The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

  • 82 672 8
  • Like this paper and download? You can publish your own PDF file online for free in a few minutes! Sign Up

The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

This page intentionally left blank Challenges and Critique Edited by MICHAEL HVIID JACOBSEN Aalborg University, De

2,480 1,072 806KB

Pages 256 Page size 252 x 378.36 pts Year 2008

Report DMCA / Copyright


Recommend Papers

File loading please wait...
Citation preview


This page intentionally left blank

The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman Challenges and Critique

Edited by MICHAEL HVIID JACOBSEN Aalborg University, Denmark and POUL PODER Univeristy of Copenhagen, Denmark

© Michael Hviid Jacobsen and Poul Poder 2008 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the publisher. Michael Hviid Jacobsen and Poul Poder have asserted their right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the editors of this work. Published by Ashgate Publishing Limited Gower House Croft Road Aldershot Hampshire GU11 3HR England

Ashgate Publishing Company Suite 420 101 Cherry Street Burlington, VT 05401-4405 USA

Ashgate website: British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data The sociology of Zygmunt Bauman : challenges and critique 1. Bauman, Zygmunt, 1925- 2. Sociology I. Jacobsen, Michael Hviid, 1971- II. Poder, Poul 301'.092 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data The sociology of Zygmunt Bauman : challenges and critique / edited by Michael Hviid Jacobsen and Poul Poder. p. cm. Includes index. ISBN 978-0-7546-7060-5 (alk. paper) 1. Bauman, Zygmunt, 1925- 2. Sociology. I. Jacobsen, Michael Hviid, 1971- II. Poder, Poul. HM479.B39S63 2008 301.092--dc22 2007041398 ISBN 978-0-7546-7060-5

Printed and bound in Great Britain by TJ International Ltd, Padstow, Cornwall.

Contents List of Contributors Introduction: The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman – Challenges and Critique Michael Hviid Jacobsen and Poul Poder

vii 1

Part 1 Methodological Issues 1 Bauman on Metaphors – A Harbinger of Humanistic Hybrid Sociology Michael Hviid Jacobsen and Sophia Marshman


2 Bauman on Ambivalence – Fully Acknowledging the Ambiguity of Ambivalence Matthias Junge


Part 2 Ethics 3 Bauman on Ethics – Intimate Ethics for a Global World? Manni Crone


4 Bauman on Genocide – Modernity and Mass Murder: From Classification to Annihilation? Sophia Marshman


Part 3 Social Integration 5 Bauman on Freedom – Consumer Freedom as the Integration Mechanism of Liquid Society Poul Poder


6 Bauman on Consumerism – Living the Market-Mediated Life Tony Blackshaw


7 Bauman on Globalization – The Human Consequences of a Liquid World Mark Davis


8 Bauman on Strangers – Unwanted Peculiarities Niclas Månsson


Part 4 Politics 9 Bauman on Politics – Stillborn Democracy Mikael Carleheden


10 Bauman on Power – From ‘Solid’ to ‘Light’? Robert Campain



The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

11 Bauman on Utopia – Welcome to the Hunting Zone Michael Hviid Jacobsen


Postscript: Bauman on Bauman – Pro Domo Sua Zygmunt Bauman




List of Contributors Zygmunt Bauman (born 1925), Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Warsaw, Poland, and the University of Leeds, England. Internationally acclaimed sociologist who throughout the last four decades has published more than 25 books in English and numerous articles in a variety of journals. Among the most significant, prominent and agenda-setting of his book are Modernity and the Holocaust (1989), which won him the Amalfi Prize and the Adorno Prize, Postmodern Ethics (1993), Liquid Modernity (2000) and Society Under Siege (2002). Recently he has published Liquid Fear (2006), Liquid Times (2007) and Consuming Life (2007). Tony Blackshaw (born 1960), teaches at Sheffield Hallam University, England. He is author of a number of books and articles which are either on or apply the work of Zygmunt Bauman. The former include Zygmunt Bauman (2005), “Too Good for Sociology” in a special issue of The Polish Sociological Review celebrating Zygmunt Bauman (edited by Michael Hviid Jacobsen & Keith Tester, 2006) and “Zygmunt Bauman” in Rob Stones (ed.): Key Sociological Thinkers (2007). The latter include: Leisure Life: Myth, Masculinity and Modernity (2003) and New Perspectives on Sport and ‘Deviance’: Consumption, Performativity and Social Control (with Tim Crabbe, 2004). Robert Campain (born 1963), is an honorary research fellow in the School of Social Sciences, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia. He completed his doctoral dissertation in 2005 entitled The Decaying Foundations: A Comparative Study of the Work of Zygmunt Bauman and John Carroll in which he examines social order through a comparative analysis of Zygmunt Bauman and John Carroll. Mikael Carleheden (born 1958), Associate Professor of Sociology at the Department of Social and Political Sciences, Örebro University, Sweden. He is presently working out a theory about the structural transformation of modernity on both micro and macro level. His latest publications in English are: “The Transformation of Our Conduct of Life: One Aspect of the Three Epochs of Western Modernity”, Distinktion: Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory, No. 13 (2006), and “Towards Democratic Foundations: A Habermasian Perspective on the Politics of Education”, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 38 (5) (2006). Manni Crone (born 1963), Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Department of Political Science, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. She is Master of Political Science from Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris. She wrote her PhD thesis on the political philosophy of Leo Strauss with a special emphasis on modern and classical


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

ethics (2000). She is currently working on Islamic secularism in France, Islamic consumer practices and current transformations of Islamic authority. Mark Davis (born 1978), Lecturer in Sociology at the School of Sociology & Social Policy at University of Leeds, England. He received his PhD in 2006 having completed a study of the concept of freedom in Zygmunt Bauman’s English-language writings. He is currently working on a proposal to establish a research centre in Bauman’s honour at the University of Leeds and continues to write on different aspects of Bauman’s sociology. His forthcoming book, Freedom & Consumption: A Critique of Zygmunt Bauman’s Sociology, will be published by Ashgate in 2008. Michael Hviid Jacobsen (born 1971), Associate Professor of Sociology at the Department of Sociology, Social Work & Organisation at Aalborg University, Denmark. For many years he has written extensively on the work of Zygmunt Bauman and published several articles and books including Zygmunt Bauman – den postmoderne dialektik (2004), Bauman Before Postmodernity (with Keith Tester, 2005), Om Bauman – kritiske essays (edited with Poul Poder, 2006), Baumans mosaik (2006), a special issue of The Polish Sociological Review Celebrating Zygmunt Bauman (edited with Keith Tester, 2006) and Bauman Beyond Postmodernity (with Sophia Marshman & Keith Tester, 2007). Matthias Junge (born 1960), Professor of Sociological Theory and History of Sociological Theory at the University of Rostock, Germany. His recent publications include: Ambivalente Gesellschaftlichkeit (2000), Zygmunt Bauman: Soziologie zwischen Postmoderne und Ethik (with Thomas Kron, 2001/2006), Individualisierung (2002), Macht und Moral: Beiträge zur Dekonstruktion von Moral (2003) and Zygmunt Bauman (2006). Sophia Marshman (born 1974), lectures in the Media Department at the University of Portsmouth, England. Her chief research interest is in the Holocaust and cultural memory. Recent publications include: “Metaphorically Speaking – Metaphors as a Methodological and Moral Signifier of the Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman”, The Polish Sociological Review, no. 3 (with Michael Hviid Jacobsen, 2006), and “The Metaphorical Imagination – Zygmunt Bauman’s Poetics of the Transformation of Modernity”, Sosiologisk Årbok, no. 1-2 (with Michael Hviid Jacobsen, 2007). She is currently involved in completing a variety of articles analysing the sociology of Zygmunt Bauman. Niclas Månsson (born 1965), Senior lecturer in education at the Department of Social Science at Mälardalens University, Sweden. His PhD thesis (2005) on negative socialisation focuses on the stranger in the writings of Zygmunt Bauman. Månsson is a member of the research group Studies of Difference in Educational Settings and his publications includes “Varför finns det främlingar?” (2005), Invandrare & minoriteter, no. 4, “Två berättelser om moralens ursprung” (2006), Finsk tidskrift, no. 1, and “Romers möte med den svenska skolan” (2006), in Carl Anders Säfström (ed.): Den mångtydiga skolan. Lund: Studentlitteratur.

List of Contributors


Poul Poder (born 1965), Assistant Professor of Sociology at the Department of Sociology, Copenhagen University, Denmark. He introduced the work of Bauman to Danish audience in the beginning of the 1990s and has among other pieces published “The Telos Interview” in Bauman Reader, (ed.) Peter Beilharz (2000), Om Bauman – kritiske essays (edited with Michael Hviid Jacobsen, 2006), “Our Present: Postmodern”, in Heine Andersen & Lars Bo Kaspersen (eds.): Classical and modern Social Theory (2000), and “Relatively Liquid Interpersonal Relationships in Flexible Work Life” in The Contemporary Bauman (ed.) Anthony Elliott (2007). Another research area is the sociology of emotion in which he has written his PhD thesis entitled Feelings of Power and the Power of Feelings: Handling Emotion in Organisational Change (2004), and “The Political Regulation of Anger in Organizations” in Regulating Emotions: Culture, Social Necessity, and Biological Inheritance (2008).

This page intentionally left blank


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman – Challenges and Critique Michael Hviid Jacobsen and Poul Poder

“I don’t care who’s right or who’s wrong. There has to be some better way for people to live” – Grace Kelly: High Noon

Introduction Books on Zygmunt Bauman’s work abound – and in these years with increasing intensity perhaps mirroring the urgency and receptivity of the ideas expounded in Bauman’s own books. Peter Beilharz’s Zygmunt Bauman: Dialects of Modernity (Beilharz 1999), Dennis Smith’s Zygmunt Bauman: Prophet of Postmodernity (Smith 1999), Keith Tester’s The Social Thought of Zygmunt Bauman (Tester 2004), Michael Hviid Jacobsen’s Zygmunt Bauman (Jacobsen 2004), Tony Blackshaw’s Zygmunt Bauman (Blackshaw 2005), Michael Hviid Jacobsen and Keith Tester’s Bauman Before Postmodernity and Bauman Beyond Postmodernity (Tester & Jacobsen 2005; Jacobsen, Marshman & Tester) and most recently the edited volume The Contemporary Bauman (Elliott 2007).1 All these books contain valuable insights into the life and ideas of Zygmunt Bauman. However, most of them remain expository rather than exploratory, biographical and chronological rather than thematic and contextualizing. In this book we wish to bridge these different aims. As the title The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman – Challenge and Critique indicates, this book is different in important respects which will be explained below. The book aspires to capture, contextualize and critically appraise many of the central and recurrent themes in Bauman’s work – themes that constitute cornerstones in his special way of doing sociology.

1 Add to this already impressive list also Peter Beilharz’s The Bauman Reader (Beilharz 2001) and the four-volume set Zygmunt Bauman containing commentaries, articles and reviews (Beilharz 2002). The first book on Bauman’s sociology appeared in 1996 and was edited by Richard Kilminster and Ian Varcoe in Culture, Modernity and Revolution: Essays in Honour of Zygmunt Bauman (Kilminster & Varcoe 1996). A useful introduction to the writings and perspective of Bauman can also be found in the interview book Conversations with Zygmunt Bauman (Bauman & Tester 2001).


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

At the Core of Bauman’s Sociology Zygmunt Bauman is a sociologist of sorts and various attempts at categorizing his way of doing sociology has been attempted throughout the years with a multitude of stock phrases and labels such as ‘storyteller’, ‘socialist’, ‘structuralist’, ‘critical theorist’, ‘humanistic Marxist’, ‘existentialist’, ‘hermeneutic sociologist’, ‘postmodernist’ or as a hybrid ‘poet-intellectual’ between sociology and poetry. Most introductions emphasize how Bauman’s work is very difficult to nail down or seems slippery as he eclectically draws on a variety of theoretical sources rather than sticks to a certain theoretical orientation and because he continuously insists on sitting astride those barriers intended to separate between traditions, perspectives and schools of thought. In many of the aforementioned introductions there is a tendency primarily to describe Bauman’s work negatively by mentioning what it is not or to focus on how various themes have been played out chronologically throughout Bauman’s work. With this book we want to do something different than focussing on Bauman’s discussion of, for example, postmodernity or the dialectic of modernity or liquid modernity. Rather we want to introduce and critically discuss Bauman’s work as a certain kind of sociology in an overall sense. It is important to recognize that Bauman’s sociology is more than an essayistic collection of scattered analyses and diagnoses of particular and unconnected themes. We contend that there is a need to emphasize this dimension as other Bauman introductions have mostly prioritised the extraordinary character of his work. His work may be extraordinary in many senses – in style, passion and originality – but it is not transgressing sociology as a discipline. Rather Bauman in his work is directed towards revizing and revitalizing sociological theory through pushing and challenging the outer limits of established and doxic assumptions. Throughout the years he has defended the necessity of sociology even at times when such a defence seemed quixotic. This book seeks to explore in what ways Bauman confronts classical sociological issues of, for example, morality, power and globalization in order to counter established concepts, and how he wishes to engage with issues traditionally located outside the realm of conventional sociology such as the issue of freedom, strangeness and ambivalence. Moreover, his work can also be characterized as a challenge to sociology in itself through his more poetically approach exemplified by his use of metaphors and his politically inspired approach exemplified through his preoccupation with utopianism. Contrary to many of the prominent sociologists of the day whose efforts at theory construction culminated in the early 1980s, Bauman has never aspired to build elaborate or all-encompassing theoretical systems such as Niklas Luhmann (1984), Anthony Giddens (1984) or Jürgen Habermas (1981). Nowhere in his many books will one find a definitive and self-proclaimed theoretical testament. Neither does he present an interwoven set of essential theoretical analytical concepts – e.g. field, habitus and capital – which constitute the backbone of the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu (1977). However, an essential feature of Bauman’s sociology is his ongoing dialogue with conventional sociological vocabulary through criticizing existing assumptions and by way of developing new understandings through neologisms such as, for example, ‘adiaphorization’ or ‘allosemitism’ or by way of his metaphorical cornucopia intended to illustrate the lived experience of a variety of people such as



‘flawed consumers’, ‘players’ and ‘legislators’ (see Jacobsen & Marshman 2006). In this way, another special feature of Bauman’s sociology is the concern with the ‘human consequences’ of social development. He is not concerned with abstract or ethereal social processes, but with the concrete and often merciless repercussions on those whose lives are most severely affected by social transformations and in his descriptions he staunchly remains on the side of those marginalized, hurt or excluded. The questions that Bauman has sought to answer (or rather to pose) have been what social developments have meant with respect to the morality and suffering of human beings and he generally focuses on everyday human concerns to do with community, love and memory and the pain and happiness they bring (Blackshaw 2005:16). In further describing the core of Bauman’ sociological work we want to suggest that his work can best be characterized as an odyssey of the transformation of modernity with its concomitant intensive and extensive repercussions on all aspects of human life. As is evident from all his books, he has been preoccupied with this broad topic of modernity’s transformation and its human consequences and therefore he is truly a generalist rather than a specialist sociologist. This topic defines his sociology rather than his adherence to particular schools of thoughts: “I was seeking for an answer to the same questions all along, and if I didn’t find it, I moved elsewhere. But I took the questions with me” (Bauman 1992:207). Thus, Bauman focuses attention on selected aspects of this transformation. As he observes regarding his own kind of ‘method’: “In all my books I constantly enter the same room, only that I enter the room through different doors. So I see the same things, the same furniture, but out of a different perspective” (Bauman in Welzer 2002:109). Bauman enters this furnished ‘room’ containing the story of the transformation of modernity through a variety of different ‘doors’ – the Holocaust, ethics, globalization, freedom, consumerism, utopia, ambivalence, the working class, the intellectuals, community, death, love, sexuality, strangers, etc. Although all these ‘doors’ lead to the same room, their different location allows a shift in perspective on the ‘furniture’ in the room. Therefore, all these different doors make it possible to look at the same thing, but from different perspectives. On a methodological level, Bauman has also contributed with a refreshing and original perspective by proposing ‘defamiliarization’ and ‘sociological hermeneutics’ as central tenets of his sociology. Throughout his work he seeks to defamiliarize the social world as we have come to understand it, since “concepts tend to outlive the historical configurations which gave them birth and infused them with meaning. This tendency is rooted in the natural propensity to absorb and accommodate new experience into the familiar picture of the world; habitual categories are the main tools of this absorption. New experience does not fit the categories easily” (Bauman 1982:192). In order to allow a new look or a deeper understanding such defamiliarization is part and parcel of any critical and innovative sociological imagination. As a sociologist, one should therefore seek to ‘defamiliarize the familiar’ because familiarity may hamper and hinder inquisitiveness and the impetus to innovate and transform. In Bauman’s view a sociology bend on defamiliarization is something that should be appropriated not only within the university but by people outside the confines of academia: “To all those who think that living life in a more conscious way is worth the effort, sociology is a welcome guide” (Bauman &


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

May 2001:10). Defamiliarization shatters the impenetrable walls of common sense that prevents us from experiencing and understanding the world anew. Therefore, defamiliarization is inherently heretical and iconoclastic because by examining that which is taken-for-granted, it has the potential to disturb the comfortable certitudes of life by asking questions no one can remember asking and those with vested interests resent even being asked … It may open up new and previously unsuspected possibilities of living one’s life with other with more self-awareness, more comprehension of our surroundings in terms of greater self and social knowledge and perhaps also with more freedom and control (Bauman & May 2001:10).2

The same insistently inquisitive quality is to be found in Bauman’s so-called ‘sociological hermeneutics’ – as distinct from, but not opposed to ‘hermeneutic sociology’ – which is bent on asking the most pertinent of questions and critically examining and interpreting the most problematic of answers and which, when put to use, intensify our ability to penetrate into the actual workings of the world. As he stated in recent conversation, his sociological hermeneutics “demands that whenever we pursue the meaning of human thoughts or actions we ought to look into socially shaped conditions of people whose thoughts or actions we intend to understand/explain” (Jacobsen & Tester 2007:324). In this way, Bauman’s sociological hermeneutics are akin to C. Wright Mills’s ‘sociological imagination’ which sought to make its practitioners and users able to transcend the trappings of personal problems or the seductions of individual illusions by linking biography to history and structural developments (Mills 1959). To Bauman, sociology cannot stop short of being an ongoing, collaborative interpretation of the human world in order to understand how it may eventually be improved. As mentioned, Bauman’s sociology is very much defined by his persistent engagement with one central topic and his ongoing concerns with what social developments and transformations mean with respect to the freedom, justice, morality and the suffering of fellow human beings. A way of understanding why Bauman has been so persistently engaged in this set of concerns – the effect of social transformations on individual lives – can be to attend to his own personal and biographical past which became a dramatic topic of discussion in the spring of 2007 during the completion of this book.

2 Bauman started out as an outsider, as an Eastern European Jewish exile in an English outskirts university, but gradually moved into the centre of intellectual and academic attention in which he today occupies the position as one of the most widely read and acclaimed contemporary sociologists. In this way, Bauman’s intellectual trajectory is an archetypal specimen of what Pierre Bourdieu (1988) once dubbed ‘consecrated heretics’ or ‘heresiarchs’ – autonomous scholars who, according to Bourdieu, are heretics because they question the doxa and criticize the conventions of their discipline by proposing new and heretofore uncharted conceptual and theoretical territory to be discovered, and consecrated because they – despite their marginal position in official academic reproduction – end up upholding prestigious positions and succeed in communicating with the wider public.



A Life in the Shadow of Totalitarianism In order to understand why Zygmunt Bauman has been so persistently engaged with understanding especially the issues of morality and totalitarianism, autonomy and heteronomy, the possibilities of and obstacles to decent and moral human existence in the shadow of inhumanities considering his personal background is helpful. At least, we suggest that his thorough academic engagement is understandable on the basis of his own personal experiences of being a victim, but possibly also a perpetrator of totalitarianism. On November 18th 1925, Bauman was born into a poor Jewish family in Poznan, Poland. When he was 14 years old in September 1939 his family fled the Nazi occupation of Poland and came to live in the Soviet Union during the Stalin regime. Here some of his formal schooling took place and initially he had ambitions of becoming a physicist and started studies at a Soviet university, but the outbreak of World War II made him join the military instead. He joined the exiled Polish Army in the Soviet Union in 1943 at the age of 18 and quickly rose through the ranks. By the end of the war he was wounded, but was still capable of participating in the Red Army’s liberation of Berlin in May 1945. Upon his return to post-war Poland he initially reached the rank of Captain in the reconstructed Polish army, later to become one of the youngest Majors in the Polish army (Smith 1999:39). In 1948, at the Warsaw Academy of Social Sciences, Zygmunt met his wife and life-long companion, Janina, who as an inhabitant in the Warsaw ghetto had initially survived the Nazi persecutions and who later for more than two years managed to hide from the Nazis in the houses of ordinary helpful people thereby escaping deportation to the death camps (see Bauman 1986). Zygmunt officially became a member of the Communist Party in 1951 (Bielefeld 2002:113ff) and as Janina later described, he was initially a devoted believer in the ideas and ideals of a better socialist society promised and proclaimed by the Communist Party. In 1953 he started an academic career as a sociologist when he at the age of twenty-eight was dismissed from the army during anti-Semitic and ‘deJudaising’ purges. He completed his MA in the social sciences at the University of Warsaw in the early 1950s and earned himself a position as lecturer at the Faculty of Social Sciences in 1954. In the following years he received his PhD and made trips to the London School of Economics and the University of Manchester, where he conducted research on, amongst other themes, the English labour movement and the socialist party. From the early 1960s he started editing Polish sociology journals (Bunting 2003:23), functioned as principal editor of Studia Socjologiczne and published several articles on specific Polish issues before in 1964 obtaining the position as Chair of General Sociology at Warsaw. Throughout this period he also published numerous books on topics such as British socialism, critiques of American sociology, everyday life and culture many of which were later re-issued in English (Tester & Jacobsen 2005:223-224). In 1966 he was elected President of the Executive Committee of the Polish Sociological Association. During this period he remained a loyal, yet increasingly critical member of the Communist Party, but this came to a swift and dramatic halt in January 1968 when he handed in his party membership card.


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

Several incidents had lead up to this dramatic decision – particularly one incident in 1965 when a critical letter on the state of Polish socialism authored by two students at the university was subjected to the scrutiny of a committee consisting of Leszek Kołakowski, Wlodzimierz Brus and Bauman who allowed the letter to be publicized. As a consequence, Bauman was eventually dismissed from his position as Chair of Sociology in late March 1968 accused of bearing responsibility for the student revolt against the Party and of corrupting the Polish youth. Also this round of purges bore clear signs of anti-Semitism on behalf of the system and ended Bauman’s illusions of the wonders and promised ideals of state socialism. Together with his wife and his children he had to flee the country first to Israel via a refugee camp in Austria. For three years they stayed in Israel and later enjoyed brief spells in Canada and Australia where Bauman took up short-term teaching positions. In 1970 they arrived at their, until now, final destination, Leeds in England. Here Bauman taught and functioned as leader of the sociology department until his retirement in 1990. In brief, throughout his life Bauman has suffered several deeply personal experiences as being a victim of totalitarianism in different forms such as Nazism and antiSemitism. Naturally, such deep-seated experiences cannot but influence and inform his way of doing sociology. As he contended in his inaugural speech as professor of sociology at the University of Leeds in the early 1970s: “In the professional life of a sociologist his most intimate, private biography is inextricably entangled with the biography of his discipline; one thing the sociologist cannot transcend in his quest for objectivity is his own, intimate and subjective encounter-with-the-world” (Bauman 1972:185). Thus, Bauman’s ‘encounter-with-the-world’ as a victim of totalitarianism has, without any doubt, played a significant role in his own choice of topics and perspectives. Recently, however, the Polish historian Bogdan Musial in Frankfurter Allgemenine Zeitung has claimed that Bauman, apart from being himself a victim of totalitarian purges, participated in the political cleansing of opponents of the regime while in the pay of the Polish Secret Service. Bauman responded to Musial’s allegations, which were also published in the rightwing Polish magazine Ozon, by stating that: “What is true in his article is not new, because everybody knew I was a communist, and that I served also for several years in the ‘internal army’” (Edemariam 2007), the only new fact being that he joined the secret service for three years when he was 19. About this cooperation with intelligence Bauman explains that it came about as an accident of history as the Fourth Division, in which Bauman was placed during World War II, was co-opted for the job rather than the Second or Third Division. His job consisted in writing political pamphlets for soldiers and he was expected to inform on people who were fighting against the communist project. Bauman was thus sitting in his office and writing and this was hardly a field in which you could collect interesting or disclosing eye-opening information: “Every good citizen should participate in counter-espionage. That was one thing that I kept secret, because I signed an obligation that it would be kept secret … So that’s the only thing. All the other ‘news’, so called, is completely in error” (Edemariam 2007). When asked if his work in the Secret Service might have had adverse consequences he answered: “I can’t answer that question. I don’t believe there was any. At the same time, I was part of a wider scene, and of course everything you do



has consequences”. When confronted with the question whether his three years in the Secret Service were a mistake he responded: “They’re part of my biography. I bear full responsibility for that. At that time it seemed to me the right thing to do ... Some choices in everybody’s biography can be looked upon as wrong choices, except that it doesn’t seem to be a wrong choice at that time. When I was 19 years old I didn’t know as much as I know now that I’m 82” (Edemariam 2007). Bauman went on to say: “I have never made it a secret that I am a socialist. I was leftwing, I am leftwing, and I will die leftwing” (Edemariam 2007). Bauman sees his ‘outing’ as part of a new kind of witch-hunt under way in Poland where right-wing people work to legitimize the rightwing government of Lech Kaczynski and Jaroslaw Kaczynski by discrediting left-wing intellectuals. And what is missing from the stories is that immediately after he left the Secret Service he was the object of persecution for 15 years. He was spied on, his flat and telephone bugged and so on (Edemariam 2007). The last word in this affair has probably not been written yet, and we are not to decide who is speaking most truthfully. Historians will maybe write that story or maybe not in due time if the allegations turn out lacking tangible documentation. From our own personal experience with Bauman we have many times sensed that he was not interested in talking about his personal life during the times of war and communist regime. We do not undertake to speculate on the conscience of Bauman, and we have mentioned this so-called ‘affair’ because it illustrates how Bauman’s life has been influenced by the evils of totalitarianism. Reflecting on this circumstance, it does not surprise why his books to such a marked degree centres on the issue of how totalitarianism, heteronomy and other societal forms make immoral actions possible – but also how totalitarianism and evil make it possible to stand out as one of the few moral beings among acquiescing perpetrators or passive bystanders. However, no matter how the affair instigated by Musial’s revelations eventually turns out, Bauman’s sociological body of work has to be assessed on other than moral terms, as his past life neither qualifies nor disqualifies his writings. There is not necessarily a one-to-one identity between the lived life of an author and his or her writings.. Against Heteronomy, Totalization and the Assumptions of Modern Sociology As we mentioned above, Zygmunt Bauman has blessed sociology with a wide range of compelling analyses, novel concepts and challenging understandings which have all been incorporated into the overarching story of the transformation of modernity and connected to the accompanying human consequences. With respect to assessing the selected core features of Bauman’s sociology each contributor has been asked to present Bauman’s ideas and discuss their strengths and weaknesses and then evaluate their significance for sociology and contemporary social theory. One way to explain the selection of certain features of Bauman’s wide-ranging work is to say that all included issues in this book reflect Bauman’s ongoing critical reflection on heteronomy or totalization on various levels – individual, relational and societal – by way of which he challenges several tacit assumptions of modern sociology.


