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RITZER APPLIES WEBER:  The McDonaldization of Society

Rationalization as an ideal type and as an historical force appears in much of Weber’s writings. He regards the development of rational forms to be one of the most important characteristics of the development of Western society and capitalism. Weber viewed traditional and charismatic forms as irrational, or at least non-rational. The latter may rely on religion, magic, or the supernatural as a way of explaining the social world and authority may also derive from these. These may have no systematic form of development, but may rely on personal insight, revelation, emotions, and feelings, features that are non-rational in form.

In contrast, rationality consists of a set of social actions governed by reason or reasoning, calculation, plus rational pursuit of one’s interests. Rationality forms a large part of rational-legal authority and there are several characteristics that Weber considers as aspects of rationality.  Ritzer borrows heavily and suggests that most social institutions are now governed by the model of rationalization put for by Weber–and can the perfect model for this is seen in the social organization of the fast-food industry, namely McDonalds. He calls this the McDonalidization of society (Ritzer, pp. 124-125).  All major social institutions/formal organizations such as universities, government etc. have most of these characteristics as specified by Weber:

Calculability. Results can be calculated or estimated by adopting assumptions and considering the methods by which results will be achieved. This is especially the case in formal institutions or in businesses

Efficiency. Actors have various ends and attempt to find the best means to achieving these ends.

Predictability. Organizations have rules and regulations, and actors are subject to structures and authority. This, along with established procedures and ends, mean that the results of social action can often be predicted, perhaps not precisely, but certainly probabilities attached to the outcomes.

Non-Human Technology. Technologies such as tools, machinery, and information technologies make predictability greater. That is, these technologies are constructed with certain purposes, and so long as they assist in achieving the desired ends, the results are generally predictable.

Control Over Uncertainties. This can never be complete, but rules and methods are adopted that deal with many possible contingencies. Rules are set up not so much to deal with specific people or personalities, but attempt to be generic, dealing with a variety of possibilities. These allow outcomes to be constrained within certain limits, thereby reducing uncertainties about outcomes.

These principles of ration




Bureaucracies are effective in situations where large numbers of standardized operations are needed, such as processing student enrolments at university and in organizations where little personal initiative is needed to get the job done.

Above all, Weber emphasized that bureaucratic organizations are designed to subdue human affairs to the rule of reason. This would make it possible to conduct the business of the organization “according to calculable rules.”

For people who developed modern organizations, the purpose was to find rational solutions to the new problems of size .

Weber saw bureaucracy as the rational product of social engineering, just as the machines of the Industrial Revolution were the rational products of mechanical engineering.

The more we use it as a way of organizing, the more successful at producing we become….. We are getting better? Or are we? Bigger better?

Weber argued that societies were increasingly

based on formal rationality (that backs rational-legal systems

of authority)

The application of formal rational-legal authority in organizations is bureaucracy, which in its ideal form is the most technically efficient and rational form of organization that has ever existed, argued Weber. 

Key characteristics of bureaucracy as an ideal type are:

specification of jobs with detailed rights, obligations, responsibilities, scope of authority

hierarchical system of supervision and subordination

unity of command where authority resides in the rules not the position

extensive use of written documents –codes of operation

training in job requirements and skills –division of labor according to specialization

application of consistent and complete rules (company manual) impersonality, with everyone treated according to the rules.

assign work and hire personnel based on competence and experience


Problems with Bureaucratization of Social and Cultural Life!!!

The Iron Cage of Rationality

Weber and his pessimistic idea that the result of hyper-rationality would be a society that while seeking the good life becomes incapable of producing the good life through boredom and learned incapacity…

The original German for Iron Cage is Stahlhartes Gehäuse. “shell as hard as steel

Homework 2 The Iron Cage – Due

For this homework, you will use Weber’s iron cage concept and Ritzer’s model of McDonaldization to assess to what degree TCU is an Iron Cage of Rationality / AKA—A McDonaldized organization. Examine your experience as a student at TCU. Examine a particular aspect of your student experience (selecting and working on a major, registration/advising, the core curriculum, or other aspect). For this dimension of life apply Ritzer’s model (efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control), and rate on a scale from 0 to 10 the extent to which the institution is McDonaldized (each dimension), where 0 represents no emphasis on efficiency whatsoever (or calculability, predictability, or control) and 10 represents total and complete emphasis on efficiency. 


After you have presented your case for each of the four characteristics for the dimension of student life, discuss overall to what degree TCU is an Iron Cage of Rationality– that is does TCU’s rationalization produce irrationalities of rationality. If so, how  and if not, how does TCU avoid this?  Does TCU resist McDonaldization / The Iron Cage. 

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