A Sociolgy of Culture, Taste and Value


A Sociolgy of Culture, Taste and Value
By Simon Stewart
Palgrave Macmillan – £58.00

This altogether informative, stimulating book, offers to cleanse much of the ideological mayhem that appears to so rampantly fester amid much of today’s seemingly broken society. And one of the most idiosyncratically inviting ways in which it does so, is by taking numerous chances. In other words, A Sociology of Culture, Taste and Value immediately tells as it unfortunately is.

A facet of the book that is profoundly apparent very early on.

Already in chapter one (‘Culture in a Rationalizing World’), author and Senior Lecturer at the University of Portsmouth, Simon Stewart, writes: ”[…] we are witnessing the McDonaldization of society, which 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 the rest of the world […] the four key principles of the McDonaldization process are efficiency, calculability, predictability and control” (my italics).

Control, being the optimum word here, whether it be through the media, sociological or indeed, economic means. Reason I mention the latter is because just yesterday (August 26th), McDonald’s, in the United Kingdom at least, announced the fact that they condoned zero-hours contracts. A ghastly economic template, which will continue to dehumanise an already fraught workforce with yet more feelings of worthlessness and disposability.

Two prime factors, that in the ultimate big scheme of things, have come to represent the fast food chain succinctly (if not perfectly).

The immediate above of which is coherently exemplified when Stewart writes: ”To work in a McDonaldized environment is dehumanizing and requires little creativity or use of reason; to consume in a McDonaldized environment means following inflexible rules and procedures so as to obtain a cultural product with few distinctive qualities […]. It is no surprise then, that the turnover of staff in fast-food restaurants is extremely high; the entire workforce in these restaurants is estimated to turn over three times a year in the USA.”

Meanwhile, in the second chapter (‘The Fate of Cultural Values’), the author further substantiates this exceedingly sad state of affairs from that of a historical perspective: ”In a speech given to the Association for Social Policy, Weber (1909) said that the passion for bureaucracy drove him to despair and that it was horrible to think ‘that the world could one day be filled with nothing but those little cogs, little men clinging to little jobs and striving towards bigger ones,’ and with the irrational consequences of an excess of formal rationality in mind, the crucial question that preoccupied Weber was exploring how ‘to keep a portion of mankind free from this parcelling-out of the soul.”

Is it any wonder that Britain, and to a certain extent the United States itself, are two of the most frustrated, if not unhappiest societies on the world?

They are also among the wealthiest.

There again: ”regarding the implication for the individual, Weber wrote that from the perspective of personal happiness there is something ‘so irrational about this sort of life, where a man exists for the sake of his business, instead of the reverse.”

Hmm; try telling that to the many thousands of yahoos whom so readily subscribe to (Mc)Donald Trump’s percolating pile of shit (‘n’ self-obsessed y’all) manifesto. A manifesto, of sorts, which brazenly translates as nothing other than: me me me.

A great many people need to read this most excellent of books. The aforementioned yahoos very much among them. Plus the NRA. Stupid people. Cruel people. The Queen and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Indeed, most powers that be – for whom humanity usually means very little.

David Marx


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