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

The contributions to the book can, in a broad sense, be organized or classified under the headings of Methodological Issues, Ethics, Social Integration and Politics. Concerning the methodological and stylistic issue of how to do sociology, Bauman has – despite not being overtly concerned with methodological questions – continuously been stressing how all theory is selective in choosing a certain focus and empirical data to support this focus (Bauman 2004). Consequently, no theory can be all-encompassing or all-telling and therefore totalizing theory is a misguided effort. Thus, ambivalence and the fragmentary are not momentary irritants in our desire to understand, but remain part and parcel of the human way of comprehending the world. Bauman is also stressing how metaphors are crucial, but equally partial instruments in understanding social life. Methodologically, Bauman has also been eager to work out the significance of ambivalence in social life and in the apprehension of it. In this volume we have therefore included contributions of a more methodological orientation. In Chapter 1, “Bauman on Metaphors – A Harbinger of Humanistic Hybrid Sociology”, Michael Hviid Jacobsen and Sophia Marshman investigate how Bauman’s writings stylistically can be seen as a humanistic hybrid between sociology and more literary expositions, between social science and poetics. One of the primary means stemming from this hybridity is Bauman’s frequent recourse to metaphors as a fertile way of describing and analysing the human world – metaphors such as ‘tourist’ and ‘vagabond’ which have captured the sociological imagination of many scholars around the world. By mixing sociology with literary sources and poetic formulations such as metaphors, Bauman dissolves clear-cut divisions between the different realms of human knowledge and exposes a more lenient attitude towards how to conduct and report sociological knowledge. Jacobsen and Marshman applaud Bauman’s ability to present a poignant metaphorical arsenal for combined analytical and moral purposes. According to them, Bauman’s utilization of metaphors attests to a ‘humanization through metaphors’ strategy aimed at pointing to the inhumanities and injustices in modernity and liquid modernity alike and to the possibility of a more humane world waiting somewhere beyond these social formations. However, they are also cautious to add that metaphors cannot stand alone as ornamentations of sociological knowledge – they need sociological substance and analytical clarity and validity. In Chapter 2, “Bauman on Ambivalence – Fully Acknowledging the Ambiguity of Ambivalence”, Matthias Junge shows how Bauman’s contribution to a sociological understanding of ambivalence is much needed because sociologists have often ignored the more explicit phenomenon of ambivalence as central to the construction of social order. A crucial point of Bauman’s work is that ambivalence has come to stay and therefore sociology should be better at appreciating the inherently ambivalent character of social life. Junge initially locates the work of Bauman on ambivalence within wider sociological theory claiming that Bauman’s perspective is one of the few explicating how ambivalence remains a pivotal aspect of our understanding of phenomena such as culture, language, order, ethics, risk or waste. Junge also shows, through a selected reading of Bauman’s oeuvre from the early work to the more recent, how Bauman’s appreciation of ambivalence has undergone a refinement throughout the years. Junge appreciatively concludes the chapter with



the observation that Bauman’s conceptualization of ambivalence is itself ambiguous, oozing with what the author calls an ‘experimental plurality of perspectives’ that incites us to work with fuzzy and ambiguous concepts and phenomena. Bauman has treated the issue of ethics and morality in a variety of texts and one basic point he continues to argue is that morality is to be understood as individually or personally felt responsibility based on an inherent and pre-societal moral impulse (Bauman 1993). Morality cannot be legislated or subsumed under universal and all-encompassing principles. To him, morality is a matter of personal choice and personal sacrifice in contingent circumstances and he thus challenges most of the sociological theories dealing with ethics and morality. We have therefore included two contributions that deal with how ethical and moral issues are treated in Bauman’s work. Manni Crone, in Chapter 3 entitled “Bauman on Ethics – Intimate Ethics for a Global World?”, explores one of the central tenets and continuing topics in Bauman’s writings, namely his widely acknowledged theorizing on morality and ethics and the transformation from modern legislative ethics to a postmodern morality of responsibility and proximity. Crone presents and locates Bauman’s critique of modern law-based ethics followed by an exposition of his alternative and more postmodern sociological perspective on morality. Bauman suggests that sociology should not investigate how society creates morality which is the question conventional theory, that sees society as the guardian of morality posits. Rather, it should research into how different social forms manipulate morality, differently. While the author supports Bauman’s critique of the modern law-based ethics, she contends that Bauman only goes half-way in formulating a genuine alternative to existing sociological theories of morality. She also remains critical to the possibilities of expanding a ‘morality of proximity’ to global contexts and how an unspoken ethical demand on the micro level may be transformed into a matter of politics and justice on the macro level. Crone notes, however, an apparent shift in Bauman’s work in recent years – a shift leading to the support of global cosmopolitan law and politics. In Chapter 4, “Bauman on Genocide – Modernity and Mass Murder: From Classification to Annihilation?”, Sophia Marshman explores the sociological importance of Bauman’s neo-classical study Modernity and the Holocaust. This study severely challenges established ideas about the civilization of modern society since Bauman demonstrates how Holocaust was also a modern phenomenon and not simply a return to pre-modern uncivilized barbarism, and therefore the Holocaust can be seen as a window into the potentialities of modern societies. Marshman discusses criticism of Bauman’s thesis that the spread of ‘instrumental rationality’ is accounting for why the Holocaust became a reality. The author concludes that Bauman’s unique contribution to a sociological understanding of the Holocaust consists in his work on classification. Bauman seeks to universalize the lessons of the Holocaust and its dangerous ascriptive criteria of difference. Moreover, the author illustrates how Bauman has carried on to show that also in the liquid modern period do we incessantly seek self-definition through contrast with the irredeemable ‘other’. The sociological core issue of social order or social integration is something that Bauman has dealt with in various ways. Theoretically, he argues in favour of


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

dispensing with the idea of determining totality or social system. His more chaosacknowledging concept capturing the social totality is ‘habitat’ which refers to the over-all context of living consisting of historically created goals and means and in which actions and meanings is possible. The constant changes of the habitat cannot be explained objectively, that is, without reference to the subjective actions of the actors involved. If some of the actors had acted differently, the habitat would also have turned out differently. The states of the habitat are contingent and the habitat is therefore a chaotic and ambivalent condition for all actors. However, the most powerful and thereby free actors can, naturally, handle this contingent condition along the lines of their interest and wishes in highest degree (Bauman 1992). Society or the totality does not determine in advance the actions and meanings of the actors as is implied in paradigms that stress humans as being socialized to play out their cultural background. Such paradigms and their understandings of integration favour the creation and exclusion of strangers. Bauman instead stresses an understanding of integration which conceptualizes freedom as intrinsic to processes of social integration. These ideas – and in connection to these how globalization is not merely an integrating but also a disintegrating phenomenon – are spelled out in the following contributions. In Chapter 5, “Bauman on Freedom – Consumer Freedom as the Integration Mechanism of Liquid Society”, Poul Poder provides an exposition of Bauman’s analysis of individual freedom as developed during the last couple of decades. Bauman criticizes the common sociological assumption of thinking agency (freedom) as a generic feature of actors. Poder therefore argues that Bauman’s theory is a significant contribution to a genuine sociological understanding of freedom. By theorizing resources and security as positive conditions of freedom, Bauman moves the understanding of freedom further than the understanding of freedom qua liberation or emancipation from old tradition and structures common to conventional ‘negative’ individualization theory. Bauman’s analysis of contemporary individual freedom is original by suggesting that social integration is ensured through individual consumer freedom rather than through domination and ideological indoctrination, common values or habit and tradition. However, it is also explained how Bauman’s analysis has certain limitations and intimated how his positive theory of freedom can be further developed. In Chapter 6, “Bauman on Consumerism – Living the Market-Mediated Life”, Tony Blackshaw argues that Bauman’s work on consumerism offers deep insights into what it means to live a market-mediated life. According to Bauman, consumerism should not be seen merely as a particular set of activities contained in a certain sphere of social life as it is mostly done. Rather, it is more to the point to understand consumerism as referring to a whole way of life, which is why Bauman speaks of ‘consuming life’. In discussing other theorists’ take on consumerism, Blackshaw underlines how consumerism for Bauman is less an ideological conspiracy in which we all collude as a competition between sellers and buyers who try to get the best value for their money. In conclusion, Blackshaw suggests that Bauman’s message is that liquid modern individuals need to develop the ability to get away from the dominant re-usable language of consumerism to form an alternative discourse that speaks itself for the first time.



In Chapter 7, “Bauman on Globalization – The Human Consequences of a Liquid World”, Mark Davis critically explores Bauman’s analysis of globalization, which centres on the human consequences of globalization in contrast to a lot of globalization literature that centres on economic or political processes, financial transactions of global markets, technological advances or the World Wide Web. Initially, Davis introduces to the central themes in Bauman’s analysis of globalization, which is the relationship between globalization and his wider theoretical model of ‘liquid modernity’; the re-stratification of the world’s population into those that are free to move globally on the one hand, and those that are condemned to a life lived locally on the other; and, finally, the prevalence of fear and insecurity at both the macroand micro-levels of ‘liquid life’ in the age of ‘negative globalization’. Bauman sees globalization as forming two dominant cultural-types, namely the ‘tourist’ and the ‘vagabond’. However, the author is critical of Bauman’s analysis for being limited by a ‘will to dualism’, which he believes remains a problematic tendency in Bauman’s work precisely because of the importance such dualities are given in his analysis. To take the present example of ‘tourists’ and ‘vagabonds’, Davis finds it far from easy to identify particular empirical social groups that fit the descriptions Bauman provides. In Chapter 8, “Bauman on Strangers – Unwanted Peculiarities”, Niclas Månsson discusses Bauman’s perspective on strangers as a central theme running through his writings during the 1980s and 1990s. Månsson starts out by delineating the gradually evolving perspective on strangers in Bauman’s work and by locating it alongside other traditions dealing with strangers within sociology. The author shows how Bauman provides an original analysis of the social construction of strangers as representing ambivalence respectively in solid modernity and liquid modernity and how strangers are still part and parcel of human existence and the outcome of any attempt to construct social order. Månsson also describes those specific strategies that are deployed by different types of societies in order to either incorporate or eradicate the stranger ranging from assimilating via expelling to eliminating politics and practices. The chapter is concluded by Månsson’s Bauman-inspired understanding of the necessity to learn to live with ambivalence – and thus also with strangers. Politics and more widely the issue of power has been an undercurrent running throughout the work of Bauman, never really present, yet always touched upon implicitly or lingering between the lines. His mistrust of iron-clad political ideologues or all-encompassing political programmes – due to their totalizing and totalitarian tendencies – has meant that his own work on politics has always been ‘in search of’ rather than arriving at a specific political agenda. Despite Bauman’s effort to carve out a political mentality of the contemporary age of apathy (Bauman 1999), it remains characteristic of his work that he has always been reluctant to explicate the actual content of ‘the good society’ or ‘the common good’ and yet he has never surrendered the utopian hope of a better society. Consequently, Mikael Carleheden in Chapter 9, “Bauman on Politics – Stillborn Democracy”, explains how Bauman considers that what happens ’at the base’ rather than the brighter legal-political formalities ‘at the top’ to be of greater bearing on the conditions of human life. Bauman challenges the widespread idea that democracy is a very defining feature of modern society. Thus, the commonly thought connection


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

between freedom and democracy on the one hand, and modernity on the other, is broken and opens for an analysis of the contradictions between democracy and other types of modern institutions such as industrialism, bureaucracy and commercialism. Carleheden contends that we have a lot to learn from Bauman’s analysis of such contradictions. However, in critique of Bauman he also argues that Bauman’s theory is too one-sided and tends to lead social criticism into a dead-end. In Chapter 10, “Bauman on Power – From ‘Solid’ to ‘Light’?”, Robert Campain outlines Bauman’s understanding of power from a ‘hard/solid’ modernity to ‘soft/ liquid’ modernity. According to Bauman, also power becomes softer as he argues that we now live in a post-panoptical period where disengaging techniques of speed, slippage, escape, elision and avoidance become characteristic forms of power contributing to de-institutionalization rather than institutionalization. Campain pinpoints strengths and limitations of Bauman’s insights and particularly criticizes the extent to which Bauman’s broad definitions of modernity and liquid modernity represent and capture the complexity of contemporary social arrangements as questions of agency – politics and resistance to power – need to be examined. A main point of the author’s argument is to emphasize how power is central to the, in one sense, only important question of ‘What shall we do and how shall we live?’, as the ways power is exercised – by individuals in their daily interactions with one another, and at the broader social and global level – go to the heart of the human condition. Consequently, a sociological imagination must always be seeking to examine the way in which power is employed and the consequences for human freedom and the exercising of moral responsibility. Chapter 11, “Bauman on Utopia – Welcome to the Hunting Zone” by Michael Hviid Jacobsen, explores another central aspect of Bauman’s work that has received surprisingly sparse attention, namely his utopianism and utopian analysis. Bauman challenges conventional sociological wisdom in that he defends the necessity of utopianism in social thinking, yet remains critical of the widespread tendency to regard utopia as an end-state or final destination. To him utopia is a constantly receding horizon, a knife pressed against the throat of the future. Throughout his work – from the early writings in English to the latest – utopia has remained a central tenet, concern and presence in Bauman’s writings both as a temper or mentality and in recent years also as a thematic optic for understanding wider social transformations. Central to Bauman’s perspective is utopia as a critical counter-culture – utopia as immanence and transcendence. However, utopia remains an ambivalent phenomenon in his writings because utopia as critical counter-culture may inspire hope of a better present and future but, when enforced or realized, eclipse the chance of such betterment ever to follow. Throughout the chapter, Jacobsen illustrates how utopianism relates to a host of other central concepts and themes in Bauman’s sociology. He ends up welcoming Bauman’s utopianism as a fertile addition to social theory, but also pinpoints that the inconclusiveness of Bauman’s utopianism presents an obstacle to more substantial theorizing. In the book’s Postscript, “Pro Domo Sua” (“About Myself”), Zygmunt Bauman, for the first time more substantially, reflects on the twists and turns of his lifelong sociological vocation and on those who have inspired his work. He particularly emphasizes how he took the book The Rebel by the French existentialist writer



Albert Camus and The Prison Notebooks by the revolutionary social theorist Antonio Gramsci to his heart in a way that has been formative on his sociological outlook on the world. He also describes his passage into and out of the postmodernity debate and other aspects central to the development of his thinking. All in all, this postscript reads as an important and illuminating self-reflection on behalf of Bauman. How this Book Can Be Used Compared to many other introductions to, or discussions of, the work of Zygmunt Bauman mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, and towards the end of this introductory chapter want to emphasize some differences in order to explicate what this book in particular offers and consider how it may be used. Firstly, as explained above, this book introduces to and evaluates Bauman with respect to essential features and themes of his sociological work and it highlights how Bauman is devoted to sociology as a theoretical discipline by focussing on how he challenges many ingrained and taken-for-granted ideas of contemporary sociology. In brief, this introduction to his work seeks to introduce Bauman through actualizing his significance for the theoretical and analytical discipline of sociology. It does not limit itself to Bauman’s most recent writings which explore ‘liquid modernity’ as a key metaphor (Elliott 2007),3 as such time restriction is unproductive to our aim of critically appreciating how the sociology of Bauman has contributed to sociology at large. Secondly, other introductions (Jacobsen 2004; Tester 2004; Beilharz 2000; Smith 1999) on the overall apply a chronological way of introducing as they map Bauman’s project by taking as their launching-pad to tell the story about his Marxist beginnings and then carry on through what can be seen as different phases of intellectual influences and development. In this book we do not expose Bauman’s ideas in the context of the development of his authorship. Instead, our focus is on the selected theoretical themes in order to discuss Bauman’s contribution in terms of its both more specific and broader sociological implications. Thirdly, this book contains specialized treatment of each topic. Each contribution therefore engages in a critical evaluation of Bauman’s theorizing with the aim of suggestion how it may contribute to sociological theory more generally and how it may be improved. By focussing on the pros and cons of Bauman’s perspective, each chapter intends to show both the promises as well as the shortcomings of Bauman’s sociology. Given these differences compared to other books on Bauman our book can be used as an introduction to the basic framework of Bauman’s sociology, but also as way of getting a complex and critical understanding of his theorizing and its

3 Zygmunt Bauman’s ‘liquid turn’ has in recent years resulted in numerous books ranging from Liquid Modernity (2000) through Liquid Love (2003), Liquid Life (2005) and Liquid Fear (2006) to Liquid Times (2007). These titles all testify to the prevalence and importance of the metaphor of liquidity in Bauman’s latest writings justifying his classification as the theorist of liquidity.


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

significance for contemporary sociology. In brief, Bauman’s work is contextualized and not merely treated isolated as an entity in itself. Bibliography Bauman, Janina (1986): Winter in the Morning: A Young Girl’s Life in the Warsaw Ghetto and Beyond, 1939-1945. London: Virago. Bauman, Zygmunt (1972): “Culture, Values and Science of Society”. University of Leeds Review, 15 (2):185-203. Bauman, Zygmunt (1982): Memories of Class: The Pre-History and After-Life of Class. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Bauman, Zygmunt (1992): Intimations of Postmodernity. London: Routledge. Bauman, Zygmunt (1993): Postmodern Ethics. Oxford: Blackwell. Bauman, Zygmunt (1999): In Search of Politics. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2000) Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2003): Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2004): “Liquid Sociality”, in Nicholas Gane (ed.): The Future of Social Theory. London: Continuum. Bauman, Zygmunt (2005): Liquid Life. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2006): Liquid Fear. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2007): Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt & Tim May (2001): Thinking Sociologically, 2nd Edition. Oxford: Blackwell. Bauman, Zygmunt & Keith Tester (2001): Conversations with Zygmunt Bauman. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bielefeld, Ulrich (2002): “Conversation with Janina Bauman and Zygmunt Bauman”. Thesis Eleven, 70:113-117. Beilharz, Peter (1999): Zygmunt Bauman: Dialectic of Modernity. London: Sage Publications. Beilharz, Peter (ed.)(2001): The Bauman Reader. Oxford: Blackwell. Beilharz, Peter (2002): Zygmunt Bauman (Four-Volume Set, Sage Masters in Modern Social Theory). London: Sage Publications. Blackshaw, Tony (2005): Zygmunt Bauman. London: Routledge. Pierre Bourdieu (1977): Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Bourdieu, Pierre (1988): Homo Academicus. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Bunting, Madeleine (2003): “Zygmunt Bauman: Passion and Pessimism”. The Guardian Review, April 5. Edemariam, Aida (2007): “Professor with a Past: Interview with Zygmunt Bauman”. Guardian, April 28. Elliott, Anthony (ed.)(2007): The Contemporary Bauman. London: Routledge. Giddens, Anthony (1984): The Constitution of Society. Cambridge: Polity Press.



Habermas, Jürgen (1981): Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Jacobsen, Michael Hviid (2004): Zygmunt Bauman – den postmoderne dialektik. Copenhagen: Hans Reitzels Forlag. Jacobsen, Michael Hviid & Sophia Marshman (2006): “Metaphorically Speaking – Metaphors as a Methodological and Moral Signifier of the Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman”. Polish Sociological Review, 3 (155):307-325. Jacobsen, Michael Hviid & Keith Tester (2007): “Sociology, Nostalgia, Utopia and Mortality: A Conversation with Zygmunt Bauman”. European Journal of Social Theory, 10 (2):305-325. Jacobsen, Michael Hviid, Sophia Marshman & Keith Tester (2007): Bauman Beyond Postmodernity: Conversations, Critical Appraisals and Annotated Bibliography 1989-2005. Aalborg: Aalborg University Press. Kilminster, Richard & Ian Varcoe (eds.) (1996): Culture, Modernity and Revolution: Essays in Honour of Zygmunt Bauman. London: Routledge. Luhmann, Niklas (1984): Soziale Systeme: Grundriss einer allgemeinen Theorie. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Mills, Charles Wright (1959): The Sociological Imagination. New York: Oxford University Press. Smith, Dennis (1999): Zygmunt Bauman: Prophet of Postmodernity. Cambridge: Polity Press. Tester, Keith (2004): The Social Thought of Zygmunt Bauman. London: Palgrave/ Macmillan. Tester, Keith & Michael Hviid Jacobsen (2005): Bauman Before Postmodernity: Invitation, Conversations and Annotated Bibliography 1953-1989. Aalborg: Aalborg University Press. Welzer, Harald (2002): “On the Rationality of Evil: An Interview with Zygmunt Bauman”. Thesis Eleven, 70:100-112.

This page intentionally left blank

PART 1 Methodological Issues

This page intentionally left blank

Chapter 1

Bauman on Metaphors – A Harbinger of Humanistic Hybrid Sociology Michael Hviid Jacobsen and Sophia Marshman

“The greatest thing by far is the command of metaphor. This alone cannot be imparted to another: it is the mark of genius, for to make good metaphors implies an eye for resemblances” – Aristotle: The Poetics “A novel examines not reality, but existence. And existence is not what has occurred, existence is the realm of human possibilities, everything that man can become, everything he is capable of. Novelists draw up the map of existence by discovering this or that human possibility” – Milan Kundera in Lubomir Doloźel: Heterocosmica

Introduction The influence of the great works of literature on the sociology of Zygmunt Bauman is every bit as evident as the influence his own acutely observed sense of the ‘moral’ and the ‘humane’ has had on his practice of sociology. For while Bauman’s work is infused with literary references, elegant prose, unfolding narratives and metaphors which are at once delicate and powerful, it is the ends to which he uses these devices that reveals his uncommon and constant commitment to ‘humanity’. Throughout his work, Bauman consciously and consistently blurs the sacredly upheld dividing line between theory and method by way of literary means and poetically inspired techniques. Thus, his sociological imagination is simultaneously a poetic imagination. As a consequence, many contemporary biographers, commentators and sociologists (such as Keith Tester, Peter Beilharz, Dennis Smith and Tony Blackshaw) have focused their attention on the unorthodox or alternative angle of Bauman’s way of practicing sociology. Bauman’s work today lingers, not uneasily as one should perhaps expect, but rather comfortably between social science and literary exposition or storytelling. He himself recently revealed in an interview with Maaretta Jaukkuri how “there is a striking similarity between the sociological and the artistic vocations. They operate on the same ground, they feed from the same table; hence one would expect them to be engaged in some sort of ‘sibling rivalry’, but also to complement,


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

correct and inspire each other and learn from each other”. In his writings, Bauman therefore consciously dissolves such artificial oppositions and collapses them into a unique, distinct and humanistically inspired hybrid sociological voice and in his whole way of diagnosing society and describing the plight of people inhabiting it, his work often comes closer to the novel than to the conventional and often prosaic sociological exposition (Jacobsen, Marshman & Tester 2007). Therefore, apart from describing the intrinsic ambivalence of human living, his own work also oozes with ambivalence – ambivalence between sociological description and literary decoration. As Tony Blackshaw recently asserted as a characteristic of Bauman as a so-called ‘poet-intellectual’: It is not so much that Bauman is a relativist unfazed by the prospect of mixing the ‘fantastical’ or the ‘magical’ together with the ‘real’, so much that he works with the assumption that it would be ridiculous to think that anybody – not just a sociologist – could work under the illusion that ‘fantasy’, ‘magic’ and ‘reality’ are something apart (Blackshaw 2006:295).

This much neglected narrative, poetic or literary aspect of Zygmunt Bauman’s work, this hybridity between the magical and the real, and his ability to merge prosaic sociological interpretation with more poetically inspired insights constitute the topic of this chapter. Dutch sociologist Pieter Nijhoff once remarked how “it should be conceded from the start that Bauman’s style of working might be threatening to some conventions among scholars” (Nijhoff 1998:87). Indeed, Bauman’s far from traditional approach to practicing and writing sociology has led some to question his methodology, yet Bauman is not concerned with methodological issues as such. He fully recognizes and embraces the inherently schizophrenic and often neglected nature of his discipline lingering somewhere between science and literature/art (Lepenies 1988; Nisbet 1976) and the fact that there are many different ways of doing sociology. Thus, Nijhoff’s characteristic of Bauman continued by observing how his argumentation does not follow the clearly marked and narrow road of connected concepts. His discourse combines terminology from different contexts: by transferring expressions – concrete and abstract, colloquial and esoteric, narrative and analytical – he dovetails in fact all sorts of separate spheres and sectors (Nijhoff 1998:96).

Nowhere is this dovetailing tendency more evident than in Bauman’s extensive use of metaphors in his analysis of the human beings inhabiting and the social forms constituting the different types of modernity forming and transforming throughout the last couple of centuries. The main purpose of his metaphors, as the metaphors of many equally prominent sociologists, is to try to capture the intricate connections between social structure and lived experience and by proposing metaphorical labels poetically and poignantly mirroring such lived experience from the vantage-point of those human beings being described. Thus, the only prerogative is that the sociologist – no matter what his specific subject matter or topic, no matter his choice of methods or research strategies – utilizes his sociological and moral imagination. Essentially, Bauman is not ‘hung up’ on distinctions between the worlds of science

Bauman on Metaphors


and of literature, he is not concerned with reducing his work to the tasks of a ‘research technician’ who, in the apt words of Charles Wright Mills, meticulously grinds social reality in the ‘fine little mill of The Statistical Ritual’ while worshipping ‘The Scientific Method’ (Mills 1959:72). Mills, like Bauman, was extremely critical of this image of the research technician with his ‘human engineering’ and ‘social prediction’ buttressing ‘the bureaucratic ethos’ as a role model for sociology because the consequences would prove disastrous and detrimental to moral and human existence: To say that ‘the real and final aim of human engineering’ or of ‘social science’ is to ‘predict’ is to substitute a technocratic slogan for what ought to be a reasoned moral choice. That too is to assume the bureaucratic perspective within which – once it is fully adopted – there is much less moral choice available (Mills 1959:117).

