Nothing beats a 2x2 matrix: a short commentary on George Ritzer's Globalization of nothing
conference contributionposted on 2008-03-04, 10:31 authored by Geoffrey Lightfoot
Near the start of his keynote address at last summer’s CMS5, Professor Ritzer boldly declared that he was critical of nothing. And, as his talk went on, so it seemed. Worse, perhaps, malcontents in the audience suggested that the organisers and delegates of the conference may have received nothing new for their money, for this was the same presentation (talk, slides and even the jokes) delivered in Australia two years earlier, itself derived from a paper published two years before that. But in that paper Ritzer claims: "Nothing has an advantage in terms of transportation around the world. These are things that generally can be easily and efficiently packaged and moved, often over vast areas" (Ritzer 2003:200). Had I missed the joke? Was this actually decorous: an elaborate performance critiquing academia and self? Whether by memory-stick, CD or just t’Net, slick slides slip easily from place to place. And a quick glance at Ritzer’s c.v. shows that the reach of the McDonaldization thesis approaches that of the eponymous company. Was Ritzer somehow arguing that his work, and academic endeavour in general, was nothing? Or that no work was better than nothing? We shall see. To aid our understanding of his complex material, Ritzer deployed a 2x2 matrix – a device of cunning simplicity which is at its most effective when one corner is clearly ‘good’ and the opposite ‘bad’. Armed with such a tool the world can be neatly packaged and our strategic direction decided. But beyond the mere banalities of management, a more sophisticated matrix might be necessary – one that captures the fluidity and ambiguity of the social world. And, to use such a device as part of the construction of a ‘grand narrative,’ we shall need to carefully consider the axes by which we shall cleave the world. We may require new terms that capture what has hitherto been missed, as well as audacious re-interpretation and re-examination of existing concepts (while ensuring that we continue to pay attention to other theoretical work within that canon). Not only that, to avoid (postmodern and feminist) accusations of judgemental elitism, it may be necessary to derive new objective criteria through which we can safely allocate and partition social artefacts. And through examination of these discursive moves, we may be able to better understand how knowledge is created in ‘the critical study of contemporary social phenomena.