The Disneyization of Society


Alan Bryman

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    In this book, I seek to make a case that more and more aspects of our society are exhibiting features that are associated with the Disney theme parks. The idea of Disneyization springs from a conviction that there are changes to our social world that the Disney theme parks exemplify. Disneyization thus becomes a lens through which the nature of modern society can be viewed, as well as a way of thinking about issues to do with consumption and globalization.

    I am by no means the first person to suggest that modern society is increasingly taking on the characteristics of the Disney theme parks, but I discuss this issue in a systematic way rather than make general allusions to the influence of the Disney theme parks. In addition to drawing attention to ways in which the Disney parks may have been influential on a variety of social institutions and practices, I also argue that they exemplify certain developments that were in train before the first park opened (Disneyland in 1955). In other words, the Disney theme parks are emblematic of certain trends that I identify in this book while simultaneously having been influential in their own right.

    In attempting to adopt a more systematic approach than merely making general mention of the way in which many social institutions and practices increasingly resemble the Disney theme parks, I outline four aspects or dimensions of what I call ‘Disneyization’. Following a general introduction to the idea of Disneyization in Chapter 1, I then outline these four dimensions – theming, hybrid consumption, merchandising, and performative labour – in the succeeding four chapters. In these chapters, I show how each aspect of Disneyization operates in the Disney theme parks and the ways in which it can be discerned beyond the parks' environs in our wider society. In Chapter 6, I suggest that crucial to the successful operation of Disneyization are control and surveillance and I outline the ways in which these are salient to the Disney theme parks and to Disneyized institutions and practices more generally. In the final chapter, I link Disneyization to wider issues to do with consumption and globalization. Here, I raise the question of whether Disneyization should be viewed as a homogenizing trend that creates a standardized world. I coin the idea of a systemscape to help deal with this issue. Disneyization is treated as a systemscape in the sense of a set of underlying principles that are diffusing throughout the economy, culture and society, but which allow considerable variation in how they are implemented. Consequently, the forms that Disneyized institutions take on are likely to vary considerably. In this final chapter, I also seek to inject a more critical tone than is usually apparent in the other chapters, by asking how far Disneyization has adverse consequences and implications.

    While writing the book, I have drawn very occasionally on material that I have written elsewhere. I am grateful to: Blackwell Publishers for permission to use material from ‘The Disneyization of society’, The Sociological Review, 47 (1), 1999, 25–47; SAGE Publications Ltd. for permission to use material from ‘The wild animal in late modernity: the case of the Disneyization of zoos’, Tourism Studies, 1 (1), 2001, 83–104, written with Alan Beardsworth to whom I am further grateful for permission to use material from our joint work; and SAGE Publications, Inc. for permission to use material from ‘McDonald's as a Disneyized institution’, American Behavioral Scientist, 41 (2), 154–67.

    In this book, I have slightly changed the way in which I conceptualize the dimensions of Disneyization from the ways in which they were presented in these three articles. Hybrid consumption was formerly called ‘dedifferentiation of consumption’. In addition, performative labour is employed rather than ‘emotional labour’, which was the term employed in these three earlier publications, because I felt that a slightly less specific term was needed to capture trends in the area of work that I felt could be linked to the Disney theme parks.

    In addition, I would like to thank: Alan Beardsworth and Janet Wasko for constructive and helpful comments on drafts of the book; Chris Rojek and Kay Bridger of SAGE for their patience in the late delivery of my book, for helping me at all stages in getting it to publication, and for their unfailing support of my work; George Ritzer for giving us the idea of McDonaldization, which stimulated the concept of Disneyization, and for putting the idea of writing on McDonald's into my head; an anonymous reviewer for his or her comments; and Sue, Sarah and Darren for continuing to support my intrepid fieldwork in uncovering the extent to which our world is becoming Disneyized.

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