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sociologist George Ritzer argues that the relationship between McDonald's and our society runs even deeper. Beyond its commercial propaganda and symbolism, Ritzer says, McDonald's is a potent manifestation of the rational processes that define modern society.

Ritzer warns that the spread of such "rationalized systems" has had irrational consequences, not least of which is the "disenchantment of the world," a situation in which rationality takes over, leaving no room for the mysterious, unpredictable qualities that make us human.

Ritzer's scholarly work has been heavily influenced by German sociologist Max Weber, who feared that bureaucracy would spread until society became a seamless web of rationalized institutions from which there would be no escape. At the time when Weber wrote, in the early twentieth century, totalitarianism was the biggest threat to individual freedom. In the 1980s, Ritzer thought to apply Weber's theories about rational systems to a very different threat: the proliferation of fast-food chains. When Ritzer began writing and talking about the dangers of "McDonaldization," he struck a nerve: some agreed with him, but many others rushed to defend the pop-culture institution. He went on to write a social critique on the subject, applying sociological theories to the culture in a way that lay readers would understand. The McDonaldization of Society (Pine Forge/Sage Publications) was successful enough that he wrote several follow-ups, including The McDonaldization Thesis and Enchanting a Disenchanted World (both Sage Publications). Ritzer's most recent book is Explorations in the Sociology of Consumption: Fast Food, Credit Cards, and Casinos (Sage Ltd.). In addition to writing about sociology for a general audience, he teaches at the University of Maryland, where he is a distinguished professor with numerous academic awards and volumes to his credit. We met for this interview on a beautiful fall day at Ritzer's home in Maryland. A breeze...
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