The Irrational Fear of McDonaldization and the Myth of Cultural Purity

Essay, 2015

5 Pages, Grade: 1,3


The irrational fear of McDonaldization and the myth of cultural purity

"We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile." (Frakes 1996)

Science-Fiction-fans will instantly recognize this iconic threat of the Borg, a fictional alien race and recurring antagonist in the popular Star Trek movies. Their ultimate goal is perfection, which they try to achieve by assimilating everyone they encounter. The Borg culture itself is very functional, they live in dull environments and the idea of individual freedom is completely abandoned. Consequently, every added individual becomes a simple drone, a mind controlled worker for the collective. In the movies, the multi-ethnic crew of the USS Enterprise was always able to stop them from overtaking the earth and its population. So we are safe on silver screen, but what about the real world? Some social scientist claim, that with the progressing globalization, there is an imperialistic trend, which tries to homogenize the world: McDonaldization. The Borg of the real world are therefore fast-food franchise McDonald's and similar organizations of various industries. They are united by their operating principles like a push for greater efficiency, predictability, calculability and the replacement of human with non human technology. McDonaldized products are highly standardized and quantity is generally more important than quality. This leads to a competitive advantage towards other systems. Of course, not only food can be produced following those principles mentioned above. Everything can be McDonaldized, education, health care, music, etc. and the trend is expanding (Ritzer, Stillman 2003, p. 34). But just like the fictional antagonists, McDonaldization has limits and although the concept sounds menacing, it is not the end of diversity. McDonaldized systems can be influenced locally and they can change over time, too (Ritzer, Stillman 2003, p. 39). As a global restaurant, McDonald's has quickly adapted to local needs: In India, the company sells primarily lamb and chicken meat, and pork is not on the menu in Muslim countries. Actually they created a Nürnburger [1] especially for German restaurants. Other global players like Hollywood studios and broadcast networks also adapt to localities, and create special content for different markets (Robertson 1995, p. 38). So how can McDonald’s and the like homogenize the world, when they are changing themselves because of various local preferences?

Maybe people who fear McDonaldization confuse global distribution with global homogenization, but “the mass production of 'cultural material' does not lead to the emergence of anything like 'global culture'“ (Bauman 1998, p. 43). Aside from that, McDonald's has to deal with decreasing sales for the last couple of years[2] and is not as strong as the concept of McDonaldization suggests. Overall, there is no trend towards a single culture and total uniformity. Homogenization is only one force of many (Nederveen Pieterse 1995, p. 53). Like the Borg and their evil imperialistic intentions, a total McDonaldization is only a mind game. Hence, speaking of a homogenizing world is only one side of the coin. On the other side, as demonstrated by products like the Nürnburger, the local influences the global. "The globalizing and the localizing trends are mutually reinforcing and inseparable" (Bauman 1998, pp. 44–45) and therefore "homogenization went hand in hand with heterogenization. They made each other possible." (Robertson 1995, p. 36). In conclusion, "world or global culture is apparently developing through diversity within sameness." (Regev 2003, p. 223).

Overall, one cannot talk about the local without automatically talking about the global as well. Global includes local, there is no clear distinction, no boundary. A similar distinction can be found between micro- and macro-economics. This way of thinking seems to be popular in sociology too, but it falls short of reality (Robertson 1995, p. 34).

A big problem of the debate about globalization is the deeply anchored boundary-thinking, which misleads to following only one logic (e.g. homogenization). But reality is more complex than that and the "viewing of globalization in terms of homogenization, or of modernization/Westernization, is empirically narrow and historically flat" (Nederveen Pieterse 1995, p. 63). Nederveen Pieterse's solution is the concept of cultural hybridization. In this way, he acknowledges that cultures are different, but they are not trying to overwhelm each other and rather mix constantly. He thinks of global culture as a global mélange (Nederveen Pieterse 1995, p. 60). Critics often connect this concept of hybridity with a loss of purity, wholeness and authenticity, but the point is: There is no and there has never been cultural purity. Hybridity has a bad reputation and is considered a negative development in society, culture and biology. Nevertheless, diversification enhances all three of them, foremost biology (Nederveen Pieterse 1995, pp. 54–55). Consequently, the implied purity of homogenizing forces and cultures has never been there. Since the beginning of mankind there has been constant developments and exchanges between different peoples, always creating new hybrid cultures. Thus, globalization is not the globalization of localities or homogenization of the world, but the continuous hybridization of (already) hybrid cultures. This turns upside down the interpretation of globalization during the last couple of centuries, because it is not the process, which has changed, it is the pace (Nederveen Pieterse 2001, pp. 221–222).

Examples for hybridity can be found everywhere, Nederveen Pieterse mentions world religions and plagues, which are great examples, because they continuously hybridize as they spread over the world (Nederveen Pieterse 2001, p. 231). Especially the introduction of Christian religion to the Ewe[3] in Africa in the late 19th century fits the proposed concept of hybridity. Although intended by missionaries, the Ewe did not simply adopt Christian practises and beliefs. They rather mixed Christian elements with their own customs and thereby created something entirely new (Meyer 1994, p. 65).

Cities like Istanbul, Venice, Toledo or Cairo provide another example of hibridity. These cities have harboured a lot of travellers and merchants from all over the globe and their traces are clearly visible and created hybrid zones (Nederveen Pieterse 2001, p. 232).

Despite of globally promoted music stars like Rihanna, Katy Perry or The Rolling Stones, there is no homogeneity in rock/pop music either. Analysing rock music around the world, Motti Regev acknowledges a „dual identity“ of musical styles and clearly argues for a common hybridity (Regev 2003, p. 232).

In Bayart, Nederveen Pieterse sees another scientist who is positive about the concept of hybridity: "Bayart refers to social and political 'hybridation' to characterize African modernities." (Nederveen Pieterse 2001, p. 236). In short, Bayart sees colonization as a process which was fuelled by local elites as well as exterior forces. For him, there was a kind of dialogue between both parties, a relationship of sorts (Bayart 2000, pp. 223–224). Colonization therefore becomes a similar adopting/mixing-process like the introduction of Christianity to the Ewe as described above. Local elites took a foreign concept, adjusted it to their needs and implemented the hybrid version.


[1] This particular burger contains three special sausages and other typical German ingredients like roasted onions and mustard (


[3] Ethnic group, located in the area of today's Togo and Ghana.

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The Irrational Fear of McDonaldization and the Myth of Cultural Purity
University of Siegen
World Society, World Culture and World Politics
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ISBN (eBook)
File size
358 KB
sociology, world culture, globalization, glocalization, mcdonaldization
Quote paper
Fabian Speitkamp (Author), 2015, The Irrational Fear of McDonaldization and the Myth of Cultural Purity, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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