George Ritzer is an American sociologist best known for his studies on globalisation, Mcdonaldisation, post-modern theory and consumption patterns. He had a very extensive academic career, most of it being a visiting professor in numerous universities. This essay will elaborate on a few of his concepts- globalisation, Mcdonaldisation, Nothing and Something, and cultural hybridisation.
George Ritzer: Works
Sociology: A Multiple Paradigm Science (1975/1980) and Metatheorizing in Sociology (1991) are two of his theory books. His writings include The McDonaldization of Society (9th ed., 2019), Enchanting a Disenchanted World (3rd ed. 2010), and The Globalization of Nothing, all of which apply social theory to the social world (2nd ed., 2007). In addition, he is a co-author of Globalization: A Basic Text, 2nd Edition (Wiley- Blackwell, 2015). He co-edited the Wiley-Blackwell Companions to Classical and Contemporary Major Social Theorists (2012) and the Sage Handbook of Social Theory and edited the Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Sociology (2012) and The Blackwell Companion to Globalization (2008). (2001). He was the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Consumer Culture from its inception. He also co-edited the eleven-volume Encyclopedia of Sociology (2007; 2nd ed. forthcoming with Chris Rojek), the two-volume Encyclopedia of Social Theory (2005), and the five-volume Encyclopedia of Globalization (all with Chris Rojek) (2012). He co-edited a special double issue on “prosumption” in the American Behavioral Scientist in 2012 and has produced a number of frequently cited publications on the subject since 2007. McDonaldization of Society has been translated into over a dozen languages, while his novels have been translated into over twenty languages. He’s now writing about Bitcoin and blockchain from the sociological standpoints of his interests in consumer culture, consumption, globalisation, and McDonaldization.
Globalisation is the integration of the world’s cultures, economies and populations. The globalisation theory is one of the most debated topics in contemporary sociology. These perspectives on globalisation can be categorised on the following criteria-
The globalisation of culture can lead to two consequences- The world blending into a similar entity with shared morals, codes, and laws- cultural imperialism and homogeneity; The world creates its hybrids across the globe due to the blending of the world’s cultures- heterogeneity.
There are five dimensions through which globalisation of the culture can occur-
- Finance- The spreading of new methods of learning extra money along with one primary occupation. For example- dabbling in cryptocurrencies, NFTs, and dealing in rare trading cards.
- Media- Exposure to different cultures through technological advancements such as OTT platforms creates fan bases in various movie industries; for example, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has fanbases across the globe.
- Technology- The dimension is contributed by the growth of technology like virtual reality headsets and videogame streaming platforms like Twitch and the widespread infatuation with tesla and other self-driving cars. Watching streamers from different countries can expose the viewers to various other cultures and adopt aspects of them accordingly.
- Ideas- This means the views spread by political figures in international locations incorporate citizens of other nations. For example, the USA’s international relations with India cause many Indians to be Trump supporters or haters.
- Mobility of people- People migrate from country to country for occupational opportunities and often settle there, absorbing that respective culture.
Economic factors often focus on homogeneity and see globalisation as the spread of the global market economy. For example, the globalisation of trade through the commodification of international cultures and the presence of specialisation permits modifying products based on cultural needs. For instance, KFC ads in India are in Hindi and have an Indian person playing colonel sanders to appeal to the Indian market.
Politics and Institutions
The political and institutional factors emphasise homogeneity or heterogeneity and focus on the nation/state through worldwide models of the state and the emergence of similar forms of governance (Meyer et al., 1997). (Barber, 1995) termed the “McWorld” an opposite of “Jihad”- localised and reactionary forces that glorify intense nationalism and lead to more significant heterogeneity.
The concept of globalisation segues into Ritzer’s next theory of McDonaldisation.
The notion of McDonaldisation
Perhaps his most significant theory, the model of rationalism manifests itself through the model of a world-famous restaurant rather than the bureaucracy. This leads to the concept of the “McDonaldisation of society”. McDonaldisation emphasises efficiency, predictability, calculability, and control. However, there is a dangerous aspect to rationalisation; since the advantages of rationalisation are so widely preached in the media and educational institutions, people have been distracted from focusing on the grave dangers of progressive rationality (Ritzer, 1983).
The emphasis is on the most ideal and optimal solutions for specific problems. Eg. for the Nazis, the best and most efficient way to eradicate Jews was through the development of concentration camps. Another example of this is the development of tv dinners. Since the average American family has two parents, both working and young children, a common problem would be preparing food after a long hard day at work. This challenge was dealt with by creating ready-to-eat packaged meals that only needed to be warmed up and were available at low prices.
