McDonaldization and Cosmopolitanism - Investigations in modern and postmodern thought

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2005

31 Pages, Grade: 1




2.1.1 Efficiency 4
2.1.2 Calculability 5
2.1.3 Predictability 6
2.1.4 Control through technology 6
2.1.5 Summary 8
2.2.1 Jean-Fran ç ois Lyotard
2.2.2 Jean Baudrillard
2.2.3 Summary
2.3.1 Cosmopolitanism and Enlightenment Philosophy
2.3.2 Ulrich Beck on cosmopolitanism
2.3.3 Summary
2.4.1 Ulf Hannerz: Cosmopolitanism as a mode of managing meaning 19
2.4.2 James Rosenau ’ s local and global worlds
2.4.3 Summary
2.5.1 Hypothesis I: A modern concept of McDonaldization is a necessary condition for post-
Enlightenment cosmopolitanism 24
2.5.2 Hypothesis II: Consumer society and the sign-value are necessary conditions for
McDonaldization and cosmopolitanism
2.5.3 Hypothesis III: The World risk society rests on McDonaldization and is constrained by language games



1. Introduction

The study of contemporary culture faces some fundamental problems in finding, both ontological and analytical, a clear distinction between modern and postmodern approaches to the question of how global culture can be understood. In the case of the two concepts of McDonaldization and cosmopolitanism, I try to show that such a distinction is not only redundant, but can also lead to difficulties in explaining the various cultural phenomena associated with these concepts that can be observed all around the globe on a daily basis.

Obviously, choosing those two concepts to “build a bridge” between modern and postmodern theoretical approaches to global culture is not a random act. Current debates in the field of cultural sociology show that the concepts of McDonaldization and cosmopolitanism are mainly regarded as examples of modernity and postmodernity. The inherent rationality in the concept of McDonaldization is regarded as prototypically modern (Ritzer 1996, Berger/Huntington 2002, Rosenau 2003), whereas the concept of cosmopolitanism is mainly associated with change, complexity or post-territoriality, all of which are postmodern concepts (Hannerz 1996, Urry 2003, Hill 2000). This seemingly clear distinction between the aforementioned concepts will be challenged in this paper and some of the inherent features of McDonaldization and cosmopolitanism will be used to establish analytical links between modern and postmodern views on contemporary global culture.

In order to establish connections between these two seemingly contradictory concepts, the most important step will be to get a clearer idea of their inherent features from a modern and from a post-modern perspective. Thus, in the chapter following these introductory remarks, I will put the concepts of McDonaldization and Cosmopolitanism under close scrutiny as far as their perception from the respective viewpoints is concerned. Following this detailed concept analysis the next logical step will be to isolate certain features that show the interconnected- ness of rational, i.e. modern, aspects of McDonaldization with terms like multiple identities or the “…awareness of the relativity of one’s own […] culture” (Beck 2004:131), which are more associated with the realm of postmodern thought. However, the aim of this paper is not to establish clear-cut cause and effect relationships. What I want to do is broaden the scope of analysis of contemporary culture and create an awareness that modern and postmodern thought are by no means mutually exclusive but can in many instances be combined to find new perspectives on the way our world works.

2. Analyzing the concepts of McDonaldization and Cos- mopolitanism

Theorizing about the inherent contradictions and common features of the terms McDonaldiza- tion and cosmopolitanism requires a close analysis of the two concepts. In order to examine the different meanings of the terms, especially in the context of a modern-postmodern dis- course, it is necessary to “take them apart” from different angles. This leads to a matrix as displayed below. The main focus will be on a detailed analysis of the concepts involved and, as this paper can only be a rough outline, the “conceptual overlap” will be presented in the form of several hypotheses, which are not elaborately discussed. Their purpose is rather to give a glimpse at what could be interesting questions for further research on this topic.

