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What can a trip to the home furnishing store IKEA tell us the dynamics of human consumption and whether rationality truly leads to the best outcome? Victor Perez, associate professor of sociology at the University of Delaware, uses a hands-on learning experience to examine this question as part of his honors Introduction to Sociology class.
Perez takes his class to the IKEA store in White Marsh, Maryland, to bring to life the theory of McDonaldization, a concept introduced by American sociologist George Ritzer in his 1993 book, The McDonaldization of Society. Ritzer suggests that various human activities, including religious practices and healthcare, can be reduced to a model of consumption characterized by efficiency, predictability, calculation, standardization and control.
Perez asserts that IKEA epitomizes Ritzer's ideology. The company specializes in affordable products, often sold in compact "flat-pack" form which customers assemble at home.
During the visit, Perez highlights how the store’s strategic model achieves key performance objectives. He demonstrates how the principles of McDonaldization are evident in IKEA's operations.
After the visit, students assemble IKEA furniture in the classroom, allowing them to experience the IKEA customer journey firsthand. This exercise reveals the labor-intensive nature of consumer assembly, despite the attractive cost savings.
"As you might guess, the furniture isn't always easy to put together, and students get to challenge the philosophy of IKEA and what has made it such a huge success, pointing out that the 'rational' process of acquiring, transporting, assembling and disposing of the furniture is often 'irrational'," explains Perez.
Through their exploration of the realistic aspects of McDonaldization, students discover that the convenience offered by large retailers can have adverse effects on both consumers and society, leading to irrational outcomes.
Article by Gelina Dames
Photos by Gelina Dames
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Professor Victor Perez with his Honors Introduction to Sociology students.
Students participate in the classroom hands-on learning experience of assembling IKEA furniture.