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24 2 McDonaldization and Its Precursors From the Iron Cage to the Fast-Food Factory M cDonaldization did not emerge in a vacuum; it was preceded by a series of social and economic developments that not only anticipated it but also gave it many of the basic characteristics touched on in Chapter 1. 1 In this chapter, I will look briefly at a few of these developments. First, I will examine the notion of bureaucracy and Max Weber’s theories about it and the larger process of rationalization. Next, I will offer a discussion of the Nazi Holocaust, a method of mass killing that can be viewed as the logical extreme of Weber’s fears about rationalization and bureaucratization. Then, I will look at several intertwined socioeconomic developments that were precursors of McDonaldization: scientific management as it was invented at the turn of the century by F. W. Taylor, Henry Ford’s assembly line, the mass-produced suburban houses of Levittown, the shopping mall, and Ray Kroc’s creation of the McDonald’s chain. These are not only of historical interest; most continue to be important to this day. BUREAUCRATIZATION: MAKING LIFE MORE RATIONAL A bureaucracy is a large-scale organization composed of a hierarchy of offices. In these offices, people have certain responsibilities and must act 02-Rizter.QXD 12/4/03 3:45 PM Page 24
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in accord with rules, written regulations, and means of compulsion exercised by those who occupy higher-level positions. The bureaucracy is largely a creation of the modern Western world. Although earlier societies had organizational structures, they were not nearly as effective as the bureaucracy. For example, in traditional societies, officials performed their tasks because of a personal loyalty to their leader. These officials were subject to personal whim rather than impersonal rules. Their offices lacked clearly defined spheres of competence, there was no clear hierarchy of positions, and officials did not have to obtain technical training to gain a position. Ultimately, the bureaucracy differs from earlier methods of organizing work because of its formal structure, which, among other things, allows for greater efficiency. Institutionalized rules and regulations lead, even force, those employed in the bureaucracy to choose the best means to arrive at their ends. A given task is broken down into components, with each office responsible for a distinct portion of the larger task. Incumbents of each office handle their part of the task, usually following preset rules and regulations, and often in a predetermined sequence. When each of the incumbents has, in order, handled the required part, the task is com- pleted. In handling the task in this way, the bureaucracy has used what its past history has shown to be the optimum means to the desired end.
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