Figure 1: Different approaches and conceptual overlap:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

2.1 Thought model A: A modern approach to McDonaldization

When George Ritzer (1996) first introduced the term “McDonaldization” as an analytical category in the field of sociology, his usage of the term was firmly rooted in a modern per- spective on the development of contemporary culture at that time. Using the example of a fast-food chain, he argued that the inherent features of the mass production and mass con- sumption of food could be regarded as proto-typical examples of the steadily increasing ra- tionalization of the world and could be observed in many sectors of society, such as educa- tion, work, health care, etc. Referring to Max Weber’s concept of the “disenchantment of the world” (Weber 1954:155f), Ritzer describes the effects of a mode of production and con- sumption based on the Fordist principles of efficiency, calculability, predictability and control through technology (Ritzer 1996), showing a clear modern perspective based on the foundations of rationality. Investigating the development of the McDonaldization of modern societies, Ritzer identifies certain dangers inherent in the concept of rationality. Employing Weber’s concept of the “irrationality of rationality”, Ritzer assumes that the advent of McDonaldized settings in culture and economy can have negative effects on a society as a whole. Returning to the aforementioned principles, mainly associated with the Fordist/Taylorist mode of production, these negative effects can be displayed quite convincingly.

2.1.1 Efficiency

The first and probably most prominent of these principles is efficiency, which can gener- ally be described as the optimum method for getting from one state or condition to another. In the case of a fast-food restaurant, the starting point is “hungry” and the desired state is “full”. By means of standardized procedures of food preparation, customer service and food con- sumption, the transgression from starting point to the desired state is time-optimized, i.e. ra- tionalized. The principle of efficiency is not limited to the realm of fast-food production and consumption but extends to many other aspects of modern societies, such as education, health care, travel, etc. In all these settings, time is a crucial factor which, as argued by Giddens (1990), is “emptied” of content, i.e. with the advent of modernity, time was standardized and the close linkage between space and time was broken. This development, also referred to as “distanciation“ (Giddens 1990:11), is a prerequisite for a McDonaldized society as in pre- modern times, time and space were closely linked and there was no need for more efficient ways of societal interaction.

As mentioned before, the tendency towards rationalized, time-optimized settings in vari- ous aspects of societal life can have negative consequences for a society a whole. Max We- ber’s concept of the “irrationality of rationality” suggests that a system, or in this case a whole society, based on purely rational principles is in danger of spawning irrational consequences. In the case of McDonaldized fast-food production, the very efficient, i.e. time- and money- optimized, production of food causes irrational consequences, such as the destruction of natu- ral resources or the bad effects fast-food has on consumers’ health. Theoretically, this diver- gence between rational behavior and irrational outcome caused by the strive for more and more efficiency can be explained by looking at Jürgen Habermas’ concepts of the rationalities of the system and the life-world. Using the problems of the modern, bureaucratic welfare state as an example, Habermas suggests that the focus should be shifted from the (instrumental) rationality of the system to a broader perspective in which “impulses from the life-world must be able to enter into the self-steering of functional systems.” (Habermas 1987:366)

2.1.2 Calculability

The second principle Ritzer identifies as important feature of McDonaldized settings is calculability. According to Ritzer (1998:38f), the emphasis on quantity rather than quality can be observed not only in the field of fast-food production, but has even spread to the realm of the social sciences. Ritzer underlines his point by elaborating on the rise of quantitative methodology in research designs and the fact that the length of a research paper often is regarded as an indicator for its theoretical depth.

From a more theoretical viewpoint, calculability is one of the underlying principles of the transition from a premodern to a modern society. As mentioned earlier, the ability to measure and standardize time along with the scientification of working processes were prerequisites for the advent of industrialized, capitalist economies which form the basis of every modern society (Ritzer 2002, Roth 1987). Again, an emphasis on calculability can lead to irrational outcomes for modern societies. First of all, there is the problem of quality. Given the fact that large quantities of goods or services have to be provided in a time- and money-optimized, i.e. efficient, way, quality standards cannot be upheld. This becomes apparent in the way fast- food restaurants serve large quantities of food at the expense of its quality. The size of a prod- uct is equaled with its desirability, e.g. by choosing brand names like “Big Mac” or “Super Size” companies make their products more attractive to the customer. Given the lower quality of the food, this focus on quantity is in itself an irrational act, as the nourishing effect is con- siderably lower than that of a regular, home-cooked meal (Ritzer 1996). However, the irra- tionality of calculability is not limited to the consumer side. The production mechanisms of McDonaldized goods or services also lead to irrational outcomes. In a setting, where qualita- tive skills are not as highly estimated as the ability to perform low-quality tasks in a very nar- row time-frame, the workers’ capacities are not used as an asset to enhance or facilitate pro- duction processes or outcomes. In other words, an employee at a fast-food restaurant is not encouraged to think about ways of improving the quality of the food he or she is preparing, but has to subjugate to a pre-determined system designed to guarantee a large output. Again, this development is not limited to the obviously McDonaldized environment of fast-food pro- duction. According to Ritzer, the emphasis on measurability and calculability has also nega- tive effects on the social sciences, as “quantitative factors dominate American sociology just as they define fast-food restaurants and the rest of our McDonaldized society. And […] the emphasis on quantity often serves to affect quality adversely” (Ritzer 1998:40).

