Sources: Pathway to Meltdown

Online Sources

Your Apps Are Watching You

This Wall Street Journal investigation uncovers the many ways that smartphone apps monitor and collect their users’ buying habits, movements, and personal information. A great example of how technological advances bring about new forms of control and surveillance at the same time they promise increased autonomy and choice.

Security and Surveillance

One of the biggest debates in many countries since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 is how to balance the desire for security against the restrictive nature of citizen surveillance. This USA Today story investigates the National Security Agency’s monitoring of all U.S. citizens’ phone calls. And this NPR series (also here) explores the debate over whether surveillance cameras make us safer or simply invade our privacy, as does this segment from CNN.

The McDonaldization Website

Sociologist George Ritzer has been a great popularizer of Max Weber’s ideas about modernity and rationalization. Using the McDonald’s fast food chain as the quintessential example of rationalization, Ritzer argues that much of our society has been “McDonaldized.” The website for his work can be accessed here.

“The Merchants of Cool”

This PBS Frontline episode examines the creators and marketers of popular culture and their effect on teenagers. An excellent update to Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man. The program can be watched in full here.


This 1985 Terry Gilliam sci-fi flick about a man searching for a woman in his dreams provides some classic depictions of bureaucracy and totalitarianism, including this clip.

The Lives of Others

A film that takes us deep into the social and psychological workings of the former East Germany’s citizen surveillance programs. You can watch the trailer here.

Film and Television Sources

“Are We Safer?”

This PBS Frontline episode explores the growing reach of post-9/11 surveillance into the lives of ordinary Americans. The program can be watched in full here.

Food, Inc.

This documentary provides many examples of the rationalization of food in the United States. The scenes of chicken farming are particularly instructive. For more on how to use the film in class, check out this post over at Sociological Cinema.

Quiet Rage

This documentary examines psychologist Phil Zimbardo’s 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, in which the simulation of prison conditions revealed a great deal about the power of authority. Check out the website for the study, for more information about the film and the study itself.

Do the Right Thing

Spike Lee’s film of a pizzeria boycott in the Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn is an artful depiction of race in America. It can also be used to illustrate Weber’s ideal-types of social action. Have students watch clips of the film and discuss how closely the actions of Buggin’ Out, Mookie, Radio Raheem, Sal, and Jade fit each ideal-type. You can watch the trailer here.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

This classic film starring Jack Nicholson as Randle McMurphy, an anti-authoritarian patient in an Oregon mental hospital, provides moving examples of charismatic (in the case of McMurphy) and rational-legal (in the case of Nurse Ratchet) domination. The famous scene in which McMurphy tries (unsuccessfully) to change the rules in order to watch a baseball game is particularly touching. You can watch the trailer here.


Modern Times

Charlie Chaplin’s wonderful portrayal of a tramp who struggles to deal with the rationalization of capitalist production. The classic can be watched in full here.

Office Space

Mike Judge’s popular film Office Space provides dozens of hard-hitting (and hilarious) examples of the rationalization of the workforce. This clip about cover letters and TPS reports is a great instance of many modern companies’ prioritization of rules over substance.

Reading Sources

Adorno, Theodor. 2001. “How to Look at Television.”

A critical take on America’s favorite leisure activity by one of the Frankfurt School’s most prominent theorists.

Foucault, Michel. 2003 [1973]. “The Old Age of the Clinic.” Pp. 54–64 in The Birth of the Clinic. New York: Routledge.

An excerpt from Foucault’s study of the emergence of modern medical knowledge and perception.

Giddens, Anthony. 2000. Runaway World: How Globalization is Reshaping Our Lives. New York: Routledge.

This collection of lectures from the British theorist provides a sweeping and mostly optimistic take on globalization.

Lanier, Jaron. 2010. You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto. New York: Knopf.

Lanier, the computer scientist who created virtual reality technology, takes a critical but balanced view of the disenchanting effects of many contemporary digital technologies.

Lyon, David. 1994. The Electronic Eye: The Rise of the Surveillance Society. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

A sociologist updates Foucault for the digital age, exploring how electronic surveillance technologies affect our everyday lives as well as the broader social order.

Mann, Michael. 2005. The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing. New York: Cambridge University Press.

This provocative book by the UCLA sociologist argues that ethnic cleansing is part of modernity and, in particular, democracy. It is a different take than Bauman’s book on the Holocaust but is just as important in its implications.

Schlosser, Eric. 2001. Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. New York: Houghton Mifflin Books.

For a good example of the rationalization of food itself, see Chapter 5 on “Why the Fries Taste Good.”

Weber, Max. 1919. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, edited by H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills. New York: Routledge.

This collection includes “Science as a Vocation,” Weber’s famous lecture on what modern science can and cannot guarantee those who seek it out as their profession.

Foucault, Michel. 2001. “The Great Confinement.” Pp. 35–60 in Madness and Civilization. New York: Routledge.

Another excerpt from Foucault’s study of the construction of “madness” in Europe. This chapter explores how “madness” was handled in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Wheatland, Thomas. 2009. The Frankfurt School in Exile. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

In this book, Wheatland re-examines the role that the Frankfurt School, most notably Horkheimer and Marcuse, played in American intellectual life and German postwar sociology. You can listen to an interview with Wheatland here.