George Ritzer

George Ritzer

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George Ritzer is a sociologist who studies American patterns of consumption, globalization, metatheory, and modern and postmodern social theory
Social theory
Social theories are theoretical frameworks which are used to study and interpret social phenomena within a particular school of thought. An essential tool used by social scientists, theories relate to historical debates over the most valid and reliable methodologies , as well as the primacy of...

. Currently, Ritzer is Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland, College Park
University of Maryland, College Park
The University of Maryland, College Park is a top-ranked public research university located in the city of College Park in Prince George's County, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C...


Early life

Ritzer was born in 1940 to a Jewish family in New York City.
His father worked as a taxi cab driver and his mother was employed as a secretary in order to support Ritzer and his younger brother. Ritzer later described his upbringing as “upper lower class”. After his father became ill, Ritzer recalled instances when his mother had to break open the family's piggy bank in order to provide for the family.

Education and early employment

Ritzer graduated from the Bronx High School of Science in 1958. He described it as a great experience where he “encountered the brightest people I have ever met in my life”.

Ritzer began his education at the City College of New York. While at CCNY, Ritzer initially thought that he was going to focus on business and major in accounting. He later changed his major to accounting.

After graduating from CCNY in 1962, Ritzer decided that he was interested in pursuing business again. Ritzer was accepted into the MBA program at the University of Michigan, where he received a partial scholarship. While at Michigan, Ritzer's official academic interest was human relations, however, he reports having many other intellectual hobbies such as reading Russian novels. Ritzer reported that at Michigan, he was able to grow and improve as a student. He loved the city of Ann Arbor and the small college town feeling that it emitted. However, during his time at Michigan, Ritzer can clearly remember being greatly connected to global events. He reports memories of going to the Michigan Union to watch the happenings of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Ritzer graduated from The University of Michigan in 1964. After graduation, Ritzer began working in personnel management for the Ford Motor Company. However, he soon became uncomfortable with his workplace. Ritzer’s managers mistakenly hired more people than was necessary for his job, leaving Ritzer idle and unoccupied. As Ritzer once said: “If we had two hours of work a day, it was a lot”. Nevertheless, Ritzer was always expected to appear busy. He would constantly wander around the factory for hours observing people working. This caused many of the workers and foremen to become hostile towards Ritzer. Moreover, Ritzer also found problems within the management structure at Ford. Most of the younger people with advanced degrees argued with and opposed their elders who were less educated. Furthermore, Ritzer found himself constrained and unable to do anything creative while working at Ford. This experience led Ritzer to seek new opportunities for his life. Soon, Ritzer found himself applying to PhD programs.

Shortly thereafter, Ritzer enrolled in Cornell University’s organizational behavior PhD program in the School of Labor and Industrial Relations. Ritzer was advised by Harrison Trice, who urged him to minor in sociology. After being told by sociology department head Gordon Streib to read an introductory textbook, Ritzer found himself enthralled with the subject matter. He continued to succeed at sociology courses at the graduate level. During one of his courses on American society, Ritzer wrote a 102 page paper, on which he got an A+. Ritzer attributed his talent of being able to compete with well read and experienced sociology students to his ability to work hard.

Academic employment

After graduating from Cornell in 1968, Ritzer has received various academic appointments throughout his career
  • 1968-1970- Assistant Professor, Tulane University
  • 1970-1974- Associate Professor, University of Kansas
  • 1974-2001- Professor, University of Maryland
  • 1984- Visiting Exchange Professor, University of Surrey, England.
  • 1988- Visiting Professor, Shanghai University; Peking University
  • 1990- Visiting Exchange Professor, University of Surrey, England
  • 1996- Visiting Professor, University of Tampere, Finland
  • 2001- Visiting Professor, University of Bremen, Germany
  • 2001–present- Distinguished University Professor, University of Maryland
  • 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008- Visiting Professor, Associazione per l’Istituzione della Libera Università Nuorese, Sardinia, Italy

Ritzer's main ideas

Although known as a sociologist, Ritzer has never received a degree in sociology proper. As Ritzer said in a later interview “I basically trained myself as a social theorist, and so I had to learn it all as I went.” Furthermore, Ritzer found that not being trained in social theory was advantageous for him, simply because his reasoning was not limited to a particular theoretical perspective.


Ritzer’s idea of McDonaldization is an extension of Max Weber’s (1864–1920) classical theory of the rationalization of modern society and culture. Where Weber famously used the terminology of a “iron cage” to describe the stultifying, Kafkaesque effects of bureaucratized life, Ritzer argues that the McDonald’s restaurant has become the better exemplar of current forms of instrumental rationality and its ultimately irrational and harmful human consequences. Ritzer’s most relevant works pertaining to this idea are Ritzer’s own edited McDonaldization: The Reader (2nd edition 2006) and The McDonaldization Thesis: Extensions and Explorations (1998), as well as Alfino, Caputo, and Wynyard’s edited McDonaldization Revisited (1998) and Smart’s edited Resisting McDonaldization (1999).


