Rationalization affects our humanity. Weber (1958) defined rationalization as the increasing role of calculation and control in social life. It is a trend leading to the iron cage of bureaucracy. According to him, we have locked ourselves in an iron cage of rationality. Rationalization is our modern horizon. Technological design is believed to be the key to its effectiveness as the basis of modern hegemonies. Technological development is constrained by cultural norms originating in economics, ideology, religion and tradition. The concept of rationalization confounds the control of labor by management with control of nature by technology.
In order to increase production and keep cost down, the factory owner must maintain efficiency in his workplace. Technology has always been central to the scaling of the economy of labor. Rationalization is the process whereby progress speeds up and becomes more efficient.
The computer network brings the process of rationalization to the speed of light, That is, bureaucracy is made frictionless by the flow of digital information.
This bureaucratic apparatus has existed since the dawn of capitalist industrialism, and it has become the backbone of all that we do.
Today, you can get paid by your employer directly through the internet. Those funds can then be withdrawn directly from your account into the accounts of your creditors. You can even set it up so that the transaction occurs automatically. The process is all very seamless. Labor nowadays is commodified and digitized.
People are all anchored to this enormous interconnected bureaucracy. Progress is our product, rationalization is the process whereby this happens.
The human mind is basically not rational. So much social dementia is attributable to the kind of increased “organization” of society that is so counter-intuitive to the human beast. It ignores our organic nature, and tries to allot us into cubicles and apartment blocks. As individuals living in a post-industrial society, our struggle is retaining our humanity in the face of rationalization.
The extent to which rationalization governs our lives, today, can be measured by technology. Technology is amenable to democratization; that is, it can respond to the assertion of new goals and values by incorporating new “technical codes” into its design and structure, as evidenced by the success of social movements over the last few decades in achieving a host of positive changes in areas ranging from workplace health and safety and environmental regulation, to nuclear power and biotechnology. A new, more humane form of technological society is possible as a result of collective mobilization and civic action on technological issues, that is, as citizens recognize and exercise the full rights and duties of technological citizenship.
The human consequences of rationalization is that it treat human beings as variables to be manipulated along with materials, time, and space to ensure predictable products and profits from material, ideational or social manufacturing. The private and public bureaucracy thus emerges on an apparently objective and impersonal ground, provided by the rational specialization of function. For, the more the individual functions are divided, fixated, and synchronized according to objective and impersonal pattern, the less reasonable it is for the individual to withdraw and withstand.
The material fate of the masses becomes increasingly dependent upon the continuous and correct functioning of the increasingly bureaucratic order of private capitalist organizations. The objective and impersonal character of rationalization bestows upon the bureaucratic groups the universal dignity of reason. The rationality embodied in the giant enterprises makes it appear as if men, in obeying them, obey the dictum of an objective rationality. The private bureaucracy fosters a delusive harmony between the special and the common interests. Private power relationships appear not only as relationships between objective things but also as the rule of rationality itself.
Weber (1958) focused on the spread of bureaucracies. Weber, writing at the turn of the century, predicted the growth of bureaucracy as a direct consequence of societal modernization. He suggested (Gerth & Mills, 1958) that the transition from a traditional life-world would encourage an instrumental form of societal rationalization, eventually creating an “iron cage”, shaping and twisting individuals to its ends. Weber believed this gradual process of secular rationalization would result in the “disenchantment of the world”. He foresaw the traditional life-world, based upon religious beliefs, folk culture and underlying societal assumptions, being gradually eroded through a process of
The extent and direction of ‘rationalization’ is thus measured negatively in terms of the degree to which maniacal elements of thought are displaced, or positively by the extent to which ideas gain in systematic coherence and naturalistic consistency. The urge towards such a comprehensive and meaningful interpretation of the universe is ascribed to groups of intellectuals, to religious prophets and teachers, to sages and philosophers, to jurists and experimental artists, and finally, to the empirical scientist. Rationalization’, socially and historically differentiated, thus comes to have a variety of meanings. (Gerth & Mills, 1958, p. 51).
Weber (1958) and Ritzer (1993, p. 12) discuss the advantages to rationalization. But as Ritzer (1993) points out, the world’s corporations spend lots of money to tell us about these advantages. Through the years, there are dehumanizing results of rationalization of factory work.
According to Ritzer (1993, p. 1), McDonaldization is the process by which the principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as of the rest of the world. Ritzer (1994, p. 137) outlines five dominant themes within this McDonaldization process: Efficiency, Calculability, Predictability, Increased Control, and the Replacement of Human by Non-human Technology. The logic of McDonaldization, as explained by this author, has spread rationalization even further and into more aspects of our lives. In the modern franchise business, rationalization of action extends to the worker, to the consumer, and into every sector of social life, as emphasized by Ritzer (1994).
It is evident that both Weber and Ritzer dislike rationalization and McDonaldization. These processes, according to the two authors are dehumanizing. It is defeating creativity and robbing the people of humanity. They call it an “iron cage” (Weber, 1958) or a “rubber cage” (Ritzer, 1993). They believe that rationalization, despite its productivity, limits us as humans. Both also see rationalization as inevitable, though. As they point out, the push for productivity outweighs the push against dehumanization.
Gerth, H., & Mills, C.W. (1958). From Max Weber: essays in sociology. New York: Oxford
Ritzer, George. (1993). The McDonaldization of Society, Pine Forge Press.
Ritzer, George. (1994). Sociological Beginnings: On the Origins of Key Ideas in Sociology. McGraw-Hill.
Weber, Max. (1958). The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. New York: Scribners. pp. 181-82.
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