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Weber And Rationalisation Essay, Research Paper
The rationalisation process is the practical application of knowledge to achieve a desired end. It leads to efficiency, coordination, and control over both the physical and the social environment. It is the guiding principle behind bureaucracy and the increasing division of labour. It has led to the unprecedented increase in both the production and distribution of goods and services. It is also associated with secularisation, depersonalisation, and oppressive routine. Increasingly, human behaviour is guided by observation, experiment and reason to master the natural and social environment to achieve a desired end.
Weber’s general theory of rationalisation (of which bureaucratic evolution is but a particular case) refers to increasing human mastery over the natural and social environment. In turn, these changes in social structure have changed human character through changing values, philosophies, and beliefs. Such superstructural norms and values as individualism, efficiency, self-discipline, materialism, and calculability have been encouraged by the bureaucratic process. Bureaucracy and rationalisation were rapidly replacing all other forms of organisation and thought. Beginning to form a stranglehold on all sectors of Western society.
Denying the possibility of developmental laws in sociology, Weber essentially presented rationalisation as the master trend of Western capitalist society. Rationalisation is the process whereby every area of human relationships is subject to calculation and administration. While Marxists have noted the prominence of rational calculation in factory discipline and the labour process, Weber detected rationalisation in all social spheres – politics, religion, economic organisation, university administration, the laboratory and even musical notation. Weber’s sociology as a whole is characterised by a metaphysical pathos whereby the process of rationalisation eventually converted capitalist society into a meaningless ‘iron cage’.
For Weber, rationalisation involved: in economic organisation, the organisation of the factory by the bureaucratic means and the calculation of profit by systematic accounting procedures; in moral behaviour, a greater emphasis on discipline and training; in society as a whole, the spread of bureaucracy, state control and administration.
Weber defines bureaucracy as “a hierarchal organisation designed rationally to coordinate the work of many individuals in the pursuit of large scale administrative goals” [Haralambous, 1985].
Weber saw a hierarchal structure based on commonality of purpose, specialisation, or the division of labour held together by ‘rational – legal authority’. That is each strata expects the authority of higher strata and exercises vested authorities over lower strata in pursuit of the common purpose. Individuals gain position by ability and competence. The ‘consistent system of abstract rules’ and norms are adhered to and administered in a spirit of ‘moralistic impersonality’.
The ideal bureaucracy has an almost a machine like character – each parts fits perfectly, activates at the right time and in the right manner, known as “mechanistic” variety. Weber argued that “the monocratic variety of bureaucracy – is, from a technical point of view, capable of attaining the highest degree of efficiency”, [Weber, 1964]. He saw disadvantages and dangers in it, but argued it “makes possible, a high degree of calculability of results”.
To Weber, the paradigm case of the rationalisation process was bureaucracy. In the modern world, while bureaucracies continue to exist and to be of great importance, George Ritzer believes that the fast-food chains have become the model of rationality. The process in which the principals of the fast food-restaurant become dominating in relation to more and more sectors in American society as well as the rest of the world. The principals Ritzer is referring to is: efficiency, predicability, calculability, and control. He states that “the foundations of McDonaldisation” entry in society creates a society in which creativity, intelligent insight, transparency, and real human contact is more or less absent.
McDonald’s and McDonaldisation, then, do not represent something new, but rather the culmination of a series of rationalisation processes that had been occurring throughout the twentieth century [Ritzer, 1992].
An example of the extent to which McDonaldisation replicates the theory of rationalisation, is the publication of the 1958 operations manual designed to spell out in detail how a franchise is to be run, the manual laying down many of the key principles for operating a fast food restaurant:
“It told operators exactly how to draw milkshakes, grill hamburgers, and fry potatoes. It specified precise cooking times for all products and temperature settings for all equipment. It fixed standard portions on every food item, down to the quarter ounce of onions placed on each hamburger patty and the thirty-two slices per pound of cheese. It specified that french fries be cut a nine thirty-seconds of an inch thick. And it defined quality controls that were unique to food service, including the disposal of meat and potato products that were held more than ten minutes in a serving bin” [Ritzer, 1992].
Calculability plays an integral role in rationalisation. For example the diet industry which is huge and growing. It includes diet drugs, diet books, exercise tapes, diet meals, diet drinks, weight loss clinics and “fat farms”. Understandably the diet industry is obsessed with things that can be quantified. Weight, weight loss and time periods are measured precisely. Food intake is carefully measured and monitored. Organisations like Weight Watchers are obsessed with calculability.
Seven Elevens and Food Plus’ have become practically drive through mini – supermarkets. For those in need of only a few items, it is far more efficient to utilise a Seven Eleven and make the needed purchases. No longer parking in a large car park, obtain a trolley, wheel through a maze of extraneous aisles in search of needed items, wait in line at the checkout and then lug the shopping back to the car. At Seven Eleven the consumer can park right in front and can quickly find the desired goods. While the fast food restaurant moved in the direction of offering a highly circumscribed menu, Seven Eleven has sought to cram its little shops with a wide array of commonly wanted needed food and other goods. From the point of view, efficiency stems from the fact that ordinarily only one brand of each item is offered for sale and many items are unattainable. For greater selection or unstocked goods the consumer must go to the comparatively inefficient supermarket [Ritzer, 1992].
Whilst McDonalds is the modern definition of Weber’s rationalisation, in regard to efficiency, credit must be paid to those who influenced the outcome of today’s rationalism. Henry Ford’s assembly line represented a remarkable step forward in the rationalisation of manufacturing and was utilised globally in an array of manufacturing operations. Like bureaucracy and the fast-food restaurant, the automobile assembly line is a classic demonstration of the basic elements of formal rationality.
The ultimate application of the assembly line is the Burger King’s conveyor belt: A raw frozen, hamburger is placed on one end, it is moved slowly by the conveyor over a flame and emerges in about 94 seconds on the other end fully cooked [Ritzer, 1992]
Everything around us is rationalised; computers, televisions, cars, even the process in which our pets are bred. “The examples are legion, but the point is that the escape routes from rationality have been rationalised. There is no way out; we do live, to a large extent, in what Weber called the iron cage of rationality” [Ritzer 1992].
+ Abercrombi, N., Hill, S., Turner, B., 1984, Dictionary of Sociology, Penguin Books, England
+ Alfino, M., Caputo, J., Wynyard R., 1998, McDonaldization Revisited – Critical Essays on Consumer Culture, Praeger Publishers, Westport, USA
+ Berger, P., 1963, Invitation to Sociology – A Humanistic Perspective, Penguin Books, Great Britain
+ Haralambous, M., 1985, Sociology – Themes and Perspective’s, Bell and Hyman, London, England
+ Ritzer, G., 1992, The McDonaldization of Society, Pine Forge Press, California, USA
+ Sprott, W.J.H. (editor), 1948, From Max Weber – Essays in Sociology, Routledge and Kegan Paul LTD, London, England
+ Weber, M., 1964, The Theory Of Social And Economic Organisation, The Free Press, New York, USA