Thus, as soon as one examines Bauman’s use of metaphor, it becomes immediately clear that he is not such a technician, nor would he desire to be. According to Mills, such men suffer from a ‘methodological inhibition’ making them utterly ill-suited for understanding the social reality they claim to capture with their ‘abstracted empiricism’. Let us also recall the well-chosen words of Peter L. Berger insisting that “in science as in love a concentration on technique is quite likely to lead to impotence” (Berger 1963:24). Such impotence, however, is absent from Bauman’s heterodox and humanistic sociology. What is being attempted is not a fusion of the literary and the sociological for the sake of grandiloquence alone; rather Bauman is attempting a kind of humanization through metaphor. Put simply, Bauman uses metaphor as a device to recall us to our common humanity, as a means of reawakening our sense of responsibility for the Other and of human possibility. Therefore, the poetically inspired sociological imagination may potentially also contain the seeds not only of hermeneutical understanding but also of political mobilization and social transformation, as it may kindle the political imagination of scholars and practitioners alike. It might be argued that Bauman’s chief concern when writing and practicing sociology is to demolish common sense assumptions about the world and everyday life, whether they be the imaginary ‘social fantasies, of ‘ordinary’ people, as Norbert Elias once dubbed them, or the unreflected ‘domain assumptions’ of academics, as asserted by Alvin W. Gouldner. One realizes that the beauty of Bauman’s writing lies not in it’s utilization of ‘pretty’ language, or in its allusions to the ‘great and the good’ of the literary world. Bauman’s erudition is so powerful because his writing suggests that this kind of sociology can have a transformative capacity, can make people think about things more deeply, can shock the reader out of their moral ennui, and can – at least potentially – instigate social action. This chapter then, is an exploration of the stakes of Zygmunt Bauman’s use of metaphors. Attention is paid to how Bauman’s sociological style connects with a sociological concern to emancipate human potential from the constraints of the supposedly ‘necessary’, ‘natural’ or ‘inevitable’. It is Bauman’s hope that the world might become a site and a product of human action, as opposed to a prison house of heteronomy. The purpose of this piece is fourfold. In the first part, the chief focus is


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

with Bauman’s ‘sociology of possibility’. The key question here relates to the ‘catch’ of his metaphorical approach? Just as the fisherman casts a net into the sea in order to catch fish, so too Bauman casts his net of metaphors into the social world to ‘catch’ insights into our daily lives which have previously slipped through the sociological ‘net’. In the second part of the piece, the discussion moves on to an appraisal of the implications of this strategy for the practice of sociology itself. Bauman does not present himself as an ‘expert’, as somebody who knows all the answers. His approach utterly avoids any tendency towards the hubristic or lethal ‘what is to be done’ mode. Instead, Bauman’s sociology is about dialogue, communication, and essentially bringing together that which institutions and common sense normally keep apart. As Bauman asserts, being ‘moral’ invariably means going against the grain of prevailing social climate, not with it. As he iconoclastically states: “Clearly then, moral acts meant breaching rather than following the socially designed and monitored norms” (Bauman in Bauman & Tester 2001:53). In this, Bauman had been heavily influenced by Hannah Arendt’s belief that “the ability to go against one’s society could be a prerequisite of a moral act” (Bauman in Bauman & Tester 2001:34). In the third part, we will examine the moral ‘content’, as it were, of Bauman’s metaphors and how they may guide us – as individuals and as society – in creating a more human social order. In order to do so, we need to recognize – and act upon – the ubiquity of human suffering. In the final part, we will seek to gather the strings by focusing on Bauman’s so-called ‘humanization through metaphors’ whereby we wish to point to the inherently moral character of his metaphors – metaphors invented and utilized in the service of human responsibility and possibility. In view of the concerns of Bauman’s work, this piece is less an exercise in exegesis and intended more to be an invitation to return to the original texts. The ‘Catch’ of Metaphors, Mark One: Capturing Inclusion and Exclusion Bauman’s use of metaphor is part and parcel of his wider ‘sociology of possibility’, his confidence that literature, or literary and artistic techniques, open up horizons instead of closing them down and that such devices may assist in denaturalizing the world. Metaphors are not only conceptual devices – they are potentially realityshattering and agenda-changing social acts aimed at presenting an image of how the world ‘ought’ to be or ‘should’/‘could’ be. Therefore, metaphors play a crucial role in Bauman’s practice of moral sociology. He uses metaphors in order to develop and practice critical social thought. This might be said to fit very well with the unmistakable utopian strand in Bauman’s work; with the idea that humanity could/should embrace the open-ended possibilities rather than surrendering to the idea that things ‘are as they are’ and ‘there is no alternative’ (Jacobsen 2004, 2006). Bauman’s metaphors are intended to make us see and think more clearly about what is happening, but also about what could happen. His metaphors make us reconsider the world around us. They are inherently moral, they give voice to the voiceless, they recall us to our inescapable human and moral responsibility for ‘the Other’ and point to the hidden possibilities behind the immediately observable reality, to a world not yet closed down by mechanical models, mathematical reasoning

Bauman on Metaphors


or rational argument, to a world capable of being re-enchanted and transformed. Like utopia or morality, metaphor points to imagination rather than logic, to infinity rather than totality, to possibility rather than probability. In the case of Zygmunt Bauman, his metaphors are methods of possibility pointing to a world existing parallel to reality as we know, recognize and perceive it. He encourages us to see things differently, and here metaphors belong to or exemplify Bauman’s favourite sociological strategy: defamiliarization. Defamiliarization consists of making the obvious non-obvious, looking at life from unexpected and unexplored angles, constructing the well-known as strange, but “most importantly, it may open up new and previously unsuspected possibilities of living one’s life with more selfawareness, more comprehension” (Bauman 1990:15). Metaphor is the archetypal linguistic weapon in such defamiliarization strategy. Armed with it, Bauman seeks to transcend and transform our commonsensical and doxic assumptions about the apparent inevitability, naturalness or immutability of the world we inhabit, its history, its direction, its possibilities and our positions within it. Bauman observes that we live in a society “which no longer recognizes any alternative to itself and therefore feels absolved from the duty to examine, demonstrate, justify (let alone prove) the validity of its outspoken and tacit assumptions” (Bauman 2001:99). As a consequence of man’s (and indeed also sociologists’) inability to ‘see the whole of society’, metaphors fruitfully perform, at least, four interrelated functions in social science research or writings. First, they are transforming – by their invocation they creatively change our conception of the world as it is and allows us to catch a glimpse of a world redeemed from the limitations of realism. Second, they are transferring – they use the language of one domain and transfer it to another, often in a quite absurd fashion (take as an example Erving Goffman’s metaphor of the theatre to highlight aspects of social interaction in everyday life), thereby creating fruitful resemblances. Third, they are transmuting – they reorganize and reconfigure our ingrained ideas and notions about the social world and its fundamental workings whereby we may perceive it more clearly or more creatively. Finally, they are transcending – they allow us to transcend conventional academic doxa or common sense with refreshing perspectives or surprising juxtapositions. In short, with metaphors sociologists may hope to see further or deeper than they would be allowed to without metaphors (Antoft, Jacobsen & Kupferberg 2007). Metaphors, however, are but one example of Bauman’s overall methodological embeddedness somewhere along – or transcending – the dividing-line between social science and literature. Although the way that Bauman writes is tremendously significant, what he writes about is obviously of paramount importance. One might argue that Bauman’s extensive and frankly awe-inspiring body of work has by and large addressed the plight of those ‘cast out’ from society, those who have been marginalized, forgotten, and ultimately ‘wiped out’. Bauman’s own personal experience of exile undoubtedly aids his ‘outsider’ perspective, yet the longevity and passion of his commitment to the plight of the underdog suggests a deeper and more worthy source for this concern. The way that Bauman practices sociology is informed by his compassion, his instinctive sense of what is ‘right’ in the face of much easier and ‘economically viable’ yet also less ‘humane’ options. Bauman’s metaphors deal with the ‘big issues’ like the Holocaust or globalization, yet their relevance and utility


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

extends into our everyday lives, informing the ways in which we daily negotiate our shared humanity. Thus, Bauman’s many metaphors and archetypes – e.g., of humans (‘tourists’, ‘vagabonds’ and ‘gamblers’), of societies (‘solid’ and ‘liquid’ modern) and of utopias (‘gamekeeping’, ‘gardening’ and ‘hunting’) (see Jacobsen & Marshman 2008) – urge us to look at the human failings and historical catastrophes of the not so distant past and present in order to exercise greater personal and societal vigilance and responsibility in the present and in the future which is not yet. Let us briefly look as some selected metaphors from Bauman’s cornucopia. Notions of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ dominate most of Bauman’s writing, questions of who is to be ‘excluded’ and who is to be ‘included’; of who can be incorporated into the ‘ideal’ order and who remains forever unassimilable. Bauman addresses the question of which individuals constitute the ‘waste’ of liquid modernity, and his use of the ‘disposal’ metaphor calls to mind a more sinister history, that of Jews as ‘weeds’ and Nazis as ‘gardeners’. Bauman’s gardening metaphor was used to maximum effect in his appraisal of the Holocaust as the ‘natural’ (for modernity was intrinsically anti-nature) and inevitable product of modernity. Bauman observed that modern society was managed like a garden. By following a strict plan/design/ blueprint, a pipedream of purity, a perfect garden/society could emerge; one that was purged of any wild, undesirable elements. The ‘gardeners’ of modernity, of which the Nazis were the very best/worst example, were armed “with a vision of harmonious colours and of the difference between pleasing harmony and revolting cacophony; with determination to treat as weeds every self-invited plant … with machines and poison adequate to the task of exterminating the weeds” (Bauman 1989:57). In the era of ‘solid modernity’, it was the Jews who were defined as weeds that were unable to be “incorporated into the rational order, whatever the effort” (Bauman 1989:65). Such ‘weeds’ were fit only for extermination. Here we encounter the danger of metaphors when in the wrong hands. The term ‘weed’ was as much a euphemism as a metaphor. The Nazis used such metaphorical language to remove the Jews from the sphere of moral consideration and human obligation. This links to Bauman’s powerful work on adiaphorization, on the social production of indifference. Bauman – following the lead from Raul Hilberg – cautions us that such seeds of indifference are sown in gradually reinforced stages; first a group of people are ‘classified’ as other, then they are cast-out of our moral/social order: they are not ‘people like us’, the normal rules governing the ‘moral’ treatment of others do not apply to them. Bauman asserts that once such people have been removed from sight morally (through categorization and demonization) and physically (in the era of solid modernity by removing them to concentration camps and in the era of liquid modernity by confining them to refugee camps and the no-go-areas of social housing), the bureaucracy and industrial techniques honed in the era of solid modernity are more than equal to the task of removing them from the world without leaving a trace, full stop. In keeping with this, Bauman’s work on postmodernity/‘liquid modernity’ has been dedicated to providing a voice for the ‘new weeds’; the poor, the indolent, the socially excluded, essentially those flung to the margins of society by the unstoppable march of global capitalism and consumer society. In liquid modernity, the poor are classified as deviant and without purpose. Beggars, homeless people, drug-takers,

Bauman on Metaphors


single mothers and illegal immigrants all find themselves grouped into one category – ‘the underclass’ – and in the process they are stigmatized and criminalized. Bauman asserts that this happens for a reason: “Linking poverty with criminality has another effect: it helps to banish the poor from the universe of moral obligations” (Bauman 1998a:77). Bauman’s human metaphors are thus made more substantive when they are developed to discuss refugees, ‘the poor’, the socially excluded, the human waste: essentially, the underclass. The underclass is made up of those ‘weeds’ that ‘afflict’ all societies, be they of the solid or liquid era. There is continuity in Bauman’s metaphor of the ‘weed’. Yesteryear, in the era of solid modernity, the Jews were the paradigmatic weeds. Today, in our liquid modern times, single mothers, college drop-outs, drug-takers, asylum-seekers, and the like, serve the same purpose. According to Bauman: “‘Underclass’ evokes an image of a class of people who are beyond classes and outside hierarchy, with neither chance nor need of readmission; people without role, making no useful contribution to the lives of the rest, and in principle beyond redemption” (Bauman 1998b:66). It is very important to consider the centrality and distinctive continuity that the issue of ‘exclusion’ (whether due to race in the past or the inability to ‘consume’ effectively in the present) has enjoyed throughout Bauman’s writing. Bauman’s aforementioned and much discussed metaphor of the tourist/vagabond is part of his ‘moral sociology’ which forces us to ask and answer the ‘tough questions’ about ourselves and our society – especially of mobility as the major stratifying factor in contemporary society. Thus, instead of accepting the notion that ‘the poor will always be with us’ we need to look at the social and structural reasons behind and upholding this ‘reality’. Bauman’s writing, his use of insightful human metaphors forcing us to think differently about our social and cultural arrangements, recalls us to our moral responsibility for the Other. As he asserts: “The poor will always be with us, but what it means to be poor depends on the kind of ‘us’ they are ‘with’” (Bauman 1998b:1). So what, according to Bauman, is it like to be poor in our times of ‘liquid modernity’? Poverty used to be about “direct jeopardy to physical survival – the threat of death from hunger, medically unattended disease or the lack of shelter” (Bauman 1998a:37). Poverty, of course, is still characterized by these elements in further flung parts of the globe, but, as Bauman points out, in a consumer society, ‘poverty’ means something different. It means having one’s access to a ‘normal’ life barred. In western liberal democracies, the poor are less likely to suffer and die in obvious relation to their poverty. They are less likely to starve or be worked to death. Welfare provision may technically keep the poor afloat, but it cannot allow them to participate in a life which is increasingly defined and dictated through consumption – conspicuous or utterly inconspicuous – through what one consumes. Bauman observes that in the past the poor were tolerated for a number of reasons. In less secular times than our own, the poor were seen as ‘God’s unfortunate children’ and ‘objects of charity’. The poor were also to be maintained as a ‘reserve army of labour’ (Bauman 1998a:90). The poor used to have a ‘purpose’, their miserable plight had its ‘romantic’ ring to it, they seemed to contain within them a certain revolutionary potential. Today’s poor do neither inspire the same indignation, nor the same hope, in the intellectuals who observe them. Of the ‘flawed consumers’ of liquid modernity, Bauman asserts: “They suffer. Intellectuals feel and express their


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

pity, but somehow refrain from proposing to marry their thought with this particular variety of suffering” (Bauman 1987:179). As such, Bauman’s human metaphors can be regarded as presenting oppositional images of human existence – or what Albert Rothenberg defined as ‘the encapsulation process of janusian thinking’ – which differs from mere dualistic thinking by actively conceiving two or more opposite or antithetical ideas, images or concepts simultaneously (Rothenberg 1979:55, 362). Therefore, Bauman’s metaphors of ‘tourist’ and ‘vagabond’, but also of ‘liquid’ and ‘solid’ modernity, as we shall see, embody the essence of such janusian thinking in simultaneously, consciously and creatively focusing on opposites, polarities, extremes or antitheses in analyses and descriptions of the social and human world. Bauman’s metaphor of the transformation from ‘solidity’ to ‘liquidity’ also captures the sense of a world where all of the ‘solids’ have indeed and perhaps irredeemably been ‘melted into air’. Bauman’s metaphorical thought here is obviously informed and inspired by Marshall Berman who observed that the collapse of solid modernity “pours us all into a maelstrom of perpetual disintegration and renewal, of struggle and contradiction, of ambiguity and anguish” (Berman 1991:15). This is a world where nothing can be relied upon to last or stay the same – or where it requires an almost superhuman effort to connect and coagulate the liquids. Such liquidity has, of course, been brought about by the joint forces of individualization and globalization, which are such dominant themes in Bauman’s work. The collapse of the ‘institutions’ of the solid modern era – of nation, state and territory – led to the emergence of a new world disorder where only the global elite may feel at home. Coupled with individualization – that ‘there’s no such thing as society’ – globalization shreds the social into pieces consisting of loosely connected liquid lives lived under liquid conditions. As Bauman asserts: “Liquid life is a precarious life, lived under conditions of constant uncertainty” (Bauman 2005:2). Here Bauman’s famous metaphors of ‘tourists’ and ‘vagabonds/flawed consumers’ come into play. He uses these metaphors to shed the harshest light possible on the inequalities which define liquid modernity – in this way, his metaphors highlight the stratification between human success versus human suffering. For the rich, and even the ‘comfortablyoff’, for the ‘secure’ (those with a ‘rightful’ place/citizenship in a given state), globalization and its attendant consumer-led society offer numerous opportunities. These people are ‘tourists’, even if they don’t travel anywhere; the world is ‘open’ to them as ‘sensation-gatherers’, it is their oyster and it offers them “the true or imaginary pleasures of a sensation-gatherer’s life” (Bauman 1997:92). For the poor, the socially excluded ‘vagabonds’ and ‘flawed consumers’, the liquid modern world is a prison, not a playground. Vagabonds are typified by the ever-on-the-move (involuntarily) asylum-seekers and refugees. Bauman reminds us that it is the poor who most mercilessly face the inhuman consequences of liquid modernity. In our fluctuating, fast-moving, fragmented world, not everyone enjoys the same degree of choice and opportunity. As Keith Tester asserts, Bauman uses the vagabond/tourist metaphor to underline the fact that “not everyone imitates the movement of capital and the liquefaction of bonds through choice. Some people have that fate forced upon them” (Tester 2004:180). The vagabonds exist for the rest of us primarily as an annoyance, as scarecrows deterring the high-flying from landing anywhere near the polluting plight of the poor, as a sight to prick the mostly-dormant consciences

Bauman on Metaphors


of the tourists. Bauman outlines their ‘uselessness’ in terms of today’s means of classifying both people and ‘usefulness’: “They breach the norm and sap the order. They spoil the fun simply by being around, they do not lubricate the wheels of the consumer society, they add nothing to the prosperity of the economy turned into a tourist industry. They are useless, in the sole sense of ‘use’ one can think of in a society of consumers or society of tourists” (Bauman 1998b:96). From Bauman’s metaphorical imagery of tourists and vagabonds one can glimpse the hidden ‘truth’ about contemporary society – that mobility has become the major stratifying factor in liquid modernity, and that those unable to move will be left behind. Therefore, Bauman’s ‘human metaphors’ illustrate the oscillation or rather stratification between freedom of choice and the experience of being tied to locality. It is a frontal attack on the assumption that the self-conscious, motivated and reflexive individual may choose to do whatever he or she wants and Bauman asserts that “the common metaphor of the motivated individual as the key to understanding of the human world – including our own, thoroughly personal and private, thoughts and deeds – is inappropriate” (Bauman 1990:14). What goes for his ‘human’ metaphors, is also evident in the ‘societal’ and ‘utopian’ metaphors that all reveal the lopsidedness of his work, the relics of Marxist thinking at the heart of his perspective, the fact that stratification, inequality and injustice is a perpetual problem of human existence (Jacobsen & Marshman 2008). Thus, we see that Bauman’s commitment to the plight of the excluded is as much ethical and political as it is sociological. Metaphors – whether in the hand of Nazi propagandists proclaiming certain lives unwertes Leben, of liquid modern politicians queuing to talk of ‘the new underclass’ or of practicing sociologists seeking to comprehend contemporary human condition – are not merely neutral, descriptive or ‘innocent’ devices. They are charged with moral (and sometimes moralizing) connotations. Who could read these metaphors and fail to notice the moral edge, the unmistakable moral indignation at the way certain groups of people are treated in and by society. The very wording of Bauman’s metaphors reveals their intrinsic moral status making it immediately and instantaneously clear to the reader what it feels like to be cast into the categories of social reality – we would all like to be tourists, few would cherish the life of a vagabond. The ‘Catch’ of Metaphors, Mark Two: Capturing Death and Detainment Zygmunt Bauman, in his own words, sits astride the stubborn barriers erected to keep things apart. As mentioned, his work is to a large extent a hybrid between social science and literature and his hybridization of the sociological and the poetic imagination penetrates much of what is taken for granted or at face-value in contemporary sociology and society alike. We therefore regard Bauman’s work as fundamentally cross-disciplinary. This is also reflected in his (metaphorical) understanding of the nature of disciplinary boundaries and their inevitable porosity: Sociology is an ongoing dialogue with human experience, and that experience, unlike the university buildings, is not divided into departments, let alone tightly sealed departments. Academics may refuse or neglect to read their next door neighbour’s work and so carry on


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman unscathed the conviction of their own separate identity, but this cannot be said of human experience, in which the sociological, the political, the economic, the philosophical, the psychological, the historical, the poetic and what not are blended to the extent that no single ingredient can salvage its substance or identity in case of separation. I would go as far as to say that however hard it may try, sociology would never win the ‘war of independence’ (Bauman in Bauman & Tester 2001:40).

Bauman’s sociology can be seen as a challenge to or showdown with conventional sociological methodology with its insistence on rigid criteria such as measurement, verification, validity and reliability. His metaphors propose a way of discovering and looking at the world anew, whereby they may “sharpen our senses and open our eyes to new horizons beyond our immediate experiences in order that we can explore human conditions which, hitherto, have remained entirely invisible” (Bauman & May 2001:11). In this sense, his metaphors, literary edge or poetic persuasion more generally, comes closer to the so-called ‘context of discovery’ than to the ‘context of justification’. It is a way of discovering the world – or specific aspects of human living – in a new and, hopefully, improved way. As we illustrated above, Bauman uses some unique and insightful metaphors to describe previously existing modernities and to evaluate our contemporary liquid modern society. His metaphors of liquid modernity in many ways appear even more poignant and uncompromising than those applied to premodern or solid modern societies. One might contend that only Bauman could make an analogy between the Diverse, but equally loathed entities of body fat and terrorists/immigrants. According to Bauman, both are seen as ‘undercover agents’ (Bauman 2005:97) working against ‘us’. Through the logic of this metaphor, expulsion of unwanted immigrants/potential terrorists (are not both ‘categories’ too-often condensed into one in the liquid modern public imagination?) is regarded as akin to the work of Weightwatchers, as Bauman explains: Nicholas Sarkozy, the French Interior Minister, recently shot to the top of politicians’ popularity ratings through following the example of the highly popular Weightwatchers’ clubs that set weekly ‘slimming targets’ for their members: he set ‘expulsion targets’ for each municipality and sent ‘expulsion manuals’ to the local prefects (Bauman 2005:100).

Thus, in liquid modern society, unwanted people can be shed as easily as the unwanted pounds of the potbellied. It is not only legal or illegal immigrants who are easily dispensed with in the prevailing social climate. Through the use of the metaphor of ‘death’, Bauman observes that human bonds and interpersonal relationships are at their most frail in liquid modernity. Even a few decades ago, marriages and family units were seen as being of the ‘life-long’ and ‘till death do us part’ model. Bauman asserts that we no longer live in a world of Max Scheler’s famous ‘I-Thou’ sharing, of partnerships only ended through death. Bauman states that the “end to the shared ‘I-Thou’ world may be caused by something other than the physical death of a close companion. Though brought about by different reasons, a breakdown of a relationship cutting an interhuman bond also carries a stamp of ‘finality’ (even if, unlike real death, that stamp may yet be wiped out” (Bauman 2006:44). This ‘dissolving’ of partnerships, Bauman asserts, could be regarded as “the death experience twice

Bauman on Metaphors


removed”. Therefore: “As the human bonds of the liquid modern era become clearly brittle and ‘until further notice’, life turns into a daily rehearsal of death and of ‘life after death’, of resurrection or reincarnation – all performed by proxy” (Bauman 2006:44). In liquid modernity, divorce is the ‘new widowhood’. ‘Death’ becomes a constant feature of our lives; marriages, friendships, jobs, all can ‘die’ with little or no notice. Bauman argues that these metaphorical ‘deaths’ differ from the ‘original’ in certain ways. Metaphorical deaths are not ‘natural’, when marriages die and relationships flounder; human actions are involved, as Bauman reminds us: Behind every metaphorical death, human actors lurk, whether or not malice aforethought could be established and proven in court. Breaking a bond may happen ‘by mutual consent’, but seldom, if ever, does it result from the wishes of all who are involved and affected by its consequences, and equally seldom is it approved by them all (Bauman 2006:46).

Bauman’s concern here for those ‘left behind’ and ‘cast aside’ in the pursuit of liquid modernity’s immediate pleasures and gratifications ties in well with his general concern with the issue of ‘exclusion’ touched upon above. Exclusion relates both to social exclusion writ large, poverty, unemployment and the like, but also to being excluded from the life of your husband or wife who no longer wants you: “The fear of a metaphorical ‘twice-removed death’ is at bottom the horror of being excluded” (Bauman 2006:47). Thus, ‘death’ is forced upon those who we would seek to exclude or be free from, and these unfortunates are destined to find that “metaphorical death is as intractable, as difficult and as impossible to avert as its archetype” (Bauman 2006:47). In the field of interpersonal relations, Bauman asserts that romantic relationships have been reduced to the level of cars and MOTs. Why should the ‘drivers’ of liquid modern relationships be bound by the promises they made in the past? Bauman outlines the logic: “There are so many newer, better cars around, more handsome, attractive, easier to operate, more responsive. It is time to think of exchange. It is time to consign the old car for waste” (Bauman 2004:123). In liquid modernity, one of the most fully-realized forms of exclusion (or perhaps even expulsion) relates to the increasing criminalization and imprisonment of the poor. Bauman asserts that, invariably, “the most common types of criminals in public view come almost without exception from the ‘bottom’ of society” (Bauman 1998b:125). These individuals who have already been excluded most effectively from society, are now physically excluded in a way that makes their place (or lack of a place) in society clear, once and for all: “Rejection and exclusion are humiliating and meant to be such; they are meant to result in the rejected/excluded accepting their social imperfection and inferiority” (Bauman 1998b:126). Bauman asserts that this creates a cycle with those outcast and ‘rejected’ in turn rejecting those who have cast them out. The lie of the prison system as a means for rehabilitating offenders is made clear – the chances of re-entry into society are reduced by the day. Prisons are increasingly mere containment facilities for the human waste of liquid modernity, for those ‘legal’ citizens who do not fit the ‘ideal’ model but who are not eligible for deportation as asylum seekers are. Bauman rightly concludes that the prison system helps to stigmatize and classify a whole class or strata of society: “Once prisons


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

have been identified as outlets for mostly lower-class or ‘underclass’ elements – one would naturally expect the self-confirming and self-perpetuating effects to be at its most emphatic, and so the criminality to be ‘most evident’, at the ‘bottom’ reaches of society” (Bauman 1998b:127). Bauman refers to this trend as ‘prisonization’ by arguing that our obsession with law an order is just a distraction device that allows us to avoid the real (read: social) causes of the behaviour of the stigmatized, to avoid having to do anything about the ‘accruing existential insecurity’ (Bauman 1998b:127). Implicit in this talk of ‘waste’ and outcasts, one discerns an ill-concealed amount of social criticism. As with Bauman’s other metaphors, in the ‘critique’ of the way things are, there is the suggestion of how things might be. Thus, relationships might be improved through hard work and commitment rather than discarded when the ‘going gets tough’. Exclusion and detainment of deviance may be avoided by social responsibility and social welfare. Metaphors of Suffering, Metaphors of Morality As we have established, Bauman’s sociological work is thoroughly underpinned by metaphors. However, metaphors are seldom, in fact never, neutral. Thus, equally integral to his writing is the question of ‘morality’, of mutual human responsibility and interdependence. In his descriptions and diagnoses of the social world, Bauman unperturbed blends the ethical with the aesthetical and blurs the line between descriptive prose and evaluative or conjunctive diagnosis. For example, in his work on welfare provision, Bauman makes his ‘humanizing’ agenda absolutely explicit. Drawing upon his wider work on ‘flawed consumers’ and ‘liquid’ modernity, Bauman eschews metaphors here and cuts to the heart of the matter. As has already been discussed in this chapter, Bauman’s concern has always been the poor and the ways in which they are increasingly marginalized and regarded as ‘useless’. For Bauman, as for many others, this is a state of affairs that goes against the ethical and moral principles that have governed human relationships for over two thousand years. In The Individualized Society, Bauman explores Cain’s infamous question relating to his responsibility for his brother’s welfare. He does this in the light of the current disdain for those forced to ‘depend’ on welfare, on those more fortunate than themselves. As Bauman observes: “‘Dependence’ has become a dirty word: it refers to something which decent people should be ashamed of” (Bauman 2001:72). Increasingly, Bauman observes, in liquid modern times people are more likely to ask, as Cain did: ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’. Implicit within the question, of course, is the evident desire of people to ‘wriggle off the hook’ of ethical responsibility for the other. With reference to moral philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas, Bauman suggests that we would not even ask the question if we did not already know the answer. Thus, it is a rhetorical question, motivated by frustration and a grudging awareness of duty. The repetition of the question in liquid modern times signals our desire to offload or abandon our responsibility. As Bauman reasons: Whether I admit it or not, I am my brother’s keeper because my brother’s well-being depends on what I do or refrain from doing. And I am a moral person because I recognize that dependence and accept the responsibility that follows. The moment I question that

Bauman on Metaphors


dependence, and demand, as Cain did, to be given reasons why I should care, I renounce my responsibility and am no longer a moral self (Bauman 2001:72).

