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Book Review: The Globalization of Nothing - George Ritzer



George Ritzer is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he has been honored with University's Teaching Excellence award. He also served as Chair of the American Sociological Association's Sections on Theoretical Sociology and Organizations and Occupations, and received a Distinguished Scholar-Teacher Award from them as well. He has published extensively and is best known for his "McDonaldization" thesis, as laid out in the book, The McDonaldization of Society.

The thesis: Ritzer asserts that in the "grand narrative," the world, because of both the causes and effects of globalization, is moving from "something" (defined as local, indigenous, relationship-driven social forms) to "nothing" (defined as that which is centralized, dehumanized and devoid of substance). With a focus on consumption, he asserts that "this analysis foresees the death of the local," and heralds the idea of "loss amidst monumental abundance," while simultaneously arguing that "the most basic struggle will occur within the global rather than between the global and the local." (p. xiii).

The first 3 chapters give a "detailed presentation of what is meant here by nothing" (p. xvi). Chapter 4 focuses on the "equally important concept of globalization and a series of its subdimensions - glocalization and grobalization" (p. xvi). Chapter 5 is where the main argument of the book is made, and where the two main concepts of the book, globalization and nothing are discussed. Chapter 6 explores the "ultimate example of the globalization of nothing - large-scale Internet sites devoted to consumption" (p. xvi). Chapter 7 deals with a wide range of issues pertaining to "nothing" and their relation to globalization while Chapter 8 continues those thoughts with the focus more on globalization, dealing with "a series of issues relating to globalization... including what can be done by those concerned about the problematic aspects of the globalization of nothing" (p. xvi).

Ritzer spends an exhaustive (and exhausting) amount of time making a good, but sometimes biased point. The point is that the causes and effects of globalization are changing our social forms, for better or worse. In my book he could have said this using far fewer words. I felt that in contrasting indigenous social forms as "something" with centralized social forms as "nothing", even though he adds a caveat that "nothing" isn't necessarily bad (p. 7-9), he created a form of cultural imperialism. It is obvious that his bias is toward the "something." By couching his arguments, basis, and points in the way that he did, he actually contradicted the very message, or bias, he was trying to promulgate. It is true, however, that this "grand narrative" that he discusses, the globalization of nothing (at least in his book), is changing the landscape of our global social forms. There are both upsides and downsides to this. Although he uses Starbucks as a whipping post, Starbucks is the centerpiece for a successful church planting strategy in Dusseldorf, Germany. That is the upside. Starbucks, the pinnacle of "nothing", now becomes a lightning rod for God's activity in a spiritual wasteland. Not bad for a "non-place" serving "non-things" by "non-people".

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