Another essential feature of efficiency is that it “often comes to be not a means but an end in itself” (Ritzer, 1983). In a rationalising culture, thus goal displacement is a big issue. For example, we have bureaucrats who mindlessly follow the rules even though their rigidity hinders the organisation’s capacity to fulfil its objectives; some bureaucrats focus on efficiency so much that they lose sight of the ultimate purpose for which the methods were created.
The sense of familiarity and comfort for the customer/consumer. In a rational society, there is no scope given to surprises; people want you to know what to expect immediately. For example, TV dinners taste mostly the same across the brands and the years apart from minor changes. Or, if you go to a taco bell in the USA and India, both restaurants will function in the same fashion in both countries. The customer will know how to order, where to pay, where to collect their order, and where to exit across the globe in any restaurant branch.
The focus is on quantity over quality. This is a concern that is cropping up in the video game industry. For example, the video game “Assassin’s Creed” had numerous glitches and bugs that were not resolved before the release date. However, the game was still mass-produced and released to the public because it had been relentlessly promoted. Another example is the focus on quantity’s effect on TV dinners. TV dinners usually taste terrible because minimal attention is given to the quality of taste of the product when it’s being produced in such large quantities.
McDonald’s systems exercise a great deal of control through technology. These technologies maintain a strict hold on employees; for example, in university, students must use a biometric machine to sign in and out of the campus.
These aspects of McDonaldisation also play a massive role in the globalisation of “nothing” and “something”.
The globalisation of “nothing” and “something.”
This is perhaps the most important concept to understand while studying globalisation, it holds the key to Americanisation and Westernisation.
To clarify the definitions, “nothing” refers to forms devoid of unique concepts that can be replicated easily. For example, face tissue boxes or toilet rolls.
“Something” refers to unique forms that take time and effort to reproduce in a look-alike manner—for example, paintings, art pieces, or graffiti.
Nothings fuel the central idea of globalization (imperialistic goals of nations so that their state profits and grows). Capitalism, Americanisation, and McDonaldisation combine and act as the fuel for globalisation and consequently the growth of nothings.
There are four types of nothings-
- Non-places- settings empty of content (malls, schools)
- Non-things- items that barely have any differentiating factors from one another and work almost identically across the globe (shoes, plastic water bottles, deodorants, pens)
- Non-People- employees who function with a script (cashiers, helpdesk officials, door attendants)
- Non-Services- Machine-based services across the globe when operated directly by the consumer (vending machines, ATMs, self-check-out computers in grocery stores)
Ritzer’s notion of Cultural Hybridisation
Cultural hybridisation is the result of cultures mixing due to globalisation; the cultures are new and unique versions of culture that cannot be categorised as local or global. Hybridisation provides a romanticised view of globalization and acts as the base of “Glocalization”- hybridisation occurring in various geographic locations.
“While globalisation tends to be associated with proliferation on of nothing, glocalisation tends to be tied more to something.” (Ritzer, 2016)
This perspective consists of the following four beliefs-
- The world has grown to be more pluralistic, therefore, the glocalization theory is very sensitive to differences within and between areas of the world.
- To survive in a globalised world, people have to adapt, innovate, and manoeuvre in a creative manner.
- “Globalisation proves a variety of reactions- ranging from nationalist entrenchment to cosmopolitan embrace- that feedback on and transforms it, the produce glocalization.” (Ritzer, 2016)
- Instead of commodities and media being viewed as intimidating but rather as materials that can be used by individuals for creations that will enable them to innovate and adapt and consequently, survive.
An example of cultural hybridisation is international restaurants and fast-food chains modifying their menus after opening outlets in India. Like McDonald’s introducing paneer burgers or the ‘Maharaja Mac’ or KFC introducing the ‘Biryani Bucket’. This is done because the Indian demographic doesn’t relate to burgers and therefore, people wouldn’t have been willing to experiment. So, to make people purchase their food and joints mesh Indian food and burgers together to make the food more appealing and relatable.
Another concept that is a branch of glocalization is “creolization” (Hannerz, 1987). Creolization refers to the emergence of creole languages and cultures.
“The term [creole] generally refers to people of mixed races, but it has been extended to gauges and cultures that were previously unintelligible to one another” (Ritzer, 2016).
Ritzer’s concepts can be applied to the real world, allowing readers to find examples for them in their day-to-day lives, fueling their relatability. His ability to observe social trends and base theories around them is truly commendable.