Whereas in the past one might (actually we don’t know) have felt ashamed at trying to shirk such a profound responsibility, one that has characterized life for so long in the Judeo-Christian tradition, in liquid modernity, however, we witness as never before “derision and contempt for dependence and the stigma attached to it” (Bauman 2001:72). People ‘dependent’ on welfare, and therefore dependent also on ‘us’, are regarded by the comfortable and contended majority as ‘spongers’ or ‘parasites’ whose existence is without any point. Bauman states that today “no rational arguments can be raised in favour of the continuity existence of the welfare state … Keeping the ‘underclass’ alive and well defies all rationality and serves no visible purpose” (Bauman 2001:78). We have reached an unprecedented state of affairs: “The dismantling of the welfare state … a prospect still few years ago deemed unthinkable by the most perceptive of minds – is now taking place” (Bauman 1993:243). Bauman reasons that this isn’t simply due to people becoming disenchanted with the concept of welfare itself, reminding us that even at its inception, the welfare state was not an entirely altruistic entity. It was essentially conceived of as a device to keep the poor just sufficiently nourished and ‘aloft’ in order to be called upon when required as a reserve labour force. The poor, then, had a function, even if for whole periods of time it lay dormant. Now that we have moved from a society predominantly characterized by ‘producers’ to one of ‘consumers’, ‘maintaining’ the poor is no longer seen as something that benefits us. Likewise, in a consumer society, the poor are not even ‘allowed’ to think and behave like us; they should not expect to be ‘seduced’ by the carnival of acquisition which the rest of us aspire to; after all, the poor have not the means to acquire these things themselves. Ever astute with his diagnosis of the contemporary social climate, Bauman observes: The object of adoration is now wealth itself – wealth as the warrant for a most fanciful and prodical life-style … Universally adored in the persons of the rich is their wondrous ability to pick and choose the contents of their lives, places to live in now and then, partners to share those places with- and to change all of them at will and without effort (Bauman 1998b:95).

As Bauman asserts, the poor/vagabonds are stigmatized and scapegoated simply for their penury: “Their crime is nothing other than to wish to be like the tourists – while lacking the means to act on their wishes the way the tourists do” (Bauman 1998b:96). The poor are to be redefined as an entirely different ‘category’, and the way that the welfare system is set up aids this. As Bauman asserts, the poor are most effectively cast-out: “The overall effect of welfare legislation and practice is to disempower the poor. Disempowering means also preventing the recipient of welfare from rejoining the ranks of the legitimate members of consumer society” (Bauman 1987:185). We no longer even seem to feel the sympathy or empathy with the poor and unemployed, we see our common insecurity and unhappiness as stemming from different reasons. The poor are ‘feckless’, they are happier languishing on benefits rather than keeping up with the daily struggles that the rest of us have to engage in. As Bauman states: “In the new constellation, services for those who do not pay are bound to be resented


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

by those who do pay – and calls to reduce them or abandon them altogether would find an ever growing number of willing ears” (Bauman 1993:244). Worse still, truth be told, many of us ‘enjoy’ the plight of the poor because of the reassuring contrast it provides with our own lot in life. We no longer ‘need’ the poor in a way that benefits or potentially empowers them (they no longer have labour power with which to bargain), their ‘use value’ has changed completely: One might say, a bit cynically, that our peace of mind, our reconciliation with life, and whatever happiness we may derive from the life to which we have reconciled ourselves, all depend psychologically on the wretchedness and the misery of the outcast poor. And the more miserable and wretched the lot of the outcast is, the less miserable we feel (Bauman 2001:77).

Without ‘needing’ the poor, the ‘underclass’ for their labour power, our protection of them and the continued allocation and provision of welfare resources can only be a matter of morality, not of rationality. Bauman goes so far as to say that there can be no ‘rational’ arguments put forward in favour of the welfare state. He argues that there has been a split between ethics and ‘rational-instrumental reason’; that without reason to back it up, ethics is ‘vulnerable’. Whereas we once rarely asked ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’, now it is asked “more vociferously and belligerently” than ever before (Bauman 2001:78). Any ‘morality’ or responsibility is to be means-tested and ‘costed-out’, assistance is most grudgingly given, or not given at all: “To be a Good Samaritan, one needs money. If there is no money, one need not worry about not being a Good Samaritan” (Bauman 1993:244). Throughout his work, and aided and abetted by his metaphors, Bauman endeavours to ‘recall’ us to our humanity, to a sense of responsibility for the Other, for those who need our help, whether or not it is ‘rational’ to offer it. He admonishes us, asserting that “the human quality of a society ought to be measured by the quality of life of its weakest members. And since the essence of all morality is the responsibility which people take for the humanity of others, this is also the measure of society’s ethical standard” (Bauman 2001:79). Bauman suggests that adopting a rational approach to the Other and our responsibility for him or her is immoral. He commends – yet not commands – us to be moral for morality’s sake; not for religious reasons or practical purposes and potential benefits to us. Bauman’s moral vision seems to be predicated upon the idea that we should be ‘moral’ and responsible because to be anything else is somehow ‘wrong’ or at odds with our common humanity. He admits: “Morality has only itself to support it: it is better to care than to wash one’s hands, better to be solidary with the unhappiness of the other than indifferent, and altogether better to be moral, even if this does not make people wealthier and companies more profitable” (Bauman 2001:82). Yet, despite Bauman’s attempts to recall us to some kind of ‘conscience’, he acknowledges that we live in a thoroughly ‘individualized’ society. It is this fragmented society, this anti-social environment where everybody is motivated primarily by concern for themselves and themselves alone, which is such fertile ground for the marginalization of those who cannot ‘meet their own needs’. Bauman contends that our ruthlessly individualized, de-politicizid, secular society might better metaphorically be thought of as ‘camping site’ (Bauman 2001:100).

Bauman on Metaphors


Like the camping/caravan site, liquid modern society is a place that is “open to everyone who has their own caravan and money to pay the rent. Guests come and go, none taking much interest in how the site is run” (Bauman 2001:100). In such a society, we care only about how things affect us, now. Yet, Bauman observes that this state of affairs is far from liberating: We are all individuals now; not by choice, though, but by necessity … Many of us have been individualized without truly becoming individuals, and many more yet are haunted by the suspicion that they are not really individuals enough to face up to the consequences of individualization (Bauman 2001:105).

In this individualized, atomized society, made up of ‘tourists’ and ‘vagabonds’, ethical responsibility is to be shunned at all costs by the tourists and not even to be expected by the vagabonds who, in the words of Bertolt Brecht, out of necessity must live by the mantra: ‘Food first, then morality’. Liquid modern social and cultural arrangements are such that there is almost a tacit acceptance that we are all ‘on our own’: “Physically close, spiritually remote: this is the formula of both the vagabond’s and the tourist’s life. The seductive charm of such a life is that it comes with the solemn promise that the physical closeness will not be allowed to get out of gear and slide into moral proximity” (Bauman 1993:242). The ‘haves’ relish their freedom from taking responsibility for the ‘have nots’. As Bauman observes, we will happily speak in broad terms about abstract ideas like ‘human rights’ which essentially gets “folkloristically translated as the right to be left alone” (Bauman 1993:243). He cautions us that such individuality can only be catastrophic for morality and human relations generally. Being ‘rational’, only caring for those in one’s immediate circle, applying ‘reason’ before acting; all of these motivations in Bauman’s view can only have negative effects. He thus asserts: “At the far end of the long march of reason, moral nihilism waits: that moral nihilism which in its deepest essence means not the denial of a binding ethical code, and not the blunder of a relativistic theory – but the loss of the ability to be moral” (Bauman 1993:248). This potential for morality to actually become something that is ‘beyond’ human capabilities is indeed a sobering prospect. Yet, as with his general purpose in writing of desolate things with a cautionary tone, Bauman is essentially reminding us to live up to our potential as moral agents while we still have that moral agency at our disposal. He reasons that we have not lost our ability to be moral yet: Fortunately for humanity (though not always for the moral self) and despite all the expert efforts to the contrary, the moral conscience – that ultimate prompt of moral impulse and root of moral responsibility – has only been anaesthetized, not amputated. It is still there, dormant perhaps, often stunned, sometimes shamed into silence – but capable of being awoken, of that Levinas’s feat of sobering up from inebriated torpor (Bauman 1993:249).

However, Bauman does not reassure us that our remaining potential, our remnant of conscience, is enough, particularly in these thoroughly rational times when there are ever more reasons to stifle it. As Bauman asserts, the conscience is inherently vulnerable: “The moral conscience commands obedience without proof that the


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

command should be obeyed; conscience can neither convince nor coerce. Conscience wields none of the weapons recognized by the modern world as insignia of authority” (Bauman 1993:249). Because all-too-human things like conscience are seen as in need of ‘regulation’, Bauman explains that some kind of ‘code’ is constantly being sought. There is something extremely seductive in the idea of ethics being governed by a ‘code of law’ that will set down exactly, once and for all, what is ‘good’ and what is ‘evil’. Popular wisdom dictates that ‘ordinary’ people are ‘incompetent’ when it comes to ethics – that ethical guidance must necessarily come from ‘the experts’. This ties in with the idea that morality and ethics must lie on foundations that are “stronger and less volatile than ordinary people’s erratic habits and their notoriously unsound and mercurial opinions” (Bauman 1995:11). In the era of ‘solid’ modernity, morality was to be based on reason in a way that ‘made sense’ to people and appealed to their sense of self-interest; as Bauman asserts: “The message was straightforward: if you wish men to be moral, you must force them to be such. Only under the threat of pain will men stop paining each other. To stop fearing each other, men must fear a power superior to them all” (Bauman 1995:258). Formal prohibitions and prescriptions were to keep people on the ‘straight and narrow’. Morality was to be encouraged through the essential apparatus that underpinned modernity; order, bureaucracy and business. This, of course, reduced morality to a formula of simple rule-following, essentially, to a habit. As Bauman points out: “Most people – most of us – follow most of the time the habitual and the routine; we behave today the way we behaved yesterday and as the people around us go on behaving. As long as no one and nothing stops us from doing ‘the usual’, we may go on like this without end” (Bauman 1995:12). Of course, as ‘historical episodes’ like the Holocaust proved beyond doubt, ‘habit’ and the ‘standards of the time’ can prove to be very shaky foundations for moral conscience or moral action. As the historical record shows, at certain times, certain people are seen as standing outside of the sphere of moral consideration and responsibility. In the era of the Holocaust, the Jews were the people who did not need to be afforded the same rights and entitlements (even the right to life) as ‘ordinary’ people. In our own times, it is the poor who are regarded as lying outside of the categories of people that we need to protect, defend, or even tolerate. Bauman urges a form of morality that extends beyond simple rule-following. He urges us not to always be looking towards doing the minimum in moral terms, not to always be seeking the ‘end’ of our moral responsibility. Bauman asserts that it should not be possible to “conceive of an argument that could justify the renunciation of moral responsibility ... And one cannot imagine a point at which one could say with any sort of moral right: I have done my share, and here my responsibility ends” (Bauman 1995:268). As should be obvious, Bauman’s metaphors of human suffering and of social stratification – far from being merely linguistic, descriptive or explanatory devices – recall us to our human responsibility for the Other and contain deep-seated moral connotations. Tony Blackshaw captures this quality of Bauman’s metaphors by commenting: In Bauman’s hands, metaphors become much more than simply explanatory devices, however, as they provide him with a means for giving voices to the socially excluded …

Bauman on Metaphors


It is through these kinds of metaphors that Bauman transforms sociology from a medium through which sociologists largely read and write for each other, into a political and ethical forum for witnessing the unsettling – sociology as a kind of willed engagement with Otherness … Through the blizzards of metaphors he forces us to do what we cannot do in real life – enter the world of the Other (Blackshaw 2005:76-79).

Humanization Through Metaphors Above we have pointed to, documented and discussed Zygmunt Bauman’s synthesizing way of practicing sociology as a hybrid between poetic exposition and prosaic sociological observation. This hybridization is, perhaps, most evident in his continuous use of metaphors as a means to enhance our understanding of the world of which we are part and to stir moral indignation and imagination among his readers. The moral edge to Bauman’s metaphors, and to his wider sociology, might be taken as evidence of such as ‘humanizing’ agenda. Bauman undoubtedly aims for ‘humanization through metaphors’ (as contrary to Susan Sontag’s (2001:4) ‘liberation from metaphors’). His ‘humanization through metaphor strategy’ is twofold. First, he humanizes the world by describing it from the vantage point and experience of the human individual, whether tourist or vagabond, although more often from the latter than the former. For example, when he talks of globalization, he is first and foremost talking of its ‘human consequences’ (Bauman 1998b), not of financial or fiscal transactions, organizational changes, cultural products or other themes conventionally treated in the growing globalization literature. In his use of metaphors, Bauman categorically stands on the side of the weak and the marginalized. Second, he always points to the yet undiscovered human potential and the – in principle – unlimited possibilities waiting to be uncovered by humanity beyond the constraining confines of common sense and present social arrangements. The frequently deployed binary metaphorical opposition between the lived experience of ‘vagabonds’ and ‘tourists’ or between ‘sensation gatherers’ and ‘flawed consumers’ insists that there must be some (better) human existence beyond these confined and often contradictory ways of being in the world. From this follows that Bauman’s work – despite its poetic tinge – is not solely or purely poetic. It contains a sharp sociological scalpel that dissects social reality as we know it but which also allows us to sense the deep structures determining or at least directing the world we inhabit. As Pieter Nijhoff neatly summed up in his celebration of Bauman’s ‘right to inconsistency’, of his alternative way of writing and practicing sociology and of his ‘humanization/anthromorphization technique’: This is not to say that he [Bauman] makes up complete stories. It is more a matter of his utilizing narrative tools – to tell about happenings, where others give inanimate expositions. Actions replace causes, regulations replace regularities – and, of course, along a story-line there is much more occasion for accident and arbitrariness than there is in a systematic treatize. One of the tools that allows him to put so many things in the narrative form, is his technique – oh, sin of anthromorphization, even more anathema than reification! – of transforming social constructs (‘modernity’, ‘society’, ‘sociology’) into personages with hands and feet (Nijhoff 1998:97).


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

As part of his aiming at humanization through metaphors – of giving a human perspective on often abstract and amorphous social processes, of ‘transforming social constructs into personages with hands and feet’ – Bauman’s metaphors are simultaneously metaphors of responsibility and possibility. His metaphorical cornucopia opens up the world – to interpretation, to meaning, to action – and it does so by placing an inescapable moral responsibility on the shoulders of its readers; by pricking the slumbering moral conscience of his audience. This narrative or fictional strategy of utilizing metaphors to describe contemporary human plight is part and parcel of Bauman’s way of describing the world to his reading audience. Many scholars have pointed to how metaphors are (often deceitful) descriptions of how the writer wants us to understand and perceive the world – that metaphors, in a roundabout way, are pieces of fiction revealing some factual yet often intangible or obscure information about the world. True, metaphors – as part of a variety of fictional or literary strategies – are not merely clinical cognitive or conceptual devices at the disposal of a deceptive or imaginative writer; they contain a clear moral dimension – at times through counterfactual analyses of how the real world actually looks, they hint at how it may, could or should look like; at other times through describing how the world may, could or should look like, they hint at how it actually looks. In Bauman’s case, both strategies are deployed – he frivolously switches back and forth between them. As Alison E. Denham observed in her Metaphor and Moral Experience: Many fictional narratives – at the level of the configured aspects they present [such as metaphors] – hold true as representations not only in virtue of corresponding to how the world might be, but in virtue of helping us to recognize how it is … Fictional narratives render intelligible and, above all, recognizable complex, unique, and unfamiliar contexts and circumstances by presenting the kind of detail, interpretative depth, accessibility, and affective force in relation to which the scope and nature of our morally salient responsive sensibility may be explored. In short, fictions edit and organize hypothetical objects and events, persons, and actions into aspectival images which we are able to grasp in imagination – and recognize in our own lives (Denham 2000:352-353).

By grasping, in metaphorical imagination and through ‘aspectival images’, the lives of others (and of ourselves), we – as sociologists and human beings – are empowered to understand and to make a difference in the world, to act and to be moral. Bauman, through his unique humanity and lyrical sociology, does more than any other contemporary thinker to teach us the importance of being moral. His is a sociology underpinned by metaphor, but also suffused with morality that issues from every page. Ultimately, Bauman urges us to accept and to prize our moral responsibility, instead of continually trying to shirk or offload it: Moral responsibility is the most personal and inalienable of human possessions, and the most precious of human rights. It cannot be taken away, shared, ceded, pawned, or deposited for safe keeping. Moral responsibility is unconditional and infinite, and it manifests itself in the constant anguish of not manifesting itself enough. Moral responsibility does not look for reassurance for its right to be. It is there before any reassurance or proof and after any excuse or absolution (Bauman 1993:250).

Bauman on Metaphors


Bauman’s life, his unparalleled intellectual output, his unique and unorthodox way of practising and writing sociology; all of these are informed by his innate humanism, by his determination to force us to hear the ‘inaudible call’ (Bauman 1995:60) of the Other, to make us moral, responsible. He develops Jean-Francois Lyotard’s idea of children as the metaphor of humanity itself. The innocence and receptiveness of children thus provide a model of how we might live, and the values we might live by if we did not become so constrained by what society expects of ‘rational’ adults. ‘Mature’ adults have undergone a progressive journey, one away “from the human, all-too-human qualities of childhood. As if it was the logic of human society to run away from its members’ humanity” (Bauman 2005:110). Throughout his sociology, Bauman encourages us to return to a more ‘raw’, childlike stage of our humanity, one characterized by openness, creativity and potential. He laments the ‘rationality’ that leaves us blind to possibilities, and more importantly closed to the needs and rights of the other. Ultimately, Bauman urges us to release our ‘impulse of amity’ from the ‘straight jacket of rights and duties’ in order to truly embrace our moral duties and our humanity. Despite all that Bauman has so astutely observed about the dangerous nature of modernity’s love of the ‘project’, what he says in connection to the more sinister mission of the ‘gardening’ era of solid modernity, actually serves as a good summary of Bauman’s metaphorically-aided and Blochian inspired mission to make each of us more aware of our human potential: “The humanity of human beings is not something ‘given’ ... Humanity lies still ahead: it is a task – one which has to be carefully designed, resolutely executed and vigilantly monitored all along” (Bauman 2002:319). Our ability to be moral, ethical and responsible individuals relies upon similar vigilance. In Meaning and the Moral Sciences, Hilary Putnam observed how fiction – in this particular instance in connection to Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Journey to the End of Night but something easily extrapolated to other fictional works and their ‘extended metaphors’ – creates ‘knowledge of a possibility’, a knowledge distinct from certainty, precision, replicability and exactitude so characteristic of much (social) scientific knowledge: What I learn is to see the world as it looks to someone who is sure that hypothesis is correct. I see what plausibility that hypothesis has; what it would be like if it were true; how someone could possibly think that it is true … [And this] is a kind of knowledge. It is knowledge of a possibility (Putnam in Denham 2000:353).

Zygmunt Bauman’s frequent recourse to metaphors, as part of a more comprehensive fictional or literary perspective on the practice of sociology, justifies characterizing him as a man providing us – his readers, interpreters and fellow human beings – with such knowledge of possibilities; in a conceptual as well as utopian sense of the term. He is indeed a scholar who, in Robert Musil’s wonderful words, embodies a pervasive ‘sense of possibility’ (the poetic imagination) as a canopy or firmament to a more readily recognizable ‘sense of reality’ (the sociological imagination). In The Man Without Qualities, Musil proposed a subtle distinction between these two different senses, supplementing not negating each other – a distinction capturing the ambivalence as well as the powerful potential of Zygmunt Bauman’s sociology:

The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman


If there is such a thing as a sense of reality – and no one will doubt that it has its raison d’être – then there must also be something that one can call a sense of possibility. Anyone possessing it does not say, for instance: Here this or that has happened, will happen, must happen. He uses his imagination and says: Here such and such might, should or ought to happen. And if he is told that something is the way it is, then he thinks: Well, it could probably just as easily be some other way. So the sense of possibility might be defined outright as the capacity to think how everything could ‘just as easily’ be, and to attach no more importance to what is than to what is not. It will be seen that the consequences of such a creative disposition may be remarkable, and unfortunately they not infrequently make the things that other people admire appear wrong and the things that other people prohibit permissible, or even make both appear a matter of indifference. Such possibilitarians live, it is said, within a finer web, a web of haze, imaginings, fantasy and the subjunctive mood (Musil 1953/1996:11-12).

Bibliography Antoft, Rasmus, Michael Hviid Jacobsen & Feiwel Kupferberg (2007): “Kreativ kvalitativ sociologi – om kunstneriske processer og praksisser i samt paralleller til sociologien”, in Rasmus Antoft, Michael Hviid Jacobsen, Anja Jørgensen & Søren Kristiansen (eds.): Håndværk & Horisonter – tradition og nytænkning i kvalitativ metode. Odense: Syddansk Universitetsforlag. Bauman, Zygmunt (1987): Legislators and Interpreters: On Modernity, Postmodernity and Intellectuals. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1989): Modernity and the Holocaust. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1990): Thinking Sociologically. Oxford: Blackwell. Bauman, Zygmunt (1993): Postmodern Ethics. Oxford: Blackwell. Bauman, Zygmunt (1995): Life in Fragments: Essays in Postmodern Morality. Oxford: Blackwell. Bauman, Zygmunt (1997): Postmodernity and its Discontents. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1998a): Work, Consumerism and the New Poor. Buckingham: Open University Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1998b): Globalization: The Human Consequences. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2001): The Individualized Society. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2002): “Cultural Variety or Variety of Cultures?”. Critical Studies, 20:319-329. Bauman, Zygmunt (2004): Wasted Lives: Modernity and its Outcasts. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2005): Liquid Life. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2006): Liquid Fear. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt & Tim May (2001): Thinking Sociologically, 2nd Revised Edition. Oxford: Blackwell. Bauman, Zygmunt & Keith Tester (2001): Conversations with Zygmunt Bauman. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Bauman on Metaphors


Berger, Peter L. (1963): Invitation to Sociology: A Humanistic Perspective. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. Berman, Marshall (1991): All That Is Solid Melts into Air. London: Verso. Blackshaw, Tony (2005): Zygmunt Bauman. London: Routledge. Blackshaw, Tony (2006): “Too Good for Sociology”. Polish Sociological Review, 3 (155):293-306. Denham, Alison E. (2000): Metaphor and Moral Experience. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Jacobsen, Michael Hviid (2004): “From Solid Modern Utopia to Liquid Modern Anti-Utopia?: Tracing the Utopian Strand in the Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman”. Utopian Studies, 15 (1):63-87. Jacobsen, Michael Hviid (2006): “‘The Activating Presence’ – What Prospects for Utopia in Times of Uncertainty?”. The Polish Sociological Review, 3 (155):337349. Jacobsen, Michael Hviid & Sophia Marshman (2008): “Bauman’s Metaphors”. Current Sociology [in press]. Jacobsen, Michael Hviid, Sophia Marshman & Keith Tester (2007): Bauman Beyond Postmodernity: Critical Appraisals, Conversations and Annotated Bibliography, 1989-2005. Aalborg: Aalborg University Press. Lepenies, Wolf (1988): Between Literature and Science: The Rise of Sociology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Mills, Charles Wright (1959): The Sociological Imagination. New York: Oxford University Press. Musil, Robert (1953/1996): The Man Without Qualities, Volume I: 1930-1942. London: Minerva. Nijhoff, Pieter (1998): “The Right to Inconsistency”. Theory, Culture & Society, 15 (1):87-112. Nisbet, Robert (1976): Sociology as an Art Form. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers. Rothenburg, Albert (1979): The Emerging Goddess: The Creative Process in Art, Science and Other Fields. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Sontag, Susan (2001): Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors. New York: Picador. Tester, Keith (2004): The Social Thought of Zygmunt Bauman. London: Palgrave/ Macmillan.

This page intentionally left blank

Chapter 2

Bauman on Ambivalence – Fully Acknowledging the Ambiguity of Ambivalence Matthias Junge

Introduction The concept of ambivalence is often used implicitly in sociological theory. Thus, the possibilities of the concept for social theory and for the understanding of the constitution of social and cultural order are not exhausted. With Zygmunt Bauman’s explicit utility and discussion of the many faces of ambivalence, using the explication of the ‘ambiguity of ambivalence’, the chance is given to develop a more comprehensive understanding of ambivalence and its contribution to the constitution of social order. The ambiguity of Bauman’s conception of ambivalence is also seen in his methodological approach in social theory, a kind of experimental plurality of perspectives. This chapter locates Bauman’s understanding of ambivalence in contemporary social theory, explicates his perspective of ambivalence throughout different pieces of work from his early to his latest contributions and finally discusses the strengths and weaknesses of his approach. In sociology, ambivalence is held to be a key feature of current societies (Lüscher 1997; Junge 2000). Ambivalence as a feature of sociation is recognized by social theorists and the people experiencing its presence especially in times of rapid social change during the transformation of a given social order. Descriptions of transformations frequently use simultaneously given yet contrary tendencies to identify developmental trends. It seems that every development is a unity of contraries, for example, globalization and localization (Bauman 1998), differentiation and dedifferentiation (Lash 1988), integration and fragmentation (Lash & Urry 1987). Thus, it seems that ambivalence is a significant attribute describing the foundations of social order and its social consequences. Furthermore, ambivalence is also a dominant attitude of social theorists and of the people being subject to transformations. The attitudes towards such societal transformations and developments are scepticism and hope, the ambivalence between the chances and risks of transformations and anticipated developmental trends. Within social theory this statement is equally valid for the classics (Smart 1999) as well as for more recent social theories (Smelser 1998). The classics like Émile Durkheim, Georg Simmel, Max Weber or Ferdinand Tönnies combined contrary tendencies to grasp the social consequence of the starting industrialization.


