November CSR Lunch Summary: The McDonaldization of Society

The first CSR Lunch of the season was on 12 November 2015 with Dr. Tobias Gössling, Assistant Professor of Organization Studies and Faculty of the Tilburg Sustainability Center, at Tilburg University. In his presentation Dr. Gössling presented the idea of the “McDonaldization of Society” and applied this concept and its effects to business ethics.

The term “McDonaldization of Society” comes from the American sociologist George Ritzer, and refers to a process that happens when a culture adopts the characteristics of a fast-food restaurant and so makes tasks easier to complete.  McDonaldization is an extension of rationalization, or moving from traditional to rational modes of thoughts and scientific management.

Following the four main principles of McDonaldization, Dr. Gössling introduced the impacts it has on business ethics:

Efficiency and rationality

Economic maximization and dealing with scarcity are basic principles of the processes in fast-food restaurants as they increase efficiency. Today there is a general agreement that business ethics should also be effective, though it has never been an issue before. Ethics raises philosophical questions and used to be answered by philosophers; today it is more of a managerial question and is performed by managers.


Fast-food restaurants with global franchise chains are standardized at a high level. If you go to a McDonald’s for example, you expect to get the same kind of food whether you are in Tokyo or in London. In the examined context, consumers also know what to expect from responsible organizations and apparently corporations report well on what is expected from them. Furthermore the standardization of CSR reports makes it easier to compare them and we all know what to expect when we open them.


In fast-food restaurants everything is pre-calculated: the size of the potatoes, the period of time they should be fried and even the number of pickles in a hamburger. Following the “if you can’t count it, it doesn’t count” principle, activities related to business ethics are nowadays also documented in figures and qualitative information is hardly given.

Substitution of non-human for human technology

In a fast-food restaurant food is already “pre-prepared”, employees just need to fry or put them together. Many steps of the processes are controlled and tracked by computers. And this is more and more present in activities linked to business ethics as well: employees must watch training videos on ethics and we can use standard guidelines to create CSR reports easier.

Dr. Gössling warns that though the impression to be a green and responsible company can be easily achieved, it could have a larger backlash effect, like it happened with BP or recently with VW. According to the professor if business ethics is object to managerial professionalization including efficiency-thinking and calculability, systems installed to prevent wrongdoing are likely to fail. This means a great challenge for business ethics research and practice.

By Renata Jendrolovits, 2015-16 CAS CSR participant