An early admirer of Jean Baudrillard’s Consumer Society (1970), Ritzer is a leading proponent of the study of consumption. In addition to The McDonaldization of Society, the most important sources for Ritzer’s sociology of consumption are his edited Explorations in the Sociology of Consumption: Fast Food Restaurants, Credit Cards and Casinos (2001), Enchanting a Disenchanted World: Revolutionizing the Means of Consumption (2nd edition 2005, 3rd edition forthcoming), and Expressing America: A Critique of the Global Credit-Card Society (1995). Ritzer is also a founding editor, with Don Slater, of Sage’s Journal of Consumer Culture.


Referring to the rapidly increasing worldwide integration and interdependence of societies and cultures, Ritzer’s aforementioned The Globalization of Nothing (2004/2007) stakes out a provocative perspective in the on-going and voluminous globalization discourse. For Ritzer, globalization typically leads to consumption of vast quantities of serial social forms that have been centrally conceived and controlled –one McDonald’s hamburger, i.e., one instance of nothing again and again- dominates social life (Ritzer, George. 2004. The Globalization of Nothing. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press). In addition to The Globalization of Nothing, Ritzer has edited The Blackwell Companion to Globalization (2007), written Globalization: A Basic Text (2009), and edited an Encyclopedia of Globalization (forthcoming). Insight into Ritzer’s distinctive approach to globalization is available via a special review symposium in the Sage journal Thesis Eleven (Number 76, February 2004).


Influenced by Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), Ritzer has long advocated the view that social theory is improved by systematic, comparative and reflexive attention to implicit conceptual structures and oft-hidden assumptions. Key works include Sociology: A Multiple Paradigm Science (1975), Toward an Integrated Sociological Paradigm (1981), Metatheorizing in Sociology (1991), and Explorations in Social Theory: From Metatheorizing to Rationalization (2001). See also Ritzer’s edited Metatheorizing (1992).

Modern and postmodern social theory

Ritzer is known to generations of students as the author of numerous comprehensive introductions and compendia in social theory. As with several of Ritzer’s other principal works, many are translated into languages as diverse as Chinese, Russian, Persian, Hebrew and Portuguese. Key volumes in this genre include the Sociological Theory (7th edition 2008), Classical Sociological Theory (5th edition 2008), and Modern Sociological Theory (7th edition 2008), Encyclopedia of Social Theory (2 vols. 2005), and Postmodern Social Theory (1997). For convenient access to many of Ritzer’s substantive contributions to modern and postmodern social theorizing, see Explorations in Social Theory: From Metatheorizing to Rationalization (2001) as well as more recent work often co-authored with his many students, such as (with J. Michael Ryan) “Postmodern Social Theory and Sociology: On Symbolic Exchange with a ‘Dead’ Theory,” in Reconstructing Postmodernism: Critical Debates (2007).

Sociology: A Multiple Paradigm Science (1975, 1980)

Based on his original article appearing in the American Sociologist (The American Sociologist, Vol. 10, No. 3, August 1975 (pp. 156–167), this book provides a foundation for Ritzer’s other works on metatheory. The piece applies Thomas Kuhn's idea of scientific paradigms to sociology and demonstrating that sociology is a science consisting of multiple paradigms. Ritzer also discusses what implications this has for the field of sociology

Toward an Integrated Sociological Paradigm (1981)

In this book, Ritzer contends that sociology needs a paradigm that is integrated in order to add to the extant paradigms noted in Sociology: A Multiple Paradigm Science. Ritzer proposes an integrated paradigm dealing with the interrelationships between the many levels of social reality.

The McDonaldization of Society (1993)

In this book, George Ritzer demonstrates that society is becoming rationalized. However, building on Max Weber’s theory that bureaucracies are the foundation of the process of rationalization, Ritzer claims that the fast food restaurant has taken the place of bureaucracy in the model of rationalization. According to Ritzer, the four components of McDonaldization are
  • efficiency- employing the best and least wasteful route toward each goal
  • predictability- uniformity across settings and times
  • calculability- emphasizing quantity over quality
  • non human technology- taking of skills away from people

The McDonaldization of Society 5 (2008)

This new edition provides new and current examples of McDonaldization. A new chapter on the Starbucks phenomenon is included, suggesting that it is a variation of McDonaldization. However, it is not likely that Starbucks will replace McDonalds to model the rationalization process.

The Globalization of Nothing (2004)

This book suggests that societies are changing from valuing indigenous culture to that which is globalized and standardized. Ritzer analyzes the consequences of globalization worldwide.

Enchanting a Disenchanted World (2005)

In this book, Ritzer explores the large edifices that allow for large amounts of consumption in the world, including mega malls and casinos in Las Vegas. Among the most important things discussed is the difficulty of finding a balance between being highly rationalized and making themselves enchanting and attractive to consumers.

Leadership roles

George Ritzer has held notable positions of leadership, including
  • 2009-2010 – First Chair of the ASA Section-in-Formation on Global and Transnational Sociology
  • 2000 - American Sociological Association Distinguished Scholarly Publication

Award Committee
  • 1989–1990 Chair of Section on Theoretical Sociology, ASA

External links