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

Furthermore, the classics also held ambivalent attitudes towards industrialization and modernization, and their judgements combined fears and hopes in respect to the future of society. However, they did not attempt to elaborate the concepts of ambiguity or ambivalence more fully for an understanding of the constitution of social order (Levine 1985). And in the same way, recent sociological theories can be read as converging in the recognition of the significance of ambivalence for an understanding of contemporary social orders. Some short exemplary remarks should illustrate this. Communitarian social theory (Etzioni 1996) implies at the core of its theory the idea of ambivalence as a necessary condition for a balanced and dynamic relation of autonomy and order. For Richard Münch (1981/1982, 1991, 1995), for example, the production of solidarity and interpenetration offers two ways of coping with ambivalence, the former oriented toward the dimension of social integration, the latter oriented toward the process of differentiation as a systemic process and the possibilities to build institutions as a way to cope with ambivalence. Ulrich Beck (1986/1993) also develops the social significance of ambivalence for current societies out of the given ambiguities in the description of recent social orders as ‘halved’ and as ‘second’ modernity and the significance of current societal transformation. Implicitly, and partly explicitly, the concept of ambivalence and coping strategies for ambivalence are widely used in contemporary sociological theory. However, the mentioned authors and their works only touch upon the idea of ambiguity and ambivalence without recognizing the centrality of the concepts for their social theories. Thus, the concept of ambivalence is only implicitly used. For example, Richard Münch (1991) unfolds the paradoxes of modernity – tensions inherent in the assumed value standards of modernity – showing that every value such as rationalization produces social results which stand in sharp contrast and contrary to the central value. The given diagnosis seems to be correct and describes the ambivalence of social action and its outcome. However, in the considerations of Münch, ambivalences and paradoxes are not seen as fundamentally given phenomenon sui generis, as it were; rather they are seen as secondary consequences of other developmental processes. Because Münch analyzes ambivalence as an unavoidable consequence, he is unable to take into account that ambivalence is a driving force at the beginning of social developments. In short, ambivalence is incompletely conceptualized and used. The same can be said about the work of Ulrich Beck (1986/1993). Although his idea of a split between ‘halved’ and ‘second’ modernity is a useful characterization of the present stage of modernity, ambivalence is only seen as the by-product of the modernization of modernity, without him seeing that we find ambivalence inherently in the basic idea of modernity as a cause for the development of a divided modernity. Only the model of Amitai Etzioni (1996) seems to reconstruct the tension between autonomy and social order as a cause for social developments. However, in his vision of a balance between both poles, he ignores the idea of ambivalence as a chance for freedom and social order. In summary, the implicit use of ambivalence in a range of contemporary sociological theories prevents a comprehensive analysis and use of the concept of ambivalence in social theory.

Bauman on Ambivalence


Ambivalence in Bauman’s Social Theory The great step of Zygmunt Bauman has been to build a social theory grounded explicitly on the centrality of ambivalence for the constitution of social order (Junge 2000, 2006). Early on in his intellectual career, Bauman developed a conception of ambiguity and ambivalence and has persevered in his thesis that ambivalence is a key for the understanding of modern, postmodern and liquefying societies. Taking into account the centrality of ambivalence, Bauman has used the chance to avoid four common problems in social theories using ambivalence only implicitly. First, Bauman focused from the beginning explicitly on ambiguity and ambivalence, thus naming both as the starting-point for an analysis of social order. This is not the first theory assuming tensions between different poles to be the ‘last’ source for social order and development as an earlier model, for this way of thinking can be found in Georg Simmel’s sociology and its dualism. However, Bauman avoids the metaphysical assumption of a dualism, deducing ambiguity and ambivalence from the basic need for orientation in the social and cultural world. Secondly, Bauman explicitly defines ambiguity and ambivalence and is thus able to avoid the reduction of both to a concept of tension or antagonistic contraries. The latter tendency is widely used in social theory, for example within Marxism, conflict theory or Gerhard Lenski’s analysis of status. However, the conception of tension fosters the idea that a tension can be reduced or destroyed. Contrary to this, the idea of ambiguity and ambivalence assumes both to be necessary, unavoidable and indestructible. Thirdly, with the conceptual twins of ambiguity and ambivalence, Bauman is able to construct a social theory binding together cognition or knowledge and action and experience as two sides of the same single process constituting a social order. Finally, with the conception of ambivalence Bauman develops a key to access the social significance of inner experiences (Erleben) for the constitution of a social order and opens the possibility to work out a social and cultural criticism of the present age taking into account the importance of the inner experience of individuals. Contrary to this, inner experiences are usually not regarded as a theme for sociological analysis and are held to be something sociology is not able to deal with. By this way of thinking, Bauman has opened the recognition of many social, cultural and moral phenomena for their inherent ambivalence and also for theorizing this ambivalence. For example, the conception of ambiguity of every cultural order developed in Culture as Praxis emphasizes in the same moment the necessity of a cultural order to deal with ambiguity and the impossibility to avoid any ambiguity within these cultural orders (Bauman 1973). In this way, Bauman avoids the idea of a closed and finite cultural realm of values and standards developed, for example, in the functionalism of Talcott Parsons. Bauman opens up the analysis for the recognition of cultural order as a tool which can be used in different manners and following different interpretations and intentions of the individuals. The cultural order is described as a flexible, constantly changing way of structuring the world. This idea is taken up especially in the work of John Urry (2000) and in his conception of mobility. In the same way, Bauman’s discussion of the incurable ambivalence of morality leads to a new perspective on morality and ethics, following on the one side


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

the philosophical inspiration of Emmanuel Lévinas, and on the other side opening the analysis of moral and ethical action for a new empirical investigation focusing on the limitations of a rule guided morality. Great parts of the discussion of Bauman’s moral theory are concerned with the theoretical problems of his approach especially in contrast with the moral sociology founded by Émile Durkheim (Shilling & Mellor 1998). Empirical research following the new point of view advanced by Bauman has not, to my knowledge, yet been carried out. Finally, one of his latest books, Wasted Lives, transforms the concept of ambivalence into the conception of ‘waste’ and this way builds a bridge to recent discussions about inclusion and exclusion in social theory as well as in social analysis of social structures. In Germany, we find a lot of work anticipating Bauman’s perspective, for instance Markus Schroer (2001) and Peter Imbusch (2001), or following a similar path as Michael Vester (2006). In all these cases, the concept of waste is used to sketch out the lines of a social bifurcation, a dividing-line between individuals repressed by exclusion from consumption on one hand, and individuals seduced by inclusion into the possibilities of consumption on the other, showing social structures as mechanisms for the social exclusion of an increasing part of individuals within current societies under conditions of globalization. What are the general lessons which can be drawn from Bauman’s theoretical investigation of ambivalence? The concept of ambivalence yields the possibility to overstep the theoretical boundaries of classical dichotomies and allows us to see the inherent ambivalence of every pole – for example, consent can be understood as a consent about a disagreement – and the inherent ambivalence between the poles – since ambivalence itself is relative to every dichotomy, that is, a request to investigate both sides of a dichotomy. Sociological theories are used to work with twosided conceptions, with dichotomies like differentiation versus de-differentiation, globalization versus localization, order versus freedom, conflict versus consent, and so on. I am not suggesting that these categorical schemes are useless. However, they have a great disadvantage when we try to investigate social ambivalences, since by using such a categorical scheme we get caught within the scheme. We can oscillate between the two poles, but we have difficulties in viewing them together as a unity of differences. However, to handle ambivalence conceptually, a careful design able to catch the ambiguity of ambivalence is needed. In the following I will attempt to show firstly the ambiguity of Bauman’s conceptualization of ambivalence, and secondly that the ambiguity of this conception is a mirror of the diversity of ambivalence. The suggestion is made to interpret Bauman’s works on ambiguity and ambivalence as a key to the development of research strategies unfolding the implicitly suggested experimental plurality of perspectives. My considerations are divided into two main steps. The first step in the next part of the chapter is to reconstruct the special definition of ambivalence in different works spanning more than three decades of Bauman’s writings: Culture as Praxis (1973), Modernity and Ambivalence (1991), Postmodern Ethics (1993), Liquid Modernity (2000) and finally Wasted Lives (2004b). All of these pieces of work will be analysed in the same manner using one scheme of questions: (1) What is the concrete definition of ambivalence?, (2) What is the conceptual focus of the analysis?, (3) Which element or feature of society is the last resource for the

Bauman on Ambivalence


emergence of ambivalence?, (4) What is the meaning of coping with ambivalence for a society? (the term designates the social and cultural practices, the intention of practices of coping with ambivalence), and finally (5) What is the hope and intention of Bauman by unfolding the concept and phenomenon of ambivalence? The next step in the chapter will be to clarify and discuss where the strengths and weaknesses of Bauman’s ambiguous use of ambivalence can be seen and will finally attempt to offer an interpretation of his particular research strategy. The scheme below provides an analytical account of different, usually not explicated definitions of ambivalence, but also unfolds the development of the concepts of ambiguity of ambivalence in Bauman’s writings. However, the scheme has to deal with two features of Bauman’s work in a way which not really seems to be fair to his work. First, Bauman’s use of the concept of ambivalence is on one side in parts clear and explicit, on the other side vague and inexplicit in applying the concept. Thus, it is necessary for the scheme to fix one definition or understanding which dominates a particular work and to differentiate between aspects or dimensions of the use of the concept. This is not possible without a kind of interpretation of Bauman’s total work by the author. Secondly, it could be mentioned that giving definitions of such vaguely used terms is inappropriate for an understanding and reconstruction of Bauman’s works and intentions. However, this is unavoidable if we do not want to get caught in the trap of a postmodern social theory (Bauman 1992). Work Domain Definition of ambivalence Focus of attention Origin of ambivalence

Culture as Praxis Ambiguity

Modernity and Ambivalence Ambiguity/ ambivalence

Postmodern Ethics

Liquid Modernity

Wasted Lives



Waste Social order

Cultural order

Social order

Moral order

Social processes

Ambiguity of meaning

Classificatory order

The Other


Meaning of coping with ambivalence

Limitation of meanings



Opening chances for action


Necessity of order

Raise hope for change of an order

Deconstruction of moral rules

Risk analysis

Figure 2.1

Social bifurcation Secure the illusions of a consumer society Social criticism

The ambiguity in Bauman’s conception of ambivalence

Reconstructions (a) Culture as Praxis In his early cultural theory, in Culture as Praxis, Bauman tried to reach an understanding of cultural order as a solution to the problem of an unlimited number


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

of possibilities of meaning (Bauman 1973). Culture is here seen as the origin and as the solution to the problem. It is argued that every culture develops such a multitude of possible orientations which have to be limited and restricted in order to allow orientation for the members of any culture. This understanding follows from Max Weber’s conception of the hiatus irrationalis and shows that an order of meaning is a cultural product and that without it culture is impossible. Or, as Bauman said, the transformation from chaos into order is the first challenge human beings face. This early approach does not seem to define ambivalence. Rather ambiguity is the theme and problem for a cultural order of meaning. The diversity of meanings enforces the cultural struggle for structuring and limiting meanings and for constructing a cultural order opening (and closing) a horizon for orientation. In this context, ambiguity is the central challenge to be resolved by finding a way to reduce the complexity of ambiguous meaning by a cultural order. The focus of Bauman’s analysis is the variety of meanings as the source of ambiguity. Culture emerges through the selection of meaning and its transformation into a cultural order. A cultural order is by definition an order limiting, restricting and forbidding meanings for the orientation of its members. The central conceptual focus is meaning, since every meaning implies ambiguity. No guideline for orientation is able to offer only one possible orientation; rather a plurality of orientations is always implied. It is only through the force of limitation and cultural forces that orientation becomes gestalt, a form. Thus, on one side the meaning of a cultural order is limitation, structuring, and on the other side this process produces the possibility of freedom to act using structured orientations. This understanding recalls Arnold Gehlen’s “Über Die Geburt der Freiheit aus der Entfremdung” (1952/1963). Akin to this analysis of the emergence of cultural institutions, Bauman argues for the necessity of the support of individual orientations by limitation. Gehlen’s approach tries to explain the emergence of institutions using the anthropological description of humans as having a surplus of energy which has to be structured, formed and controlled by institutions which in this way alienates humans from their nature. However, Bauman’s cultural-semiotic approach is more abstract and more general compared to Gehlen’s, since Bauman begins his analysis using the basic problem of all human beings as meaning searching and meaning giving beings: How to find and give meaning to the world? The necessity of limitation refers to Bauman’s intention by conceptualizing ambiguity: Order, whether cultural or social, is the only way to build a world allowing a human existence. Without order any attempt to realize human needs will fail. Order is the necessary condition for human beings to live as social beings. The construction of order marks the step from nature to culture and thus the step from pure biologically determined existence to societal existence. However, Bauman does not follow the analytical conceptualization developed by Talcott Parsons (1937/1968) since he keeps a strong focus on the possibility to change a given order and its deep structures. In this context, we have also to remember that Bauman’s view of order cannot be integrated into the three typical and classical versions of the problem of order as described by Dennis H. Wrong (1994) – order constituted by mutual agreement (John Locke), by coercion (Thomas Hobbes) or by normative patterns (Jean-Jacques Rousseau). In Culture as Praxis he develops a model of order

Bauman on Ambivalence


as the order of classifications, taking up elements of all three traditions with a strong emphasis on the tradition of Rousseau. (b) Modernity and Ambivalence A further step unfolding the social relevance of ambiguity and ambivalence is taken by Bauman with Modernity and Ambivalence (Bauman 1991). After a long and path-breaking attempt to analyse the Holocaust in its special significance for an understanding of modernity (Bauman 1989), he once again states ambivalence to be a key feature of order. However, now he is dealing with social order. This book follows the grounding of Culture as Praxis, but it enlarges the scope of the analysis. Modernity and Ambivalence defines ambivalence as a necessary failing of the naming and segregation function of language. Defined in this way, ambivalence is a problem of classification and thus collapses into ambiguity. Ambiguity is a feature of every term: the fact of having more than only one meaning. Ambiguity is normally given in every natural language and also in every language game used to organize social practices. Thus, ambiguity is an unavoidable companion of the production of meaning. The difference between ambivalence and ambiguity is central for a social theory of ambivalence. While ambiguity is a problem of cognitive structures, ambivalence is a problem of human experience, of the feeling of being torn between different, mostly two, different and often mutually excluding evaluations of what happens. The term ambivalence itself shows the meaning: two (bi) valuations (valences) in conflict. According to Bauman, every attempt to classify implies an excluded third category. This third category – for instance the stranger – is not an integral part of order, and thus the third category challenges the order from the outside. The third category is the manifestation of the danger (and the chances) every order has to face: to be questioned by the excluded, to be asked for legitimation of the order and to be challenged by the possibility of another possible system of classification. The focus is directed to the constitution of order, and ambivalence is the origin and the result of any attempt to order. Ambivalence is a condition for the constitution of order, since the necessity to cope with ambivalence reinforces the constitution of an order. On the other side, the order constituted this way itself produces ever new ambivalences via exclusion of categories, the third category of classification. Coping with ambivalence within the frame of a nation-state means first to establish authority. The meaning of authority or governance is not the exclusion of ambivalence; rather it is the army to fight against social manifestations of ambivalence, for example strangers or the Jews. Informed by the history of the Holocaust, the Jew for Bauman is the best case to demonstrate strategies of social exclusion on different levels reaching from psychological mechanisms of downgrading to bureaucratic mechanisms of control. Authority is the means to give ways of life, social practices and rules a normative order, an order prescribing behaviour by sanctioning deviance through exclusion. Without this way of coping with ambivalence, a social order secured by authority is not possible. At first sight, it seems we find an understanding in Modernity and Ambivalence comparable to the one seen in Culture as Praxis – the notion of the necessity of order


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

by authority. However, to read Bauman in this manner is only a half truth because, on the other side, we find an emphatic argument for viewing ambivalence as hope. The necessary existence of ambivalence in any order and the impossibility to destroy ambivalence finally raises the hope to change an order. Ambivalence forms the basis for a strong criticism of an order, a chance to emancipate from order. Thus, the reconstruction of ambivalence now constitutes the possibility to free oneself, individually or collectively, from a given order by disenchanting the order. Bauman takes the argument of critical theory (Horkheimer 1947/1991) that Enlightenment is a key for criticism, and change a necessary condition for building up a world with a human face, in the same moment avoiding the pessimistic conclusion of Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer (1944/1969) in their Dialectic of Enlightenment. (c) Postmodern Ethics The interaction with a moral system given in a society and framed by a nation-state shows another face of ambivalence. Such a moral order is, as Bauman shows in Postmodern Ethics as a critique of Immanuel Kant’s moral theory (1785/1983), a rule based order, prescribing moral action as action subsuming situations under the moral rule of the universal moral imperative (Bauman 1993). However, the assumption of a moral rule to give a clear prescription of action is faulty since no situation can be definitively subsumed under the rule. Every situation, especially a moral situation, is inherently ambivalent. The definition of ambivalence here means the diversity of possible descriptions of a situation, the basic process in the constitution of a meaningful order. Variety and the absolute individuality of every social and moral interaction restrict the realm of moral orders. Thus, moral action following a ruleguided morality has to repress the ambivalence of moral situations. Bauman’s focus in Postmodern Ethics is directed at the moral order as a third kind of order besides cultural and social order. With this work, we have completed a conceptual system of orders all dealing with ambivalence and every order following the premise to destroy ambivalence. However, the origin of ambivalence in the critical study of the moral order goes quite another way. The ambivalence of a moral situation can only be experienced if the situation is understood as an ethical situation outside the moral order. Experiencing someone or a situation as being outside the moral rules opens the experience of the Other, not of the Other as a case of a rule. And the Other is inherently ambivalent – in an ethical situation you are overwhelmed by the Other’s presence, seeing the Other in his or her pure form or gestalt. In this understanding, Bauman draws a lot of inspiration from the work of Emmanuel Lévinas (1969, 1985) and his ethical theory, but he goes a step further than Lévinas since he tries to reconnect this approach to social theory. As I see it, this attempt fails since central premises of a moral sociology, especially the idea of reciprocity, are found missing, and thus Bauman’s ethical theory cannot ground a moral sociology (Junge 2001; Lash 1996). However, an ethics of alterity opens for an alternative view of moral situations beneath the established moral order (Gardiner 1996). From this point we can see the meaning of a moral order: to exclude the ambivalence of the Other through its reduction into the Other. By the way, reciprocity is established to ground the threefold system of moral, cultural and social order.

Bauman on Ambivalence


Reciprocity seems to be the key to establish order. Thus, grounding an ethical theory outside the system of reciprocity in a pre-social moral impulse changes central features of a given order and transforms an interaction order into Begegnung (Buber 1965). The deconstruction of the moral order realizes the intention to invert the perspective of moral phenomenon. Bauman has shown the limits of a rule-based moral order in order to confirm the possibility of another way of being which takes up responsibility for the Other without the reduction of the Other into a case. Such a viewpoint constitutes an emancipation of the Other and also of the ethical subject now condemned to take responsibility. (d) Liquid Modernity In Liquid Modernity we lack a definition of ambivalence and find instead a discussion of the emergence of insecurity, uncertainty and risk (Bauman 2000). The main thesis of the book is the idea that fixed and given structures are dissolved, that the social order undergoes liquefaction, a process of dissolution (for an early sociological diagnosis of society using the features of fluidity, liquidity and temporariness, see Bennis & Slater 1968). In short, constant change without a halt within a social order. Such processes without a teleological given end designated ‘order’ creates insecurity and angst for the involved individuals. Thus, the analysis of coping with insecurity, uncertainty and unsafety – grounded in In Search of Politics (Bauman 1999) – replaces the analysis of ambivalence. The current discussion about societal risk advanced by, for example, Ulrich Beck (1986/1993) and Anthony Giddens (1990), is taken up and gives current societies the label of risk societies and, for Bauman, liquid modernity. Here we find for the first time a change in the focus of Bauman’s analysis. He now concentrates on processes. He tries to describe ongoing liquefaction searching for a new conceptual framework for sociological work. The old-fashioned contrast between static and dynamic (Comte 1830-1842/1974) stands in the way of the ability to grasp the idea of ongoing change. Therefore, the classical sociological framework is not able to paint a clear picture of constant change. Thus, Bauman more frequently than before now uses metaphors to describe the new development (Jacobsen & Marshman 2006). However, by using extensive metaphorical language he cuts the line to common empirical research strategies and develops new conceptual and ambiguous schemes for sociological analysis. The origin of liquid modernity is solid modernity. The dynamics of solid modernity to destroy everything stable in the end turns against modernity itself. Bauman is using the notion of reflexivity to understand this development: the moment the principles of modernity are directed to modernity, liquefaction begins. The same idea is used in the discussion of the risk society by Ulrich Beck (1986/1993) or in the discussion of postmodernity by Jean-Francois Lyotard (1979/1986). Reflexivity thus is a central feature within modernity in the end establishing a liquefied modernity. The meaning of liquefaction, however, is not clear. It seems to denote an acceleration of social processes. Social dynamics are forced and freed to become more and more dynamic through growing risks, ongoing individualization and intensified globalization. It is difficult to fix a firm meaning of liquefaction. Thus, the meaning of liquefaction


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

seems to be to name the risks and chances of action and strengthen the awareness for both under conditions of accelerating social and cultural change. A long list of books succeeds Liquid Modernity in order to show ways of living under these liquefied circumstances. The Individualized Society (2001a), Community: Seeking Safety in an Insecure World (2001b), Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds (2003), Identity (2004a), Wasted Lives: Modernity and Its Outcasts (2004b) and finally Liquid Fear (2006) all try to establish a focus on life strategies employed in liquid modernity, and also with changing concepts and metaphors seek to analyse the present age. This is exactly the second intention of Liquid Modernity, to intensify the search for new concepts and metaphors for the analysis. (e) Wasted Lives This book is quite remarkable since it marks a turning-point and also a return to the older focus of Bauman’s attention in connection to ambivalence. We cannot, however, find a definition of ambivalence since ambivalence no longer is the theme. It is now replaced by waste. With this substitution Bauman finishes a complex and prolonged categorical move. Starting with the impossibility of perfect order and the analysis of their fragility, he now analyzes the loss coming into being with the liquefaction of order. The category of the excluded third is now reconstituted as the fact of excluded human beings in a social and structural context of integration and exclusion. Developing the concept of ‘waste’, Bauman closes the gap between knowledge and action (Matthes 1994; Nunner-Winkler 1996). Waste is defined in the following way: “The production of ‘human waste’ … is an inevitable outcome of modernization, and an inseparable accompaniment of modernity. It is an inescapable side-effect of order-building” (Bauman 2004b:5). Thus, waste is defined in much the same way as ambivalence (Bauman 1991:1), as a failure of the naming and segregating function of language. Both have in common that they are necessary and unavoidable results of a specific kind of production, a necessary by-product of the development of order. However, as a concept, waste has an advantage compared to ambivalence. The concept of ambivalence could only try to close the gap between classificatory order and action order by way of using an ambiguity in the concept: in one moment it is understood as ambiguity, in another it is meant to stand for ambivalence. Using waste as a central concept, this inherent ambiguity is finally prevented. Waste is explicitly a two-sided concept, binding together the order of classification and the action order. On one side, waste has to be defined as waste (Douglas 1966) – the product of the classification process – and on the other side, handling something as waste constitutes the order of exclusion and inclusion – the action order. The concept of waste seen in this context is leading backwards and forwards to a theory of practice. Backwards since Culture as Praxis developed the outline of a theory of practice, and forwards since the interpretation of waste needs the description of practices making waste and dealing with waste. It seems to me that the concept of waste finally helps to finish the search for a conceptual tool to enclose nearly all research themes Bauman has dealt with. Waste can be seen as the necessary by-product of limiting cultural meanings, waste constitutes the realm of the excluded

Bauman on Ambivalence


meaning as discussed in Culture as Praxis. Also waste encloses the uncontrolled rest of the aspirations of the garden state described in Modernity and Ambivalence. Consequently, in the case of Postmodern Ethics every feature of ethics not following the rule-orientation of modern morality expressing the unavoidable irrationality and ambivalence of moral phenomenon are seen as the waste of a rule-guided morality. And this waste creates the foundation for an ethics of alterity. And finally, in Liquid Modernity, liquefaction destroys old structures transforming them into the waste of historical developments. The concept of waste can be used to describe social orders, structures and processes from a viewpoint outside of the discussed orders, structures and processes. Waste is not included, as it were; however we can conclude from the excluded in the direction of the included. Waste is a conceptual tool of thinking sociologically with negations. We find again the known focus directed to social order. Akin to Modernity and Ambivalence, we see a discussion of exclusion, however in this book not the exclusion of a third category, but rather the factual exclusion of some humans declared to be the third, waste, human waste. Thus, the origin of waste stems from a social bifurcation between integrated and repressed individuals. The integrated humans are primarily seduced by consumption and able to handle the choices consumption demands whereas the repressed are the individuals unable to choose. Not choosing is their fault. And thus they must be excluded, since their pure existence is seen as a danger to the illusions of a consumer society. Waste is a useless by-product of production, however the meaning of waste is to secure the illusions of a consumer society based on the ability of individuals to choose. But there is no real choice; every choice is made within the demands of seduction, thereby alienating humans from their ability to make a choice rooted in their real nature and capacity. Bauman’s intention in this discussion is clear – the naming of humans as waste is a war cry of criticism. It is a massive critique of societal processes of exclusion and social structures allowing and reinforcing social exclusion. With this criticism, Bauman takes up again his roots in a naturalistic humanism sensu Karl Marx (1844/1971). Towards an Experimental Plurality of Perspectives On first sight, Bauman’s work with the concept of ambivalence seems to be somewhat confusing. However, such evaluation is not appropriate. Bauman’s use of the concept is one of the richest found in social theory. His delineation and discussion unfolds different domains of an analysis of ambivalence applying the concept in his work to several different issues. The strategy of Bauman’s theoretical development is to add, step by step, new dimensions to societal ambivalence. Starting with a focus on cultural order, he goes on to the discussion of ambivalence in social orders, later taking up the problem of ambivalence in moral orders and finally analysing the ambivalence of social processes. Every time we get new insights in the structure of order – and into ambivalence – and the picture of ambivalence, step by step, develops from a sketch to a more colourful painting. The grounding sketch is the unavoidable ambiguity of


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

every kind of meaning, and it is this fundamental and unsolvable problem which generates continuous attempts to deal or cope with this problem in social and moral orders and processes. In Bauman’s work, ambiguity and ambivalence are two sides of the same phenomenon. Ambiguity concerns knowledge, cognitive classifications and patterns of orientations for action. Ambivalence, on the other hand, designates action and experience. We can only understand ambiguity and ambivalence as twins. With this conceptualization, Bauman opens the opportunity to discuss at the same time cultural and social orders in one single attempt. What Anthony Giddens (1984) has developed within his theory of structuration, Bauman with a strong emphasis on cultural order develops in his cultural-semiotic approach. Finally, in his writings on waste, Bauman comes back to the roots of Culture as Praxis, taking the concept of waste as a vehicle to state the basic duality of orders as unity of cultural and social orders. The possibilities of such a conceptualization are performed using historical evidence in Modernity and the Holocaust, discussing the relation of private-public issues as a present-day problem in Life in Fragments, taking up the challenge of ethics after moral order in Postmodern Ethics, and by finally working out a strong social criticism of contemporary society in Liquid Modernity and Wasted Lives and by the way returning to sociology understood as enlightenment and critique. Moreover, in Bauman’s work on ambiguity and ambivalence, we find both these aspects of sociology valued as a chance for action and for orientation. Ambiguity and ambivalence are sources of resistance against the cultural and social way of destructing ambivalence. Within every order, we find an alternative vision of this order. Looking back at Bauman’s work, the diversity, ambiguity and the step by step unfolding of new dimensions of ambivalence is rather remarkable. No given definition of ambivalence provides the reader with the whole of ambivalence. On first sight, this could be seen as a serious deficiency of Bauman’s theorizing on ambivalence. His concepts are never closed and only seldom without some ambiguity. Moreover, they provide no guidelines to empirical research in the classical sense of the term. However, in Bauman’s strategy to unfold different meanings of ambivalence, we see a methodological strategy of post-empirical methodology (Hesse 1980) within the special area of social theory (Bryant 1995; Seidman 1994; Seidman & Wagner 1992). Central to this is the ability to work with blurred or fuzzy terms and concepts, however not in the sense of mathematical models of fuzzy-logic in the end leading to a new formula, but rather to work with terms and concepts with an inherent blurred character (Vielmetter 1998); terms which do not have a clear boundary and of which we are thus unable to construct a clear-cut definition. However, a central issue seems to be missing from Bauman’s argument: an explication of the methodology used. His key in describing the new states of societies is the use of different pictures. No picture and no definition provides the complete story of the phenomena of ambiguity and ambivalence. However, by adding to the pictures we enlarge the colourfulness of the painting. This strategy can be named as an ‘experimental plurality of perspectives’. Every perspective has its own potentiality, although only the inaccessible total sum of all possible pictures mirrors the totality of

Bauman on Ambivalence


the phenomenon in question. With this strategy, Bauman reacts to the basic problems of current social theory: the plurality of perspectives is unavoidable and valuable, and thus we have to use such a plurality of perspectives. It is the ability to combine perspectives which fosters new sociological insights. Sociological research done in this manner only develops and offers interpretations never conclusions. With this strategy, Bauman realizes the program he originally developed in Legislators and Interpreters (Bauman 1987). The task of sociology in postmodernity or liquid modernity is to offer interpretations without claiming their incontrovertibility or conclusiveness. Experimental plurality of perspectives allows us to choose between different perspectives related to particular interests, problems, situations and hopes. Experimental plurality of perspectives opens the horizon of possible descriptions and the horizon of possible actions. Every horizon is an alternative to the given, a way to emancipate from given structures, orders and legislations. With this strategy, Bauman realizes what he assumes to be the first task of sociology: to open paths for the emancipation and the potential of human beings. Bibliography Adorno, Theodor W. & Max Horkheimer (1944/1969): Dialektik der Aufklärung: Philosophische Fragmente. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer. Bauman, Zygmunt (1973): Culture as Praxis. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Bauman, Zygmunt (1989): Modernity and the Holocaust. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1991): Modernity and Ambivalence. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1992): Intimations of Postmodernity. London: Routledge. Bauman, Zygmunt (1993): Postmodern Ethics. Oxford: Blackwell. Bauman, Zygmunt (1998): Globalization – The Human Consequences. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1999): In Search of Politics. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2000): Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2001a): The Individualized Society. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2001b): Community: Seeking Safety in an Insecure World. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2003): Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2004a): Identity: Conversations with Benedetto Vecchi. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2004b): Wasted Lives: Modernity and its Outcasts. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2006): Liquid Fear. Cambridge: Polity Press. Beck, Ulrich (1986/1993): Risk Society. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Bennis, Warren G. & Philip E. Slater (1968): The Temporary Society. London: Harper & Row.


