Pathway To Meltdown

Introductory Essay: Your Smart Phone Might Be an Evil Genius Smart phones are but one example of how our social world is becoming more and more shaped by technology. From the pious Puritans of Weber to the one-dimensional men of the Frankfurt School, we explore the pitfalls and promises of a rationalized, modern society.

Office Space

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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.

Modern Times

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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.

Bauman, Zygmunt. 2000 [1989]. Modernity and the Holocaust.

A brilliant and disturbing argument about how rationalization and bureaucracy helped make the Holocaust possible. Chapters 4, 5, and 6 are especially relevant and highly recommended.

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

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

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

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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.


Monty Python and the Holy Grail

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This humorous clip discussing traditional and rational-legal forms of domination provides some levity to Weber’s writings on the subject.

The Lives of Others

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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.

Do the Right Thing

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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.


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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.

Quiet Rage

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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.

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