2.1.3 Predictability

The third principle associated with a modern perspective on McDonaldization is predict- ability. In a setting which is dominated by efficiency and calculability it is important that both, producers and consumers, can be certain that production processes, products and ser- vices do not vary. Processes and outcomes must be predictable, i.e. they have to be the same over time and in different local settings. According to Ritzer (1996), the predictability of McDonaldized systems even extends to communicative patterns in employee-customer inter- action. Once more using the fast-food industry as an example, he shows that McDonaldized organizations often have scripts that employees are supposed to memorize and follow when- ever the occasion arises. This scripted behaviour helps to create a setting in which free com- munication between individuals cannot develop. Analyzed from a Habermasian perspective, this situation denies the existence of emancipated speech acts which “taken generically, are intended to bring about a specific set of interpersonal relations. Speech acts are supposed to be “[…] like offers; that is they can be accepted or rejected by the hearer” (Lash 1990:102). Apart from the problems in personal interaction, predictability also helps to create an envi- ronment of mediocrity. Customers visiting fast-food restaurants or other McDonaldized ven- ues like outlet stores and all-inclusive holiday resorts usually do not expect goods or services of extraordinary quality. The main incentive for making use of McDonaldized products and services is that there usually are no disappointments as a certain quality is guaranteed on a mediocre level (Ritzer 2002).

2.1.4 Control through technology

The fourth principle introduced by Ritzer is control through technology. Beginning with the Fordist/Taylorist era in the early 20th century, there has been a steady process of “substitu- tion of nonhuman for human technology” (Ritzer 1996:11). According to Ritzer, human tech- nology is controlled by people, e.g. a screwdriver can be used deliberately and its application is controlled by its user. Contdof McDonaldization, Ritzer employs this distinction between human and nonhuman technology to explain certain patterns that can be observed in fast-food restaurants. As in every Fordist setting of production, the production processes in a fast-food restaurant are organized in a highly efficient way and nonhuman technology is used to replace human technology, e.g. a soft-drink dispenser that shuts itself off when the cup is full makes human control of this process redundant. However, Ritzer goes one step further by extending the hu- man/nonhuman technology assumption to the customer-side as well. Given the fact that cus- tomers are manipulated by limited menus, few options or waiting lines, Ritzer reasons that customers no longer control the “dining situation”, but are subtly coerced into a behaviour desirable for the management of the restaurant, i.e. eat quickly and leave.

From a theoretical perspective, the concept of technology and its implications on certain aspects of society are central to a modern standpoint. As Scott Lash (1999:92) put it: “What happens here is that modernity becomes technology” (italics in the original). Again, following the aforementioned concept of the irrationality of rationality, the shift from human to nonhu- man technology can have negative consequences. One of the most prominent critiques of this development is derived from the Marxist notion of alienation. According to Marxist theory, the individual is no longer a self-responsible agent in the production process, but has to com- ply with the rules set by the owners of the means of production, i.e. the capitalists. This lack of self-responsibility then leads to the alienation of the worker form the product of his work. Thus, according to Marx, the basis for an exploitative economic system is established (Kam- meyer et al. 1997). However, it is not only from the economy-focused Marxist perspective that the increasing use of nonhuman technology is criticized. Even regarding the discipline of sociology itself, the advent of nonhuman technologies is regarded with suspicion. For exam- ple, Pierre Bourdieu notes that the use of nonhuman technology like computers leads to a ten- dency to reduce or eliminate scientific creativity as the already discussed features of effi- ciency, calculability, and predictability are based on these technologies. This then, according to Bourdieu, leads to a focus on methodology instead of the creative search for scientific in- sights. In other words: “Those who push methodological concern to the point of obsession are like Freud’s patient who spent all his time cleaning his spectacles and never put them on” (Bourdieu et al. 1991:5).