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

Bryant, Christopher G. A. (1995): Practical Sociology: Post-Empiricism and the Reconstruction of Theory and Application. Cambridge: Polity Press. Buber, Martin (1965): Das dialogische Prinzip: Ich und Du, Zwiesprache. Die Frage an den Einzelnen: Elemente des Zwischenmenschlichen. Heidelberg: Lambert Scheider. Comte, Auguste (1830-1842/1974): Die Soziologie: Die positive Philosophie im Auszug, 2nd edition. Stuttgart: Kröner. Douglas, Mary (1966): Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. New York: Praeger. Etzioni, Amitai (1996): The New Golden Rule: Community and Morality in a Democratic Society. New York: Basic Books. Gardiner, Michael E. (1996): “Alterity and Ethics: A Dialogical Perspective”. Theory, Culture & Society, 13 (2):121-143. Gehlen, Arnold (1952/1963): “Über die Geburt der Freiheit aus der Entfremdung”, in Arnold Gehlen (ed.): Studien zur Anthropologie und Soziologie. Neuwied/Berlin: Luchterhand. Giddens, Anthony (1984): The Constitution of Society. Cambridge: Polity Press. Giddens, Anthony (1990): The Consequences of Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press. Hesse, Mary (1980): Revolutions and Reconstructions in the Philosophy of Science. Brighton: Harvester Press. Horkheimer, Max (1947/1991): “Zur Kritik der instrumentellen Vernunft”, in Alfred Schmidt (ed.): Max Horkheimer: Gesammelte Schriften, Band 6: ‘Zur Kritik der instrumentellen Vernunft’ und ‘Notizen 1949-1969’. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer. Imbusch, Peter (2001): “‘Überflüssige’: Historische Deutungsmuster und potentielle Universalität eines Begriffs”. Mittelweg, 36, 10 (5):49-62. Jacobsen, Michael Hviid & Sophia Marshman (2006): “Metaphorically Speaking – Metaphors as a Methodological and Moral Signifier of the Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman”. Polish Sociological Review, 3 (155):307-325. Junge, Matthias (2000): Ambivalente Gesellschaftlichkeit: Die Modernisierung der Vergesellschaftung und die Ordnungen der Ambivalenzbewältigung. Opladen: Leske + Budrich. Junge, Matthias (2001): “Zygmunt Bauman’s Poisoned Gift of Morality”. British Journal of Sociology, 52 (1):105-119. Junge, Matthias (2006): Zygmunt Bauman: Soziologie zwischen Moderne und Flüchtiger Moderne, Eine Einführung. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften. Kant, Immanuel (1785/1983): “Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten”, in Wilhelm Weischedel (ed.): Immanuel Kant: Werke in zehn Bänden, Band 6. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft. Lash, Scott (1988): “Discourse or Figure? Postmodernism as a ‘Regime of Signification’”. Theory, Culture & Society, 5 (3):311-336. Lash, Scott (1996): “Postmodern Ethics: The Missing Ground”. Theory, Culture & Society, 13 (2):91-104. Lash, Scott & John Urry (1987): The End of Organized Capitalism. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Bauman on Ambivalence


Lévinas, Emmanuel (1969): Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press. Lévinas, Emmanuel (1985): Ethics and Infinity. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press. Levine, Donald N. (1985): The Flight from Ambiguity: Essays in Social and Cultural Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Lüscher, Kurt (1997): “Postmoderne Herausforderungen an die Soziologie”, in Stefan Hradil (ed.): Differenz und Integration: Die Zukunft moderner Gesellschaften. Frankfurt am Main: Campus Verlag. Lyotard, Jean-Francois (1979/1986): Das postmoderne Wissen: Ein Bericht. Wien: Edition Passagen. Marx, Karl (1844/1971): “Nationalökonomie und Philosophie”, in Siegfried Landshut (ed.): Karl Marx: Die Frühschriften. Stuttgart: Kröner. Matthes, Joachim (1994): “‘Mit Ambivalenzen leben’: Zygmunt Baumans halbherzige Kritik der Moderne: Rezension zur Zygmunt Bauman: Moderne und Ambivalenz”. Soziologische Revue, 17 (3):291-297. Münch, Richard (1981/1982): “Talcott Parsons and the Theory of Action, I: The Structure of the Kantian Core, II: The Continuity of the Development”. American Journal of Sociology, 86-87:709-739, 771-826. Münch, Richard (1991): Dialektik der Kommunikationsgesellschaft. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Münch, Richard (1995): “Modernity and Irrationality: Paradoxes of Moral Modernization”. Protosoziologie, 7:84-92. Nunner-Winkler, Gertrud (1996): “Gewalt – ein Spezifikum der Moderne?”, in Max Miller & Hans-Georg Soeffner (eds.): Modernität und Barbarei: Soziologische Zeitdiagnosen am Ende des 20. Jahrhunderts. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Parsons, Talcott (1937/1968): The Structure of Social Action: A Study in Social Theory with Special Reference to a Group of Recent European Writers. New York: Free Press. Schroer, Markus (2001): “Die im Dunkeln sieht man doch: Inklusion, Exklusion und die Entdeckung der Überflüssigen”. Mittelweg 36, 10 (5):33-48. Seidman, Steven (1994): The Postmodern Turn: New Perspectives on Social Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Seidman, Steven & David G. Wagner (eds.)(1992): Postmodernism and Social Theory: The Debate over General Theory. Oxford: Blackwell. Shilling, Chris & Philip A. Mellor (1998): “Durkheim, Morality and Modernity: Collective Effervescence, Homo Duplex and the Sources of Moral Action”. British Journal of Sociology, 49 (2):193-209. Smart, Barry (1999): Facing Modernity: Ambivalence, Reflexivity and Morality. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Smelser, Neil J. (1998): “The Rational and the Ambivalent in the Social Sciences”. American Sociological Review, 63:1-16. Urry, John (2000): Sociology Beyond Societies: Mobilities for the Twenty-First Century. London: Routledge. Vester, Michael (2006): “Der Kampf um soziale Gerechtigkeit: Zumutungen und Bewältigungsstrategien in der Krise des deutschen Sozialmodells”, in Heinz


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

Bude & Andreas Willisch (eds.): Das Problem der Exklusion: Ausgegrenzte, Entbehrliche, Überflüssige. Hamburg: Hamburger Edition. Vielmetter, Georg (1998): Die Unbestimmheit des Sozialen: Zur Philosophie der Sozialwissenschaften. Frankfurt am Main: Campus Verlag. Wrong, Dennis H. (1994): The Problem of Order: What Unites and Divides Society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

PART 2 Ethics

This page intentionally left blank

Chapter 3

Bauman on Ethics – Intimate Ethics for a Global World? Manni Crone

Introduction Sociology has a complicated and somewhat strained relationship to ethics. Sociology emerged in the 19th century as a positivistic science exactly by dissociating itself from moral philosophy. As a modern, empirical science, it evolved on the basis of the modern distinction between the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’ as formulated by philosophers such as David Hume and Immanuel Kant. Sociology should be preoccupied with the empirical ‘is’ and leave futile metaphysical discussions of ethics to philosophy. Obviously, sociologists could study values and ethical practices as a part of social reality, but they ought to abstain from drawing moral and political conclusions from their scientific knowledge. According to this modern worldview, explicated by among others Max Weber, sociology was a ‘value-free’ science that could not derive ethical or political recommendations from empirical knowledge. Upon closer examination, however, things were a bit more complicated. Émile Durkheim, for example, maintained that it was possible to derive moral injunctions (‘ought’) from a statistical knowledge of a particular society (‘is’) (Durkheim 2002). He still adhered to evolutionism and believed that human societies evolved according to specific laws. By uncovering these social laws, the social scientist could know how a healthy society ought to be; whereas discrepancies from the correct historical path were a sign of social pathology. What has been retained from Durkheim’s sociology is not, however, this attempt to formulate a scientific ‘ought’, but his formulation of a positivistic science leading to clear and distinct knowledge of the ‘is’. The most serious challenge to sociological positivism came from Jürgen Habermas and Theodor Adorno, who in 1961 initiated the great Positivismusstreit (The Positivist Dispute) directed in particular against Karl Popper and the notion of a value-free science. However, while exponents of the Frankfurt School challenged positivism and de facto re-established moral philosophy, Habermas’s theory remained framed within the modern distinction of ‘is’ and ‘ought’, or between Faktizität und Geltung (Habermas 1992). Whereas positivism studies the empirical ‘is’, a critical question for Habermas is how to construct a rational ‘ought’. By the time Zygmunt Bauman enters the ethics scene in the 1980s, the ethics landscape has shifted. In the 1980s and 1990s, new discourses on ethics appeared that deliberately broke away from the modern ‘is’-‘ought’ distinction, focusing instead on ethical questions in new ways. These new voices (e.g. Michel Foucault, Emmanuel


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

Lévinas, Charles Taylor and Alasdair MacIntyre) share a common critique of both positivism (Weber and Durkheim) and universalistic moral philosophy (Habermas). At stake in the 1990s is a reframing of philosophical and sociological questions about ethics; not a remake of the Positivismusstreit. The central question is no longer: Can science make ethical prescriptions; rather, the questions are now: How does science conceive of ethics? What is moral practice? What is morality? What is moral man? In other words, we observe a shift from epistemological questions (what science can ‘know’) to questions of what ethics is about. Bauman’s great achievement is the manner with which he places these philosophical discussions within a sociological context. Bauman introduces philosophical discussions to sociology and proceeds to link these discussions to a sociological analysis of modern and postmodern societies. In Modernity and the Holocaust (1989), Postmodern Ethics (1993) and Life in Fragments (1995), he develops an original thesis about postmodern ethics. Postmodernity had often been understood as the collapse of morality. To many philosophers, the breakdown of a universal understanding of ethics would lead directly to moral relativism. But Bauman takes the original stance that the vanishing of the modern conception of ethics on the contrary constitutes an opportunity for morality. The disappearance of modern ethics will not lead to moral relativism; instead, it might possibly pave the way for a new understanding of morality. In contradistinction to a modern understanding that reduces ethics to a capacity to follow norms, rules and laws, Bauman understands morality as the autonomous moral responsibility of each individual human being irrespective of the particular laws prevailing in a particular society. Bauman’s formulation of a postmodern morality is then built upon a devastating critique of modernity, particularly the modern understanding of ‘ethics as law’. Considering this harsh critique of the modern conception of ethics as law, it is somewhat surprising that Bauman, in 2001, suddenly invokes rules and laws as the solution to current problems. “What is needed”, Bauman now argues, “is a set of rules, a global law that is binding, really binding and not just dependent on, whether a particular country has agreed or not … A global law cannot be a law that is only in force if a particular country is willing to consider it as such. A global law must be a real law that should be obeyed” (Bauman 2001). The intransigent critique of the modern conception of ethics as law has apparently been replaced in 2001 by the strong invocation of laws. But how can we understand this turn from a vehement critique of the modern focus on laws to a vehement invocation of laws? Has Bauman, who elsewhere has denounced the ‘legislative nostalgia’ of modern philosophers (Bauman 1994:14), himself become a nostalgic for such legislation? Has he abandoned the postmodern illusion that true morality should be found beyond the laws? Or has the deepening of his ethical reflections revealed that the opposition between laws and morality was a false opposition? In this chapter, I shall discuss Bauman’s theory of ethics with a special focus on the relationship between law and morality. I shall argue that Bauman delivers a persuasive critique of the modern framing of ethics as law, but that he fails to develop alternative sociological and political conceptions of ethics to replace it. He persuasively points to the limitations of the traditional conception of ethics in sociology and opens up for a reconsideration of the entire ethical field, but

Bauman on Ethics


his own ethical theory remains embryonic. Even if he merely wanted to point to limitations within existing sociological theories and add a corrective to traditional understandings of ethics, the link between Bauman’s corrective and existing sociological theories remains unclear. In the following, I shall unfold these ideas in three points. Initially, I shall consider Bauman’s critique of modern ethics, then his own theory of a postmodern morality, and finally, I assess his overall ethical contribution to sociology. Modern Ethics: The Primacy of the Laws Bauman formulated an original thesis of a ‘postmodern ethics’ in the 1990s (Bauman 1993). Many philosophers had considered postmodernity to represent the twilight of ethics, since ethics would now be absorbed in the postmodern maelstrom of relativism. To these philosophers, the postmodern dictum of ‘everything goes’ was now paving its way into ethics. However, Bauman takes the original stance that postmodernity does not represent the end of ethics; on the contrary, it offers an opportunity for ethics. Or to be more precise: an opportunity for morality. In Postmodern Ethics, Bauman might have stressed that “this book is a study of postmodern ethics, not of postmodern morality” (Bauman 1993:1). Upon closer scrutiny, however, quite the opposite appears to be the case. Postmodern Ethics is not a book on postmodern ethics, but rather a book on postmodern morality. Bauman’s reflections on ethics are indeed underpinned by a sharp distinction between ethics and morality, and if the modern period was characterized by ethics, postmodernity has created a new social ontology that seems favourable to morality. Modernity was then an ‘era of ethics’, whereas postmodernity signals an ‘era of morality’ (Bauman 1994:31). In Bauman’s vocabulary, ethics is a meta-morality since it is about the codification of morality in the form of universal laws. But postmodernity represents ‘modernity without illusions’. As such, it announces the breakdown of this modern conception of ethics and the subsequent appearance of a new morality that is liberated from ethics. If modernity promoted ethics and attempted to shape moral behaviour according to ethical laws, postmodernity, on the contrary, offers a ‘morality without ethics’ (Bauman 1994; italics added). Bauman’s ambition is to map out this postmodern morality, and this effort is symbiotically linked to a harsh assessment of modernity. In order to depict the new postmodern morality, Bauman must provide a thorough critique of modernity and in particular the conception of ethics that prevailed in this ‘era’. This endeavour unfolds at two levels: a theoretical and a sociological level. The original feature of Bauman’s contribution is indeed that he links a philosophical discussion to a broader sociological analysis of ethics in modern and postmodern societies. At the theoretical level, Bauman argues that modern philosophers and sociologists played a critical role in the shaping of the modern understanding of ethics. His analysis is then built on the thesis that the modern conception of ethics to a certain extent shaped the social reality of modernity, i.e. that theory has had some influence on moral practices in the modern era. This is why a sociological critique of modern ethics must initially focus on philosophy. The problem with the modern conception


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

of ethics was twofold: first, it narrowed ethics down to laws, norms and rules; and second, it considered morality to be a social construction. To begin with the first point, it was Immanuel Kant who, according to Bauman, introduced the modern idea that ethics was a question of obeying universal laws. Modern philosophers had rejected the idea of a metaphysical foundation of ethics. Instead, they proposed a new understanding of ethics in which ethics was an outcome of human rationality. In this respect, Kant was a key figure. With the introduction of Kant’s moral philosophy, ethics was no longer – as for Aristotle – a question of making ethical judgments in particular situations (phronesis), but a question of acting in accordance with abstract, universal laws. Crucial to Kant’s argument was the notion of the autonomy of the moral agent. Moral agency was not a question of obeying any law – and certainly not the laws of religion and tradition – but a question of obeying the moral law that the rational agent had himself formulated by using his free reason. According to Kant, the modern moral subject was ‘free’ in the sense that he was not ruled by tradition, religion or human nature, but by a universal law that he had formulated himself. According to Bauman, Kant’s framing of ethics as law had a tremendous impact on social reality in the modern period. Modern ethics was a ‘law-ethics’. What was less successful at a sociological level was the idea of autonomy. Moving from philosophical abstraction to the sociological level, it appears as though modern legislators had little confidence in the rationality of the modern subjects and their capacity to rule themselves with universal laws. Rather, they considered the citizen of the modern state to be guided by low instincts and desires. Since the modern subjects were not spontaneously moral, the modern legislators required strong laws and disciplinary techniques in order to force them to morality. In this sense, the modern ‘era of ethics’ was not, as Kant had dreamt, an era of autonomy, but of strong heteronomy. The universal laws at the centre of modern ethics were not autonomously formulated by the rational subjects themselves, but by modern legislators backed by the legitimate power of the emerging State. In this sombre description of modernity, Bauman draws heavily upon Michel Foucault’s brilliant account of the modern project of order and discipline (Foucault 1961, 1975), to which I return later. This understanding of ethics as rules and laws was also a salient feature of the sociological understanding of ethics. If Kant introduced the idea of ethics as laws, sociology – Durkheim in particular – promoted the other main idea of modern ethics: that morality was a social construction. According to Durkheim, natural man has no ethical capacity; it is only through the socializing efforts of society that man is little by little transformed into a social and ethical being. According to Bauman, this sociological conception of ethics dates back to Thomas Hobbes and his famous formulation of the state of nature. In Thomas Hobbes’ state of nature, man is an egotistical and amoral being who only pursues his own narrow interest. Hence, the state of nature assumes the form of a potential war of all against all, the famous bellum omnium contra omnes. The crux of this philosophical hypothesis is the idea that man becomes moral the moment he leaves the state of nature and steps into society. Outside society, man is a moral void. By entering the social realm, however, he is transformed into a moral being in the precise sense that he accepts to subject himself to the laws of the sovereign state. In complete agreement with the practice

Bauman on Ethics


of modern legislators, Durkheim and modern social science has considered ethics as a heteronomy, i.e. something that the individual should be inoculated with by means of socialization, education and discipline. But what is the problem with this modern conception of ethics? Is it not true that man starts out as a moral neuter and must be educated to become a moral being? And does moral behaviour not consist of setting aside one’s own narrow interests and following a rule that is universal and not particular or relative? According to Bauman, the problem with such a sociological conception of ethics is twofold: (1) by considering ethics as a social construction that emerges in a particular society, sociology abides by ethical relativism. If sociology accepts any given construction of laws and norms as ethics, it is not in a position to judge such a particular ethics. It must, in other words, accept the norms leading to the Holocaust as a form of ethics. It might be a very particular German kind of ethics, but ethics nevertheless. However, this problem of ethical relativism was already dealt with in the great Positivismusstreit. (2) The originality of Bauman’s approach is then to be found in the second problem: the vicious consequences engendered by modern ethics. Modern ethics combined with an efficient modern bureaucracy paved the way for the display of disciplinary techniques and – accidentally – also a phenomenon such as the Holocaust. As mentioned, at the core of Bauman’s argument is the idea that, in the modern period, theory has shaped social practices to a certain extent. Hence, Bauman’s critique of the modern ethics is, strictly speaking, not a theoretical or philosophical critique pointing to the internal inconsistencies or shortcomings of a particular theory. Rather, Bauman points to the sociological consequences of a particular conception of ethics. The paramount problem with the modern conception of ethics is not that it is philosophically inconsistent, but that it has narrowed down our understanding of ethics and, as such, entailed a number of unattended consequences at a sociological level. Does this indicate, as Matthias Junge has suggested, that “Bauman accepts Durkheim’s proposition that the form of morality depends on the form of society”? (Junge 2001:108). Not necessarily, since, according to Bauman, the connection between morality and society is not a 1:1 relation wherein morality is produced by a particular form of society. It was rather the other way around in the modern period, since, in Bauman’s view, it was the modern conception of ethics that shaped the social ontology to a certain extent. But Bauman does not maintain that theory necessarily leads to a particular practice or a particular form of society. There is no necessary connection between Kant’s or Durkheim’s respective conceptions of ethics and Auschwitz, as there is no necessary connection between the postmodern conceptions of morality and moral practices in the postmodern era (I shall return to this below). Rather, Kant’s particular framing of ethics as law has created the condition of possibility for Auschwitz to emerge. The modern conception of ethics was then a necessary – though not sufficient – condition for Auschwitz. Auschwitz became a reality when a particular conception of ethics was linked to particular features of modern society, e.g. a modern bureaucracy (Bauman 1989). Hence, modernity in Bauman’s version is not primarily the emergence of democracy or the rule of law, but a long process towards barbarism. Such a depiction


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

of modernity is hardly new. In the 1940s, Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer (1975) argued that the modern project of rational enlightenment was ambiguous and that it could eventually turn over in its own contradiction. Since the 1960s, Michel Foucault (1961, 1975) has also produced elaborate descriptions of the drawbacks of modernity. The original feature of Bauman’s account of modernity is then not the idea that ‘Kant, that’s already Holocaust’, but rather his focus on ethics. To Adorno, Horkheimer and Foucault, the problem of modernity was first and foremost a problem of reason and the attempt of modern reason to impose order, control and discipline. To Bauman, the main problem of modernity is not merely reason, but ethics; or at least a particular combination of ethics and reason. To Bauman, it is not only the adventures of reason, but a specific understanding of ethics that leads to the Holocaust. From this sombre vision of modernity, it is hardly surprising that Bauman welcomes the current dissolution of modernity. The Ethics of the Face: A Pre-Social Morality In opposition to the modern conception of ethics that reached its apotheosis in modern bureaucracy, Bauman proposes an alternative conception of morality that is largely inspired by Emmanuel Lévinas. In this postmodern conception, morality is not located in current rules, laws or norms, but in the infinite responsibility that I must assume when faced with another person. Morality is then not a universal and abstract law that ignores the particular situation and the particular Other, but the infinite responsibility that occurs when face-to-face with another human being. It is not a neutral, sociological ‘being-with-the-other’, where we are all subject to the same universal laws, but a ‘being-for-the-other’, where, in the presence of the Other, I must assume an absolute responsibility. Unlike the anonymous rule that is implemented at a distance, Bauman proposes a morality of proximity that occurs in the presence of a particular Other in a particular situation. As mentioned, Bauman’s conception of morality is more or less taken from Lévinas’ (1961) phenomenological analysis of the meeting with the Other as a ‘face’. According to Lévinas, the presence of the other person’s face is the presence of something entirely transcendent that I can never fully apprehend and bring under my control. This ethical set-up is then not a rational relation in which the subject scrutinizes the other person’s face in order to gain rational knowledge about what to do. Rather, it is the presence of the other person’s face that is constitutive of my subjectivity. My subjectivity is ‘always already’ ethical in the sense that it is ‘always already’ constituted as infinite responsibility. I am not a solipsistic ego capable of choosing to be moral or not. In that sense, I am constituted inter-subjectively as responsibility, and this responsibility is hardly something I can either choose or ignore. Moreover, this infinite responsibility is oblique in the precise sense that it is non-reciprocal; I must assume an infinite responsibility for the weakness of the Other, but I cannot expect him/her to assume the same responsibility for me. Morality is not a give-and-take relationship. It is not a don (a present) in the sense of Marcel Mauss, where I give something in order to get something in return. According to Mauss (1971), non-reciprocity would be a transgression of norms. According to Bauman

Bauman on Ethics


and Lévinas, non-reciprocity is on the contrary the way morality works. But since morality is non-reciprocal, the moral micro-cosmos that Bauman depicts does not lead to a larger sociological web of responsibility in which we are all tied together through reciprocal relations of responsibility. I might be responsible for the Other, but this responsibility is not linked to a broader social realm. The larger sociological picture only occurs through a deliberate break with the moral situation. Hence, morality is not, as Durkheim maintained, a social construction that occurs within society; rather, it is a pre-social impulse inherent in human beings. Humans do not require education and discipline in order to become moral beings. They do not need compulsion in order to assume responsibility for the Other. Rather, they are ‘always already’ endowed with a moral capacity, a moral instinct that can be activated in the particular meeting with another person. Morality is then neither a question of social compulsion, nor of the rational formulation of universal laws, but a question of feelings, i.e. a pre-social, irrational instinct that is activated in the meeting with the Other. In this conception of morality, humans are not moral neuters that society must force to act morally; it is the other way around. All human beings are endowed with an alienable moral capacity that can be modelled, changed, but also perverted and corrupted in a particular society. Does this indicate that humans are by nature good? Bauman does not defend the idea of a natural ontology of human beings, i.e. a fixed natural anthropology. The fact that humans are endowed with a pre-social moral capacity does not mean that they always do the good in practice. Rather, they must be considered ‘morally ambivalent’ in the sense that they are capable of both good and evil (Bauman 1998:17). The moral capacity inherent in human beings is a possibility that must be actualized, but it is a universal possibility existing independently of any particular conception of ethics that prevails in any particular society at any particular point in time. Hence, the ‘discovery’ of this postmodern conception of morality opens up for a re-establishment of the autonomy that was lost with modernity. According to Bauman, modernity was ‘adiaphoric’ in the sense that it had a neutralising effect on morality. Adiaphoric tendencies can be found in all societies at all times – also in postmodern societies (Bauman 1993:153). According to Bauman, however, the modern era was adiaphoric par excellence, since it was imbued with ethics. In the modern era, politicians and legislators developed sophisticated ‘ethical’ technologies to discipline the modern subjects and create order within the modern nation-state. The modern bureaucracy was indeed a key element in the development of these adiaphoric tendencies, since bureaucratic ethics in the modern world were synonymous with the capacity to follow or execute rules without any consideration of the particular persons. And these ‘ethical’ rules were carried out at a distance. Ethics neutralize morality in this precise sense, since the attempt to place ethics in a formula neutralizes the radical meeting with the Other. In contrast to the modern rules and laws establishing precise limits to good and evil, the moral responsibility for the Other can never be enforced by heteronymous rules and laws. Rather, morality becomes possible in the absence of rules and laws. Hence, morality emerges in an ethical void, i.e. in situations in which I ignore exactly what to do, where there are no precise indications of how I do the good, and where I can never be certain that I did enough. In contrast to the modern conception of ethics


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

that formalized ethical practice, morality can never be specified and measured, since it is per essence infinite. And since morality cannot be translated into particular rules, laws, norms and decrees, it is always up to each single person to decide exactly how responsibility should be put into practice. What I should do for the Other in a particular situation is up to me. In the absence of specific rules, it is always me who must make the autonomous decision of what to do. Compared to the modern lawethics, morality appears as an excess, i.e. as an infinite responsibility that as such transcends the precise limits of rules and laws. We are here in the presence of an interesting theoretical configuration that is standard equipment in different versions of the philosophy of life (Friedrich Nietzsche and others): beneath the laws, the rules, the prohibitions, the authentic, the true, the lived life occurs. Beneath the dull slave-morality of average man, beneath the oppressive institutions of democratic society, we find the body, the desire, the lust, but – apparently – also Bauman’s postmodern morality: an infinite responsibility for the Other transcending the pettiness of the laws. According to Bauman, true morality is indeed to be found beyond the anonymous, impersonal, cold, universal rules and laws, in the excessive, in the transcendent, in the lived encounter with the other human being. Bauman’s theory of a postmodern morality is then a remake of this theoretical figure that has been played through in many versions. Foucault was aware that his own oeuvre could be characterized in these terms, when he – not without humour – described his work in the following terms: “Behind the walls of the asylum, the cheerful spontaneity of madness; beneath the penalty-system, the generous fever of crime; under the sexual taboos, the fresh desire” (Foucault 1975). Paraphrasing Foucault, Bauman’s postmodern morality could be characterized in the following terms: “Behind the anonymous rules, the transcendent face; beneath the bureaucratic routine, the excess of the Other; behind the universal laws, the infinite responsibility”. Of course, Bauman does not maintain that society can live without laws, rules or bureaucracies. All societies must accept some degree of ‘adiaphorization’. There is no ‘end of history’, where the good society has been realized and the laws have become utterly superfluous. Nevertheless, since morality cannot be codified and transformed into laws without ceasing to be morality, strictly speaking there is at least some tension between law and morality. Towards a Sociological Theory of Morality? In the 1990s, Bauman’s analyses of a postmodern morality represented a challenge to the discipline of sociology and contributed to a renewal of sociological discussions about ethics. Nevertheless, the impact of his moral theory within sociology appears to be rather limited. Whereas Bauman’s analyses of modernity and postmodernity have gained widespread recognition within the sociological field, the same does not appear to be the case with his moral theory. If it was Bauman’s ambition to correct Durkheim’s understanding of ethics, it is doubtful whether his moral theory has met the challenge. In any case, the paradigm shift announced in Modernity and the Holocaust has not taken place. But why did Bauman’s theory of a postmodern morality only have a limited impact?

