barber, is the logical culmination of the process of McDonaldization. In the McWorld, the whole world is homogenized, rationalized, and bureaucratized.
A McWorld is characterized by towns that lack unique identifying features, are full of big box stores and mega warehouses rather than cute, quaint, and quirky townships.
This couldrefers to the usage of a standardized, overly simplified version of a language diminishing diversity in exchange for efficiency, predictability, and calculability.
Businesses, particularly in the fast-food sector, have played a significant role in globalizing English, thus creating a homogeneous, standardized form of communication that allows for cross-cultural understanding but diminishes linguistic variety.
For instance, the lexical creations of McDonald’s such as ‘McNugget’, ‘McFlurry’, ‘McChicken’, have spread worldwide and have entered everyday English vocabulary.
9. Homogenizaed Internet
A ‘McInternet’ migh refers to the phenomenon of the internet becoming a platform with commodified, uniform content.
This echoes the principles of McDonaldization in which efficiency and predictability govern the net. Companies like Facebook and Google follow the McInternet model, delivering template-based services to a large audience.
For example, Google’s search engine provides immediate, efficient information, yet it can also create a homogeneous experience for its billions of users by serving nearly identical search results, worldwide.
The McTravel refers to the growing standardization in travel and tourism practices.
The search for efficiency, predictability, and calculability in the tourism sector mirrors the principles of McDonaldization.
This is exhibited in the dominance of budget airlines that offer standardized services, and the prevalence of globally uniform hotel franchises such as Marriott or Hilton.
The rise of ‘cookie-cutter’ holiday packages also illustrates this trend, where trips are pre-planned and prepackaged leaving little room for authentic, individual experiences.
Criticisms of McDonaldization
The main criticism of McDonaldization is that it causes the world to become faceless, impersonal, and rule-based.
Weber proposed that the modern world is transitioning towards a system of rational-legal authority (such as that wielded by bureaucrats). By contrast, the medieval world was characterized by charismatic authority ( such as that wielded by kings, queens, and warlords).
Like Ritzer, Weber was critical of this rational-bureaucratic model of society, believing that it would eventually trap individuals in an “iron-cage” of faceless, impersonalized, rule-based governance. In Weber’s own words, the end result of such homogenization would be a world in which:
“not summer’s bloom lies ahead of us, but rather a polar night of icy darkness and hardness” (Weber, 1956).
Nevertheless, others think that as quickly as the world homogenizes, local and indigenous cultures adapt the global to their local needs in a process called glocalization.
“Quantity has a quality all its own”, Joseph Stalin is famously believed to have remarked when his poorly equipped but numerically greater Soviet forces were forced to confront the vastly better trained and equipped Nazi forces during the Second World War.
In the end, the Soviets prevailed.
McDonaldization works on a similar logic.
Any process that aims to increase output by mass-producing homogenized products or services in the shortest possible time (leading to a dilution of quality, but maximizing of profit) can be conceived of as an example of McDonaldization.
Barber, B. (1992, March). Jihad vs. McWorld The Atlantic https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1992/03/jihad-vs-mcworld/303882/
Etzioni, Amitai (1986, August 24). The fast-food factories: McJobs are bad for kids. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/1986/08/24/the-fast-food-factories-mcjobs-are-bad-for-kids/b3d7bbeb-5e9a-4335-afdd-2030cb7bc775/
Goos M., & Manning A. (2003) McJobs and MacJobs: The growing polarisation of jobs in the UK. In R. Dickens, P.Gregg, & J.Wadsworth (eds) The Labour Market Under New Labour (pp. 70-85) Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230598454_6
Hayes, D. & Wynyard, R. (2002) The McDonaldization of higher education Praeger Publishers.
Jensen, Carl (2001). Junk Food News 1877-2000. In Phillips, Peter (ed.). Censored 2001. (pp. 251–264) Seven Stories Press.
Parker, M., & Jary, D. (1995). The McUniversity: Organization, management and academic subjectivity. Organization, 2(2), 319–338.
Ritzer, G. (1993) The McDonaldization of society Sage.
Wagner, K. (2017, June 30) The rise of the McModern Curbed https://archive.curbed.com/2017/6/30/15893836/what-is-mcmansion-hell-modern-suburbs-history
Weber, M. (1946/1958). Essays in Sociology. In M. Weber, H. Gerth, & C. W. Mills (Eds.), From Max Weber. New York: Oxford University Press.
White, T. & Yeats, J. (2009) Franchising McChurch: Feeding our obsession with easy Christianity David C. Cook Publishing.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]