2.1.5 Summary

Summarizing the modern perspective on McDonaldization, it is apparent that Ritzer’s principles of efficiency, calculability, predictability and control through technology are all based on a modern notion of rationality. Examples from the realm of fast-food production as well as from the development of the scientific discipline of sociology show that the assump- tions modernists make regarding the nature and the development of society and culture are rooted in a positivist worldview in which certain facts and processes are given. This then leads to the assumption that rules for McDonaldized settings can be established and thus the behaviour of people within these settings can, to a certain degree, be analyzed or even pre- dicted.

However, the aforementioned features of McDonaldization are not taken for granted. The negative consequences that derive from a setting that is purely dominated by rationality are identified and criticized. This critique, however, is itself rooted in a modern approach and can thus not offer a meta-perspective on the whole issue of McDonaldization, rationality and irra- tionality. In order to shed more light on the implications of these concepts for the study of society and culture, the next chapter will therefore focus on a postmodern perception of McDonaldization.

Having analyzed the concept of McDonaldization from a modern perspective based on the principle of rationality, I believe there are certain insights that can only be gained by employ- ing a postmodern approach. The question arises, how one can first state that certain phenom- ena are solidly rooted in modern thought and in the next chapter adhere to postmodern theory to explain the same things. The answer to this question is based on the assumption that mod- ern and postmodern theories are not mutually exclusive, but can be applied simultaneously. Using both modern and postmodern theory it is possible to move away from an epochal dis- tinction between the two approaches and regard them merely as different “modes of analysis” (Lyotard 1988:24).

One of the features that clearly distinguish postmodern from modern theory is to be found in the question of truth. In modern theory, truth can be observed and has an overall, objective nature. Therefore, as described in the previous chapter, modern theorists like Marx (the ex- ploitative character of capitalism), Weber (the iron cage of rationality) or Habermas (the colonization of the life world) make strong claims that their theories present the best, and in some cases the only, way of understanding “reality” and are therefore necessary to find the “truth”.

In postmodern theory, however, there are no such claims. First of all, “…[t]he postmodern view is that reality can only be known interpretively or narratively; no one authority can claim to know reality” (Ritzer 1997:208). Based on this absence of what I call “objective reality”, postmodern theorists are not in a position to claim the possession of “objective truth”. There- fore, in this chapter I will not present certain features of McDonaldization and their perception by different postmodern theorists. Instead I will try to draw a more general picture of different postmodern theories and then try to find instances where these theories can be applied to McDonaldization from their respective viewpoints. In other words, in order to analyze McDonaldization from a postmodern perspective it is inevitable to first give an account of the general ideas of the different theories involved, as the truth, if there is such a thing, is never absolute and can only be found from an “intra-theoretical” perspective. In this chapter I will mainly focus on the theories of the French postmodernists Jean-François Lyotard and Jean Baudrillard, giving short accounts of their respective theoretical settings before exploring their salience for the discussion of McDonaldization.

2.2.1 Jean-François Lyotard

The theoretical framework presented by Jean-François Lyotard (1925-98), one of the foremost critical thinkers of the second half of the 20th century, depicts a notion of postmod- ernism that rests on one basic element: the “incredulity toward metanarratives” (Lyotard 1984:xxiv). In this context, Lyotard identifies the concept of metanarratives as a central ele- ment of modernity and thus as a feature that distinguished it from postmodernity. In his the- ory, Lyotard distinguishes two main forms of metanarratives that can be observed regarding the development of society. First, there is the speculative grand narrative, which, based on the writings of G. W. F. Hegel, has at its core the assumption that “human life, or ‘Spirit’ as Hegel calls it, progresses by increasing its knowledge. […] For the speculative grand narra- tive, all statements are brought together under a single metanarratives, and their truth and value are judged according to its rules” (Malpas 2003:26). In other words, the truth or falsity of a statement can be determined by its relation to the whole of knowledge in a society.


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McDonaldization and Cosmopolitanism - Investigations in modern and postmodern thought
University of Kassel  (Fachbereich Gesellschaftswissenschaften)
Introduction to Global Cultural Economy
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This paper seeks to investigate the conceptual overlap between modern and postmodern thought, using the concepts of McDonaldization and Cosmopolitanism as examples.
McDonaldization, Cosmopolitanism, Investigations, Introduction, Global, Cultural, Economy
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Christof Dieterle (Author), 2005, McDonaldization and Cosmopolitanism - Investigations in modern and postmodern thought, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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