Bauman on Ethics


The limited impact on the sociological field is likely due to two major problems: at a theoretical level, one could argue that Bauman fails to formulate a sociological theory of morality, i.e. a theory with a sociological scope. At an empirical level, his theory of morality fails to adequately capture the evolution of the social ontology in the postmodern world. Matthias Junge has argued that since ‘the moral party of two’ is pre-social, Bauman fails to provide a ‘sociological theory of morality’; subsequently, his proposition requires a supplement (kindly proposed by Junge (2001) himself). If Bauman aspired to propose an alternative to replace earlier sociological theories of morality, this is a serious critique. If he rejects traditional sociological theories of morality and at the same time fails to deliver an alternative, he would indeed leave sociology in a moral dilemma. But if his moral theory was only meant as a corrective or supplement to existing sociological theories – i.e. an enlargement of our traditional understanding of ethics – Bauman’s moral theory does not need to have such a sociological scope, since traditional conceptions of ethics would remain valuable outside the pre-social realm of morality. Bauman’s ambition is indeed to enlarge the traditional sociological understanding of morality by casting light on a moral experience hitherto underexposed in sociological theories. He considers this moral situation – ‘the moral party of two’ – to be pre-social in the precise sense that (1) it is a moral capacity that is inherent in every human being, and (2) in the sense that it can be actualized in any human society irrespective of the particular cultural understanding of ethics prevailing in that particular society. This pre-social moral capacity can of course be actualized in the social realm. While the understanding of ethics prevailing in a particular society is adiaphoric, it is possible for particular human beings to assume moral responsibility autonomously. Irrespective of Nazi-legislation and the political ethos of Nazi-Germany, it was possible for certain individual citizens to help individual Jews. However, this pre-social morality – that as mentioned could be actualized in the social realm – appears as a break with the ‘normal’ conception of ethics in a particular society. Hence, morality is an exception to the norm. Bauman brilliantly conceptualizes this moral exception, but he does not tell us very much about the norm or ethical practices that do not take the form of an infinite, excessive responsibility. It is not possible to maintain that outside of the moral party of two, traditional sociological ethics remain in force, since there is a fundamental incompatibility between the theories of Bauman and Durkheim. Bauman’s theory of morality is underpinned by a particular anthropology according to which man is endowed with a ‘natural’, pre-social capacity to be moral. Conversely, Durkheim’s moral theory is built on the assumption that ‘natural’ man is a moral void. These two anthropologies are obviously mutually exclusive. Within one single theory, it is not possible to maintain that pre-social man is both a moral void and at the same time endowed with an inherent moral capacity. It is not possible to maintain that morality is a social construction and, at the same time, has its unique source in the pre-social realm of the ‘moral party of two’. By taking this incompatibility into consideration, we must conclude that Bauman fails to provide a sociological theory of morality. He formulates a pre-social conception of morality, but he does not give an account of other forms of ethical practice in the social realm. If this is the case, however, Bauman only goes


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

half-way in formulating a genuine alternative to existing sociological theories of morality. Hence, he is stuck with his pre-social morality – that might occasionally be actualized in the social realm – but he does not endeavour to elaborate a moral theory with a genuine sociological scope. The second problem with Bauman’s theory of morality is sociological, since the postmodern morality suggested by Bauman is not supported by empirical evidence in the ‘postmodern era’ (and one could then with some legitimacy ask whether it is postmodern at all). As mentioned, Bauman welcomed the dissolution of modernity and, in particular, the illusions characterizing this era. Postmodernity could then be described as modernity without illusion, i.e. as an era in which we have finally gained insight into true morality. However, the hope that the ambivalent and contingent postmodernity would also be an ‘era of morality’ was never met. Thus, Bauman had to recognize that although there were indications that a modern ethics was on the decline, there were no similar indications that a postmodern morality was on the rise. Notably, the modern project of creating order through discipline had not been replaced by an increase in autonomous moral practice, but primarily by aesthetic strategies and practices of the self. And like the modern law-ethics, these aesthetic practices have adiaphoric implications. In that sense, Michel Foucault’s (1984) formulation of an ‘aesthetic of existence’ appears much more appropriate for capturing the postmodern condition. The postmodern world never became an ‘era of morality’, but first and foremost a world of consumption; this feature of postmodern societies has marked our social relations. In the postmodern world, our relations with other human beings are primarily aesthetic. In the postmodern cities, I am not confronted with transcendent faces I can be responsible for, but with strangers presenting themselves as potential objects of pleasure and desire. The stranger passing by in the street is a body I can examine and – eventually – take pleasure from, but certainly not an unknown who urges me to assume a most inconvenient responsibility. Indifference, not responsibility, is a predominant feature of postmodern urban life. Hence, Bauman’s conception of morality is of very limited empirical scope in the postmodern era. While according to Bauman, the modern conception of ethics had an impressive impact on modern social reality, the same is not the case with the ‘postmodern’ morality. There are no signs that Bauman’s postmodern morality is part of a historical trend which, over time, could gain substantial empirical significance. There is no empirical evidence that we are currently entering an ‘era of morality’. As such, morality does not necessarily depend on a particular form of society. Of course, Bauman never maintained that postmodernity would witness the flourishing of moral responsibility, but if a sociological theory captures current sociological developments, it has – all other things being equal – a greater chance of gaining sociological prominence than if it does not. I do not suggest that morality has disappeared in the era of globalization, or that adiaphorization has become even more pronounced in this era. There are numerous examples of global morality in the form of civic engagement – e.g. in international organizations such as Greenpeace, the global response to the 2004 Tsunami in Southeast Asia or the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan. But these empirical manifestations of global morality have yet to be integrated into a larger theory of how to construct a world citizenship with rights and duties.

Bauman on Ethics


One could, of course, maintain that, in contrast to the modern ethics, a crucial characteristic of the postmodern morality is precisely that it only occasionally is incarnated in the empirical reality. Whereas the modern ethics was considered to be a social construction and as such was necessarily a part of social reality, the postmodern morality is mostly contra-factual, a pure ‘ought’. And this postmodern morality is not only contra-factual in the present, but also in the future, since it is characterized by the impossibility of ever becoming a ‘social fact’. More precisely, morality is located in the distance between the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’. It is precisely because the postmodern morality is not a part of social reality that it can be conceived of as a critical standard that can be used to judge or inspire social reality. Although the transcendent morality of the face is a very rare phenomenon, it nevertheless works as a standard we can compare ourselves and the present reality to. As Bauman states, in order to understand morality, we must bracket away the empirical world: “It is the whole realm of ontology that is ‘bracketed away’; not denied or put into question, but ‘suspended’ for the time we explore the sense of morality” (Bauman 1998:16). However, the idea that morality should be found in the breaking away from ontology and the subsequent focus on something that ‘is’ not, is not a postmodern invention. Jürgen Habermas, who must indeed be considered a modern philosopher, would agree to the contra-factual aspect of morality. A contra-factual understanding of morality is then not a postmodern, but a modern invention. Within the framework of sociology, the moral distinction between the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’ is not a postmodern, but more precisely a ‘post-positivistic’ distinction. Following this post-positivistic logic – that morality and values are not necessarily ‘social facts’ – the paramount question must be whether the morality of proximity proposed by Bauman is apt to cope with the ethical problems of contemporary society. Is a pre-social morality of proximity what is required in a postmodern or liquid modern world characterized by globalization, new media, Internet and sophisticated technologies of communication? Is a pre-social, pre-political, contra-factual morality of proximity what is needed for sociology in the 21st century? From Micro-Ethics to Macro-Ethics? In his wrestling with ethical questions, Bauman not only challenges the sociological discipline; he also constantly challenges himself. Since the mid-1990s, the theme of globalization little by little replaces the theme of postmodernity. The focus of interest is then no longer the shift from modernity to postmodernity, but from ‘modernity to globalization’ (Bauman 1994:14). However, this shift in the way of considering the present ‘era’ has implications for Bauman’s theory of morality. Bauman increasingly becomes aware that in order to cope with the problems resulting from globalization, the micro-social morality of the face requires a macro-social supplement. After carrying out a devastating critique of the modern conception of laws, Bauman not only recognizes that laws are necessary, but that a conceptualization of laws is necessary. This does not mean that he makes a U-turn and defends a sheer rehabilitation of the modern conception of ethics as law (and its sociological corollary, Durkheim’s


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

theory of ethics). Rather, confronted with the limitations of his own theory, he sets out to formulate a sociological theory of morality according to which the social realm should not be regulated by adiaphoric laws, but by laws that are in some way linked to morality. The question therefore arises whether the pre-social morality of the face can be extended outside the micro-social ‘party of two’? Can morality in some way place its mark on a broader social realm? In the essay “Morality Begins at Home: Or the Rocky Road to Justice”, Bauman addresses the painful question of the social dimension of morality. In Bauman’s terminology, the social dimension of morality is a question of ‘justice’ (Bauman 1997:48). At the end of the 1990s, Bauman hence leaves the question of morality in the strict sense (micro-morality), turning instead to the macro-ethical question of justice. By completely rejecting the modern conception of ethics, Bauman has driven himself out in a micro-social vacuum. On the one hand, he depicted a presocial ‘party of two’, where morality reigned supreme; on the other hand we find a social realm that is not covered by Bauman’s theory and as such a moral desert. Bauman is then confronted with a predicament not unlike the one Thomas Hobbes and the philosophers of natural right were confronted with in the 17th century when they had to articulate the difficult transition from a pre-social ‘state of nature’ (the moral party of two) to the social realm. Following Emmanuel Lévinas, Bauman argues that the social realm of justice appears when ‘the third’ enters the scene and breaks down the ‘moral party of two’ (Lévinas 1961; Bauman 1997). Once we move from the micro-social realm of responsibility to the macro-social realm of justice, the Other loses his moral privilege and becomes a simple ‘citizen’ among others. When the third person makes his appearance on the ethical stage, the ‘moral party of two’ breaks down and is replaced by a social realm that is no longer ruled by infinite responsibility, but by laws. Does this indicate that when Bauman leaves the moral ‘state of nature’ and enters the social realm, he reinstates the modern conception of ethics as law? Not really, since Bauman replaces the modern conception of ethics as law with another conception where the moral dimension is situated in the gap between justice and positive law. Bauman makes a critical distinction between justice and law, and the social realm is then regulated not at one but two levels, since justice – like morality – is situated beyond the positive laws. Justice transcends the positive laws. According to Lévinas, the positive laws are created within social history. They are the outcome of the struggles, the conflicts and interests prevailing in the social realm. But this is not the case with justice. Justice is not a product of historical injustice. In contrast to the positive laws created in history and in the social realm, justice comes from ‘outside’, ‘through the door’, ‘from beyond la melée’ (Bauman 1997:48). Justice is then a trans-historical, trans-social phenomenon – a utopia – that nevertheless is able to judge both history and the particular conception of justice prevailing in a particular society and manifest in the positive laws. Contrary to the modern project using disciplinary technologies and bureaucratic practices to implement justice here and now, Bauman considers justice to be an incomplete project. And it is incomplete in a radical sense, since it is in the very essence of justice to be incomplete. Justice is a Sisyphusian project: we must repeatedly deconstruct the positive law in order to

Bauman on Ethics


get closer to justice. In other words, we must strive to reduce the distance between the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’, although that distance can never be eliminated. Bauman wants to take the step from micro-ethics to macro-ethics through a discussion of justice. In this discussion, however, he avoids the real question, i.e. the question of how the micro-sociology of the face – that without any doubt is ‘beyond la melée’ – is linked to the macro-social realm of politics. As Michael Hviid Jacobsen has remarked, the link between micro-ethics and macro-ethics, between the pre-social realm of morality and the social and political realm of justice, remains an unsolved problem in Bauman’s work (Jacobsen 2004:197). This might be one of the reasons why his moral theory has remained at the margins of sociological research. We must concede that Jürgen Habermas’ discussion of justice as a discourse-ethical telos embedded in a sociological life-world seems somewhat more convincing as a sociological framework than a mysterious ethics ‘from beyond la melée’ (Habermas 1981). In the work of social philosophers such as Jürgen Habermas, John Rawls, Michel Foucault, Robert Nozick and Charles Taylor, questions of personal ethics are at least immediately embedded in a larger sociological and political theory. Bauman’s discussion of justice might be philosophically relevant, but its implications for sociology remain unclear. Bauman’s entire body of work constantly swings like a pendulum between philosophy and sociology; but after all, he is considered to be a sociologist, not a philosopher. The question then arises how this philosophical discussion of justice becomes sociologically relevant. How can this abstract discussion of justice become fruitful for sociological analyses? Globalization and Cosmopolitan Laws The discussion of justice becomes sociologically relevant once it is linked to the ever more predominant question of globalization. What triggers Bauman is not the question of a growing cultural homogeneity, but the concern that globalization leads to an unjust division of world society. On the one hand, a group of ‘tourists’, i.e. the global elite that incessantly tours the world, on the other hand the ‘vagabonds’, the outcasts of globalization who are fatally linked to a particular locality (Bauman 1995:77). Bauman’s approach to globalization is then a moral approach, since he perceives globalization through the lens of justice. In this sociological discussion, justice becomes a far more precise concept, since it is no longer a vague deconstruction of the positive law, but the classical question of justice as social justice, i.e. a question of the distribution and redistribution of wealth on a global scale. Confronted with the question of global injustice, Bauman’s conception of morality as a face-to-face meeting appears inadequate. The ‘era’ of globalization does not require an intimate morality of the face, but a long distance morality capable of coping with the question of responsibility for some who are outside the scope of my vision. In the era of globalization, the Other is not a person who meets me as a face, but – as Bauman puts it – “the Other without a face” (Bauman 1997:47). The core of morality remains responsibility, but at stake here is the question why this privileged global elite should assume responsibility for the poor vagabonds, since, as Bauman has earlier argued, distance creates indifference – not responsibility. This painful


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

question is hardly solved by the deus ex machina concept of ‘the Other without a face’. Bauman is of course aware of this predicament, and this leads him to the conclusion that morality cannot stand alone in the era of globalization. Morality requires a supplement which is not ethics, but politics. That is why the theme of global laws makes its sudden appearance in Bauman’s work. Since the old national states are withering away in the era of globalization, a political solution to the problem of global injustice must have a global scope. This is why the initial critique of the law that inaugurated Bauman’s reflections on ethics is little by little replaced by the invocation of ‘a global law’ (Bauman 2001:3). Bauman’s reflections on ethics open with a vehement critique of Immanuel Kant’s moral philosophy and his formulation of ethics as universal laws. By some irony of fate, his ethical oeuvre concludes with a position that comes fairly close to Kantian cosmopolitanism. At least, it was Kant who at the end of the 18th century proposed and defended the idea of global legislation. According to Kant, the challenge of the 18th century was to create a cosmopolitan world order in which the relations between sovereign states were regulated by laws. In Kant’s vision, the sovereign states coexisted with a ‘universal civil society’ that should be ruled by a ‘cosmopolitan law’. This cosmopolitan law, which was to be enforced by a ‘league of nations’, should guarantee the rights of each individual regardless of whether the national states respected these rights or not; exactly like Bauman’s global law, which is to apply regardless of whether each single country ‘agreed or not’. Similarly, Kant’s cosmopolitan laws were intended to defend the rights of the most downtrodden individuals (Bauman’s ‘vagabonds’). Even if the 18th century was a century characterized by national interest rather than cosmopolitan cooperation, Kant at least hoped that the national states would abide by such ‘compelling public laws’ in the long term. Two hundred years later, Zygmunt Bauman reaches a similar conclusion. What is needed today is a global, i.e. cosmopolitan legislation. This invocation of global laws then appears as a paradoxical evolution in Bauman’s work. The problem with the laws in the modern period was that they were instruments of discipline and order. They were heteronymous in the precise sense that they were formulated by modern legislators and imposed upon the individuals from outside. According to Bauman, however, this is exactly what is needed today: strong laws capable of creating justice no matter whether a particular state, firm or individual has agreed. The point is, of course, that Bauman speaks of different kinds of laws. The laws of the modern period were ‘adiaphoric’, and as such eventually lead to discipline and the Holocaust. Conversely, the cosmopolitan laws in the era of globalization should be nourished by morality. But how? The modern laws and the laws of globalization are both characterized by a strong degree of heteronomy, since they both seek to force individuals, states or economic movements to act in a particular manner. Moreover, the very codification of laws appears to be an annihilation of morality in Bauman’s sense of autonomous and unlimited responsibility. In the light of these clarifications, the strong opposition between law and morality appears to be a false or at least superficial opposition. The problem is not the laws as such, but rather the political question of how to make good and just laws. There was indeed an ambiguity in Bauman’s initial conception of law, since he made no clear

Bauman on Ethics


distinction between social and political laws. The notion of ‘law’ covered both social rules and norms (as in Durkheim’s sociology) and political laws (as defined by modern legislators). As argued in this chapter, Bauman failed to deliver a sociological theory of morality capable of replacing Durkheim’s conception of morality. But he also has some difficulty formulating a political theory, since the link between micro-ethics and macro-ethics – morality and cosmopolitan law – remains unclear. Thus, one of the reasons Bauman encounters some difficulty solving this question is that his political theory remains rudimentary. Hannah Arendt and Cornelius Castoriadis are important references for Bauman, but his own political theory can be boiled down to sporadic keywords such as ‘dialogue’, ‘agora’, ‘public space’, ‘autonomy’ and the like that are introduced in short essays but hardly elaborated in a coherent theory. Bauman’s political theory is animated by the ambition to reinvent the agora – a concept taken from Castoriadis. The agora is a sphere existing half-way between the private and public spheres, between oikos and ecclesia (Bauman 1999:86). Castoriadis refers to this sphere as the public/private sphere. The public sphere previously defined the agora; however, we now witness an evolution in the opposite direction. The public sphere has largely withdrawn from the agora, which is increasingly influenced by the private sphere. This idea of a privatization of the agora is an interesting idea, since it points to the privatization of public life. However, the more specific relation between private morality, semi-public agora and global laws remains unclear. How does private morality imprint the agora? How does the agora contribute to the formulation of global laws? And if the international economy increasingly eludes political control – and as such the possibility of a redistribution of wealth – how will a reinvigorated agora cope with the recent exterritoriality of the economy? When Bauman launches his idea of global laws, which in contradistinction to modern laws shall be moral laws, he is in need of a more sophisticated political theory capable of providing a more precise idea of how morality, politics and the sphere of justice are interconnected. Should this apparent ‘legislative turn’ in Zygmunt Bauman’s work be understood as an official denial of the earlier reflections on morality? Not necessarily. Rather, the ethical drive characterizing Bauman’s entire body of work constantly leads to new problems and questions in search of new answers. The questions are occasionally more pregnant than the answers. Unlike e.g. Niklas Luhmann, Bauman is not a sociologist inventing a gigantic system capable of absorbing any question. Rather, he has an exceptional capacity to constantly be sensitive to new ethical questions arising and in this way constantly challenge sociology. In his book entitled In Search of Politics, he refers to Castoriadis, who argues that “the main problem of our time is that it has ceased questioning itself”. “No society”, Bauman adds, “that forgets the art of asking questions or allows this art to be forgotten, will ever find adequate solutions to the problems it faces” (Bauman 1999:6). If this is a major problem of our time, there is still hope. At least as long as Bauman raises new ethical questions concerning the discipline of sociology and our present times.


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

Bibliography Adorno, Theodor W. & Max Horkheimer (1975): Dialektik der Aufklärung. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag. Bauman, Zygmunt (1989): Modernity and the Holocaust. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1993): Postmodern Ethics. Oxford: Blackwell. Bauman, Zygmunt (1994): “Morality without Ethics”. Theory, Culture & Society, 11 (1):1-34. Bauman, Zygmunt (1995): Life in Fragments. Oxford: Blackwell. Bauman, Zygmunt (1997): Postmodernity and its Discontents. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1998): “What Prospects of Morality in Times of Uncertainty?”. Theory, Culture & Society, 15 (1):11-22. Bauman, Zygmunt (1999): In Search of Politics. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2001): “Fem nordmænd mod 2000 kinesere” (Five Norvegians against 2000 Chinese), interview in Information, September 3rd. Durkheim, Émile (2002): “Détermination du fait moral”, in Sociologie et philosophie. Paris: P.U.F. Foucault, Michel (1961): Histoire de la folie. Paris: Gallimard. Foucault, Michel (1975): Surveiller et punir. Paris: Gallimard. Foucault, Michel (1984): Histoire de la sexualité. Paris: Gallimard. Habermas, Jürgen (1981): Theorie des Komunikativen Handlens. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Habermas, Jürgen (1992): Faktizität und Geltung. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Jacobsen, Michael Hviid (2004): Zygmunt Bauman: Den postmoderne dialektik. Copenhagen: Hans Reitzel Publishers. Junge, Matthias (2001): “Bauman’s Poisoned Gift of Morality”. British Journal of Sociology, 52 (1):105-119. Lévinas, Emmanuel (1961): Totalité et infini. Amsterdam: Martinus Nijhoff. MacIntyre, Alasdair (1981): After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. London: Duckworth. Mauss, Marcel (1971): “Essai sur le don: Forme et raison de l’échange dans les sociétés archaïques”, in Essais de sociologie. Paris: Points Seuil.

Chapter 4

Bauman on Genocide – Modernity and Mass Murder: From Classification to Annihilation? Sophia Marshman

“The modern era had been founded on genocide, and proceeded through more genocide. Somehow, the shame of yesterday’s massacres proved a poor safeguard against the slaughters of today” – Zygmunt Bauman: Life in Fragments

Introduction Given that Zygmunt Bauman’s writing is always influential, thought-provoking and very often controversial, it was perhaps unsurprising that his work on the Holocaust would be both pioneering and contentious. When one considers Bauman’s own personal background, as a Jew exiled from Poland in 1968, and the experiences his wife Janina endured in the Warsaw ghetto, it is particularly interesting that Bauman’s most substantial and groundbreaking work on the Holocaust did not emerge until 1989. Modernity and the Holocaust represented a very different scholarly approach to the event than was usually the case. Perhaps not since Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), with its much criticized ‘banality of evil’ thesis, had a book about the Holocaust had such controversial and profound things to say. Beyond invigorating academic debates surrounding the Holocaust, Modernity and the Holocaust also won Bauman formal acclaim in the form of the Amalfi European Prize in 1990 and the Adorno Prize in 1998. In common with Arendt’s shocking portrait of the infamous killer, more bureaucrat than psychopath, Bauman’s analysis raised worrying questions about the Holocaust’s ‘normality’, pointing out the uncomfortable truth that genocide and modernity were actually far from uneasy bedfellows. Most of us, when thinking about the Holocaust and the issue of genocide, would like to think that these are things that lie far beyond us; beyond our humanity and society, beyond our interpersonal relations, beyond our capability, beyond our thought. The Holocaust has long been characterized in the public imagination by its extremity, its otherness. If we are to go on living in the shadow of genocide, we have to believe that its every detail stands in sharp opposition to our civilized, humane, modern world. For all of these reasons, Bauman’s approach to the Holocaust posed a challenge to the way that we think about it, and also to


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

the way that we think about ourselves. Utilizing his widely acknowledged flair for metaphor (Jacobsen & Marshman 2006), Bauman asserted that at the outset of his decision to really think about what the Holocaust was, he became aware that “my image of the Holocaust was like a picture on the wall: neatly framed, to set the painting apart from the wallpaper and emphasize how different it was from the rest of the furnishings” (Bauman 1989:vii). This chapter will address Bauman’s perspective on the Holocaust and will evaluate whether, in the light of Bauman’s approach, one needs to think of mass killing in a different way. In order to contextualize Bauman’s ‘take’ on the Holocaust, the first part of this chapter will review some basic facts about the event, and will also consider some popular perceptions relating to it. The chapter will then focus on the specific relationship between the ‘solid’ modern era and the mass murder of European Jewry. Here Bauman’s conception of modernity as a ‘garden culture’ shall be considered. I will also be looking at the importance of ‘classification’ to genocide, at how certain people are defined as ‘superfluous’. Moreover, I will explore Bauman’s contention that indifference was an integral factor in the execution of industrialized mass murder. The third section of this chapter will look more specifically at Bauman’s perspective on genocide. Here I will address Bauman’s preference for the term ‘allosemitism’ as opposed to anti-Semitism in accounting for the decimation of Jews during the Holocaust. I will also look at the ways in which Modernity and the Holocaust has been read as a challenge to the Sonderweg (‘special path’) thesis. Both the notion of allosemitism and Bauman’s rejection of the Sonderweg are closely related to the controversies surrounding Modernity and the Holocaust. The fourth section of this chapter will look at challenges to Bauman’s Modernity and the Holocaust thesis. Here I will look at the work of Arne Johan Vetlesen and also at the rather more polemical approach of Daniel Goldhagen, both of whom suggest that to question the absolute centrality and ubiquity of anti-Semitism to the Holocaust is to misunderstand or misrepresent what happened to the Jews during the Holocaust. The final part of this chapter will address the issue of ‘liquid modern’ genocide. Here I will evaluate the ways in which the genocide in Rwanda appears to contradict much of what Bauman has written about mass murder in the modern era. Here I will also address the continuing importance of classification in genocide and persecution. Furthermore, I will examine how Bauman’s concept of adiaphorization is as relevant to the liquid modern world as it was to the era of solid modernity. The ‘Normality’ of the Holocaust The Holocaust represents for most people an absolute aberration, a horrific anomaly, a complete deviation from the path of modernity and civilization. The systematic, industrialized murder of millions is something that most people do not want to think about too deeply, indeed most people would like to regard it as unthinkable. Little wonder then that the Holocaust is routinely dismissed as some kind of oneoff, a regression to pre-social barbarity, as something Germans did to Jews, or as an historical event with no implications for ‘us’. Bauman’s re-evaluation of the Holocaust and its place in our modern, civilized society perhaps made such an impact

Bauman on Genocide


because, like Bauman’s wider sociology, it made us face difficult questions, and face them in a novel way. Bauman urged us to look more closely at the Holocaust, to accept the genocidal potential of the ‘ordinary’ citizens of modernity. As he has argued: “There are reasons to be worried because we know now that we live in a type of society that made the Holocaust possible, and that contained nothing which could stop the Holocaust from happening” (Bauman 1989:88). In Modernity and the Holocaust, Bauman cites Henry Feingold’s terrifying appraisal of the essential normality of the Holocaust, the hard facts that demonstrate that the everyday ‘business’ of Auschwitz, as well as many other camps, was not so different to other forms of everyday business: [Auschwitz] was also a mundane extension of the modern factory system. Rather than producing goods, the raw material was human beings and the end-product was death, so many units per day marked carefully on the manager’s production charts. The chimneys, the very symbol of the modern factory system, poured forth acrid smoke produced by burning human flesh. The brilliantly organized railway grid of modern Europe carried a new kind of raw material to the factories. It did so in the same manner as with other cargo. In the gas chambers the victims inhaled noxious gas generated by prussic acid pellets, which were produced by the advanced chemical industry of Germany. Engineers designed the crematoria; managers designed the system of bureaucracy that worked with a zest and efficiency more backward nations would envy. Even the overall plan itself was a reflection of the modern scientific spirit gone awry (Feingold in Bauman 1989:8).

Feingold’s quote, clearly influenced by the work of Raul Hilberg, challenges conventional ideas relating to the extremity and incomprehensibility of the Holocaust. In many ways, one can argue that we shun the rational, ‘everyday’ aspects of the Holocaust because they reveal that the Holocaust stands closer to us than we would like to think. One can see a path, whether ‘twisted’ or ‘special’, leading from the kind of classification of victims described by Bauman, to the ‘removal’ of those victims. Thus, victims were dehumanized by their definition as ‘weeds’, as superfluous or ‘unworthy’ lives. They then stood at a conceptual distance from the rest of society, when they were thrown out of jobs and homes alike, forced into ghettos and concentration camps, all of these things seemed quite natural and fitting to onlookers. Primo Levi writes of his deportation from Italy to Auschwitz and the lack of sanitary facilities on that cattle truck journey. Levi’s convoy was fortunate in that, for the entertainment of the German guards escorting them, they were let out of the trucks to relieve themselves publicly at a station in Austria: The SS escort did not hide their amusement at the sight of men and women squatting wherever they could, on the platforms and in the middle of the tracks, and the German passengers openly expressed their disgust: people like this deserve their fate, just look how they behave. These are not Menschen, human beings, but animals, it’s as clear as the light of day (Levi 1995:88-89).

Of course, once transported to the concentration and extermination camps, the extent to which the Jews had been removed from the universe of ordinary moral and human considerations became abundantly clear. An unforgettable scene from Claude Lanzmann’s epic Holocaust documentary, Shoah, makes clear how the policy of


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

dehumanization and negative classification was adhered to even in the most hellish of situations. In the scene, two Jewish survivors of a forced labour conscript in Vilna, Lithuania, tell of their experiences during the Holocaust. In January 1944, Motke Zaidel and Itzhak Dugin had been part of a squad assigned to the task of exhuming and burning the bodies of some 90,000 Jews murdered by the mobile killing squads. Eager to destroy evidence of their crimes, the Nazis ordered the opening of the mass graves and the eradication of any traces of the victims. Under threat of death, Zaidel and Dugin worked with bare hands, even recognizing family members among the corpses in the more recent graves. They recount how these people, these dead bodies, were to be denied their humanity even after their deaths. It was a dual dehumanization; dehumanization of the Jews working in the squad, and dehumanization of those killed in body as well as in human image: When we first opened the graves, we couldn’t help it, we all burst out sobbing. But the Germans almost beat us to death. We had to work at a killing pace for two days, beaten all the time and with no tools … The Germans even forbade us to use the word ‘corpse’ or ‘victim’. The dead were blocks of wood, shit, with absolutely no importance. Anyone who uttered the word ‘corpse’ or ‘victim’ was beaten. The Germans made us refer to the bodies as Figuren, that is, as puppets, as dolls, or as Schmattes, which means ‘rags’ (Lanzmann 1995:8-9).

Here we can see the classification of the other/victim reaching its ultimate conclusion; those who stand outside of the moral order lose their right to a name, to a place within the realm of human and moral responsibility, to their very lives. Bauman reminds us that something very extreme can be accomplished by essentially normal processes. The unimaginable experiences of Zaidel and Dugin were just ‘untidy’ aspects of a rational plan to be carried out as efficiently as possible. The only ‘lesson’ the Nazis learned from such occurrences was not moral, it related instead to the need to hone processes further, so that Auschwitz became the much ‘tidier’ standard for mass murder. Genocide and Modernity: Two Sides of the Same Coin? With the publication of Modernity and the Holocaust, Bauman encouraged a profound change in the way that we think about the event. Bauman acknowledged the fact that the whole of human history had been marred by conflicts, violence and massacres; even prior genocides (though the term ‘genocide’ was only coined in relation to the Holocaust by Raphael Lemkin in 1943) and pogroms. This fact, Bauman argued, had led many to view the Holocaust as merely the latest in a long line of examples of inhumanity and bloodshed. According to such a view, the Holocaust surely represented the failure of modernity and of the modernizing project itself, both of which had promised to deliver us from intermittent episodes of Hobbesian enmity. Bauman’s thesis entirely repudiates such assumptions. The Holocaust, Bauman reasoned, was in fact the most likely consequence of the modern drive for ‘purity’ and order. Bauman asserted that the Holocaust resulted from a unique fusion of the different key elements of modernity. In an era where social

Bauman on Genocide


‘engineers’ (exemplified by the Nazis) viewed human society as a ‘garden culture’ to be tamed and purged of ‘weeds’ (exemplified by Jews), it only really needed the utilization of technological advances to bring about the almost total extermination of those spoiling the idealized plan of the modern garden/society. Of course, as I will go on to explain, there were other key aspects to the process, most notably the unsettling phenomena of adiaphorization and the fact that modern society proved to be a fertile breeding ground for something far more dangerous than hatred, namely indifference. Firstly, though, it is important to evaluate Bauman’s ‘gardening’ thesis, for it is central to his account of how the Holocaust was possible. It also, as I will explore later, highlights potential future dangers to certain individuals in our contemporary ‘liquid’ modern society. Bauman argued that in the beginning of the era of solid modernity, society was like a wilderness, unkempt and uncultivated. With a careful plan, such a society could be refashioned, made into a beautiful ‘garden’, free of weeds and other things that might spoil the measured, orderly perfection. For Bauman, it therefore followed that modern genocide, like modern culture in general, is a gardener’s job. It is just one of the many chores that people who treat society as a garden need to undertake … All visions of society-as-garden define parts of the social habitat as human weeds. Like all other weeds, they must be segregated, contained, prevented from spreading, removed and kept outside the society boundaries; if all these means prove insufficient, they must be killed (Bauman 1989:92).

Put simply, once ‘classified’ as weeds, as people standing outside of (and in the way of) the ‘perfect’ order/utopia, certain individuals become not only superfluous to the ideal society; they are seen as endangering its realization through their very existence. Thus, the ‘improving’ aims of modernity and the bloody or bloodless enactment of genocide need not be mutually exclusive. As Bauman argued: “When the modernist dream is embraced by an absolute power able to monopolize modern vehicles of rational action, and when that power attains freedom from effective social control, genocide follows” (Bauman 1989:93-94). Or, as Peter Beilharz has asserted with reference to Bauman: “Whereas tradition gives you the pogrom, it is really only modernity that produces genocide, for it generates the means alongside the ends” (Beilharz 2000:131). Bauman identified certain core factors that had to come together in order for the Holocaust to occur. Perhaps the most obvious of these was radical/Nazi anti-Semitism, but Bauman asserts that it was only when such anti-Semitism became state policy that it became a genuine threat. Given the sheer bureaucratic power of the Nazi state, and the added factor of war, the most extreme acts could be carried out that would not have been possible in peacetime. At such a time, the curious mixture of fear, patriotism and passivity (encouraged by the totalitarian environment) only eased the process of industrialized mass murder. Bauman reflects that all of the above elements are inherently ‘normal’. He asserts that the only ‘extreme’ factor in all of this was the Nazis gaining power and once that was achieved the rest followed in the most inconsequential and inconspicuous manner.


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

Second to Bauman’s gardening thesis, it is now necessary to consider the importance of what he has written about the process of ‘adiaphorization’. Bauman explains that the term ‘adiaphoric’ originally related to “a thing declared indifferent by the church” (Bauman 1989:215). Bauman asserts that, given the right circumstances, social action can be rendered ‘adiaphoric’, the most extreme acts can be regarded as neither good nor evil. He thus asserts that adiaphorization is a product of social organization. In terms of the smooth-running of society, morality can be ‘disruptive’ and can get in the way of rational, impersonal processes. Bauman sees adiaphorization as relating to three ‘complementary arrangements’ that allow people to silence their moral misgivings in order to get certain ‘jobs’ done. Bauman explains that morality is ‘neutralized’ by: (1) Stretching the distance between action and its consequences beyond the reach of moral impulse; (2) exempting some ‘others’ from the class of potential objects of moral conduct, of potential ‘faces’; (3) dissembling other human objects of action into aggregates of functionally specific traits, held separate so that the occasion for re-assembling the face does not arise, and the task set for each action can be free from moral evaluation (Bauman 1989:215).

The social construction of distance here is the key. Bauman has observed, revealing a distinct Levinasian strand in his thinking, that human solidarity and a sense of responsibility for the other are dependent upon proximity. He states: Being inextricably tied to human proximity, morality seems to conform to the law of optical perspective. It looms large and thick close to the eye. With the growth of distance, responsibility for the other shrivels, moral dimensions of the object blur, till both reach the vanishing point and disappear from view (Bauman 1989:192).

Therefore, what we do not have to see or look at does not trouble us as much as what does occur in front of our eyes. Killing and cruel acts are easier to perpetrate at a physical distance. Equally, a psychological or moral distance can help to quell the ‘animal pity’ people normally experience when confronted with the suffering Other. This is where and why modernity became such an asset in the processes unique to the Holocaust. Here Bauman was particularly influenced by the psychological research of Stanley Milgram which looked at the willingness of people involved in a scientific experiment to administer what they believed to be electric shocks to individuals whose hands had been placed on a metal plate. Milgram found that when, instead of having to manually force the subjects hands onto the plate, they ‘merely’ had to administer shocks from a control desk, the number willing to administer shocks went up. When the subjects were hidden from view but their screams were still audible, again the number willing to participate and administer shocks rose. Finally, when the subjects were hidden from view and their screams were muffled, again participation and with it obedience to authority rose, though only by a further 2.5 percent. This demonstrated for Bauman that it was visual proximity which moves us more, not being able to hear the cries of the victim was merely an added bonus for the participants. From the Milgram experiments and the horrid realities of the Holocaust, Bauman concluded:

Bauman on Genocide


It is difficult to harm a person we touch. It is somewhat easier to afflict pain upon a person we only see at a distance. It is still easier in the case of a person we only hear. It is quite easy to be cruel towards a person we neither see nor hear (Bauman 1989:155).

In line with this, the Holocaust demonstrated that technological advances made it possible to bypass the gruesome physicality of the killings witnessed and carried out by individuals like those involved in the Nazi Einsatzgruppen. Indeed it was the very concern that the Nazis felt about the psychological effects of killing upon their personnel that encouraged them to find alternative ways to kill as many people as possible, using as few personnel as possible, as Helmut Langerbein has argued: Despite its deadly effectiveness, the mobile and traditional killing method of the Einsatzgruppen ultimately proved unsuitable to eliminate the large numbers of people. From a logistical point of view, there were simply not enough executioners. And psychologically for the perpetrators, and perhaps even more their superiors, it became increasingly difficult to deal with the repercussions of the mass executions. Despite their speeches and efforts to the contrary, even Himmler and other senior SS could not deal with the consequences; like their subordinates, they sometimes became ill, vomiting after they had witnessed their first mass executions (Langerbein 2004:48).

Thus, the process was refined to a handful of Zyklon B crystals being thrown through a hole in the roof of a gas chamber, and all of the heaviest, most distressing ‘cleanup’ work afterwards being carried out by personnel selected from among the victims themselves. Yet, the mass killing of Jews did not rely entirely upon physical distance from victims; after all, one did not need to actually witness Jews being killed to know that they were a doomed people; to realize that women, children and the elderly were going to be at best sent to ghettos and labour camps and at worst most likely killed. Despite this knowledge there were not mass protests within Germany concerning the plight of the Jews and here what Bauman has written about ‘moral distance’ seems just as plausible as what Milgram taught us about physical distance and evildoing. Cast-out of the perfect ‘garden’ of Nazi society, stripped of their civic rights, demonized, dehumanized, and debased, the Jews were no longer regarded as human beings worthy of moral consideration. As has been well documented by historians and survivors alike, the Nazis reduced the Jews to mere numbers, to figures on sheets that needed to be counted onto trains and sent to their death with no more moral disquiet than that shown for cattle or merchandise being shipped around Europe, certainly with much less concern about their physical wellbeing than would have been shown for the former categories. Indifference and occasional annoyance, it transpired, were far more integral to the process of mass murder than hatred was. But by far the surest guarantee of genocidal success was moral thoughtlessness. Once the Jews had been classified as standing outside of the Nazi order, and once non-Jews had been freed of the tiresome responsibility of thinking of the Jews as human beings worthy of moral consideration, the Holocaust simply became another task to be fulfilled. Equally, due to the vast nature of the Nazi hierarchy and bureaucracy, the people who were active in the manifold processes of destruction regarded themselves as minor functionaries, as ‘cogs in the wheel’ who bore no


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

personal responsibility (legal or moral) for the overall crime (nor did many even regard it as a ‘crime’). Once again it is distance that erodes our sense of morality and that interferes with our moral compass: As long as one does not see the practical effects of one’s action, or as long as one cannot unambiguously relate what one saw to such innocent and miniscule acts of one’s own as pushing (a) button or switching a pointer, a moral conflict is unlikely to appear, or likely to appear in muted form (Bauman 1989:194).

In an article entitled “The Holocaust: Fifty Years Later”, Bauman went on to clarify this position – the idea that to be complicit in great evil one does not need to hate, one simply needs to suspend moral judgement and pay strict attention to the task one has been given. Bauman states: “Modernity did not make people more cruel; it only invented a way in which cruel things can be done by non-cruel people. Evil does not need anymore evil people. Rational people, men and women well riveted into the impersonal, adiaphorized network of modern organization, will do perfectly” (Bauman 1993b:27). It is, however, important to remember that Bauman did not equate modernity with the Holocaust entirely; he did not see the two as truly inseparable, as ‘two sides of the same coin’. While the Holocaust could not have happened without modernity and its guiding principles and advances, it was not a foregone conclusion that modernity would naturally or inevitably produce the Holocaust. Essentially, Bauman argues, the Holocaust was the result of modernity mutated into its worst possible guise. This is part of Bauman’s thesis that is often overlooked, but which is worthy of greater attention. Bauman concluded: “Emphatically, this does not mean that we all live daily according to Auschwitz principles. From the fact that the Holocaust is modern, it does not follow that modernity is a Holocaust” (Bauman 1989:93). Bauman on Genocide: ‘Allosemitism’ and the Sonderweg Although the essence of Bauman’s Modernity and the Holocaust thesis has been absorbed into our wider consciousness in relation to the way that we think about the Holocaust and modern society, it remains a fact that Bauman’s comments and conclusions did not find support everywhere. As we have established, aspects of what Bauman wrote were enormously controversial and were hotly contested by many different writers and theorists. Therefore, it is important to identify which parts of Modernity and the Holocaust were the most contentious, and also to look at who disagreed most with Bauman’s approach and why. Here I will also explore some of the wider issues emerging out of the controversies and evaluate Bauman’s perspective on genocide in the light of them. One of the main problems that many historians who work in the area of antiSemitism and the Holocaust have with the Modernity and the Holocaust thesis relates to the way that it, to some degree, undermines the centrality of anti-Semitism and Jew-hatred to the Holocaust. While Bauman goes into great detail about the Jews’ fundamental ‘ambivalence’ and estrangement, ultimately his landmark book argues that any group could have been the killers and any group could have been the

Bauman on Genocide


victims. This, for many, means that Bauman ignores the longevity and resilience of antipathy towards the Jews, the long and unique history of anti-Jewish feeling within Europe which had often gone hand-in-hand with Christianity. Arguably, Bauman seems more convinced by the influence of allosemitism than of anti-Semitism in the Holocaust. Here Bauman concedes the longevity of negative perceptions about Jews, and the ubiquity of these negative perceptions to Christian teaching for centuries: “I think that the attitude endemic to Christianity was one of allosemitism (Latin allus – other), rather than anti-Semitism: no ordinary norms can be applied to the Jews, Jews are unlike any other humans and call to be set apart from all others by being subjected to a treatment devized for them all alone” (Bauman & Tester 2001:80). And the Jews of Europe were indeed subjected to ‘special treatment’ as a result of their incongruity. Peter Beilharz agrees that it was this ‘inherent’ ambivalence that marked Jews out for persecution and eradication in the name of ‘order’: The Jews were unlike any other nation; they were also unlike any other foreigners; they were, indeed, the epitome of Simmel’s strangers – always on the outside even when inside, as the sadness of their willing if contingent assimilation into German culture was to reveal (Beilharz 2000:94).

Indeed, in Modernity and Ambivalence Bauman argued that the ambivalence surrounding the Jews was a vital and critical component of their eventual destruction. Bauman asserts that in the premodern period, the line between friend and enemy was clear, there was even a ‘cosy antagonism’ (Bauman 1991:55) between the two. The ‘dense sociability’ (Bauman 1991:61) of the premodern period lent itself equally well to friendship or enmity. The coming of the modern era, however, introduced ambivalence; introduced the unknown and the unknowable. Bauman asserts: “Such conditions are marked by the divorce between density and dense sociability. Aliens appear inside the life-world and refuse to go away” (Bauman 1991:62). Thus, one is suddenly confronted with the new category of the stranger, neither friend nor foe, standing beyond one’s immediate personal knowledge or experience. Bauman asserts that one could not ignore the stranger, and therefore one had to develop a unique way of dealing with this ultimate ‘other’. Here Bauman is informed by Martin Buber’s notion of Vergegnung or ‘mismeeting’. As Bauman states: The art of mismeeting is first and foremost a set of techniques that serve to de-ethicalize the relationship with the Other. Its overall effect is a denial of the stranger as a moral object and a moral subject. Or, rather, exclusion of such situations as can accord the stranger moral significance (Bauman 1991:63).

I would argue that through his writing on ambivalence and allosemitism, Bauman was in no way seeking to undermine the significance of seemingly ‘perennial’ antiSemitism, nor was he trying to call the specificity of Jewish victimhood in European history into question. Rather, Bauman sought to demonstrate that glacial precision and moral paralysis were what led to the effectiveness of places like Auschwitz and Treblinka; effectiveness that outstripped all prior bouts of anti-Semitic excess.


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

However, perhaps more problematic are some of the things that Bauman has written in connection with this idea that the Holocaust could have been visited upon anyone, by anyone. Obviously, this in the first instance means that the Jewish/ German identities of the victims and perpetrators were not indispensable to what occurred. Yet, while it is one thing to say in the light of the Holocaust that the Jews were not the only group such a thing could have happened to, it is quite another thing to say that the only thing that prevented them from joining in the killing was their lack of power. Evidently, it is important here to point out that Bauman was not interested in writing a martyrology of the Holocaust; he was concerned with its sociological implications. However, sensitivities are inevitably heightened when such extreme subject matter is dealt with. It was arguably a little too challenging to assert that “the victims not necessarily and not always proved their moral superiority over their executioners; they merely stayed morally superior as long as they had less opportunity for cruelty” (Bauman 1993b:24). Therefore, in what he wrote about the Holocaust, Bauman appeared not only to be absolving Germany of the guilt of its unique history, by asserting the Holocaust could have happened in any modern state, he also appeared to be muddying the waters concerning Jewish innocence and victimhood. The former tendency in Bauman’s writing, the challenge to the Sonderweg thesis, has been addressed by Ian Varcoe, who also examined Modernity and the Holocaust’s implicit absolution of Germany in respect to its perceived unique ‘responsibility’ for the Holocaust. The Sonderweg or ‘special way/special path’ thesis relates to the belief, espoused by a certain branch of historiography, that Germany followed a distinct path, different to other European countries. Varcoe asserts: “In essence, the ‘thesis’ asserts a series of divergences from the Western European norm. It points to late unification and nation-building, the failure of the German revolution and the weakness of liberalism” (Varcoe 1998:58). According to the Sonderweg view, Germany was therefore on a direct path to Nazism and the Holocaust – both were, so to speak, ‘inescapable’ given the unique circumstances. Varcoe explains that three key factors came together and made this special path a certainty. Firstly, the late unification of Germany and delayed nation state-building from above played a key part. Secondly, Varcoe asserts, liberalism was weak, politically speaking. The elite class maintained control into the 20th century in a way that hindered the emergence of a representative democracy. Lastly, right-wing values were shared by the elites, the upper middle and lower middle classes. Varcoe asserts that the combination of these elements led to a strange state of affairs in Germany; it was culturally and politically antiquated, yet modern in economic and social terms. Worryingly, as Varcoe asserts, the ‘antiquated’ aspects could only be maintained by violence. He states: There was the, by western standards, excessive dependence on the state; the willingness of the Germans to take, or at least not to question, orders from officials; the persistence of bureaucratic practices at all levels and in all institutional areas of German society; and the fact that, relatively speaking, the civic virtues were not cultivated and a liberal political culture did not thrive in German life (Varcoe 1998:60).

Bauman on Genocide


According to Varcoe, the Sonderweg thesis had already lost support by the time that Bauman published Modernity and the Holocaust and helped to bang another nail in its coffin. Varcoe observes: “Characteristically, the arguments of the liberal Sonderweg theorists are rejected by Bauman. But he goes beyond the conservative historians in indicting not other peoples, for example the Turks and the Russians, but the entire ‘civilizing mission’ of the west as he understands it” (Varcoe 1998:65). In Bauman’s viewpoint, Varcoe detects “a strong streak of universalism … perhaps a residue of Marxism” (Varcoe 1998:64). Thus, for Bauman, nation was unimportant and according to Varcoe, “he supports the ‘one genocide among others’ position” (Varcoe 1998:65). Varcoe continues: “[Bauman] regards the Holocaust as comparable … but German identity as not (particularly) problematic” (Varcoe 1998:67). Bauman has indeed stated: The trouble with blaming Germany and its Sonderweg is that everybody else is exonerated. What is forgotten then is that the essential ideas of ‘racial stock’ and eugenic (raceimproving) policies were invented, acquired scientific credentials and received public acclaim far outside German borders; that they had been implemented with ardour, long before the Nazis came to power (Bauman & Tester 2001:86).

I will explore Bauman’s alleged ‘universalism’ later in the chapter, though it is important to say here that Bauman’s challenge to the Sonderweg explanation, and his dissatisfaction with anti-Semitism as a means by which to explain almost every aspect of the Holocaust, can be seen as an attempt to widen the debate and truly ‘account’ for the Holocaust sociologically. His efforts have often been seen as attempts to wrestle ‘ownership’ of victimhood away from Jews, or to acquit Germany of guilt and responsibility, and this obscures his motivation and also the valuable points he is seeking to make. Challenging Bauman: Vetlesen and Goldhagen While Ian Varcoe addressed Bauman’s disregard for the Sonderweg thesis, Norwegian philosopher Arne Johan Vetlesen has taken issue with Bauman’s reasoning within Modernity and the Holocaust as a whole. The starting point for Vetlesen’s dissent relates to the reservations he holds in relation to Bauman’s use of the aforementioned Milgram experiments. As a starting point for his critique, Vetlesen asserts that these experiments, which are crucial to Bauman’s thesis, are actually “the wrong place to look for a historically correct explanation of how the Holocaust was possible” (Vetlesen 2005:15). Vetlesen goes further to assert that Bauman’s argument concerning the spread of ‘instrumental rationality’ is not sufficiently convincing in terms of accounting for why the Holocaust became a reality rather than just a possibility. Vetlesen does, however, acquit Bauman of the charge so often levelled at him in regard to his perceived undermining of the role anti-Semitism played in the enactment of the Holocaust. Obviously, central to Bauman’s argument is the realization that hatred was not necessary for an entire people to be decimated, essentially all one needed was indifference and a smooth-running bureaucracy (and both of these were


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

fostered and maintained within a totalitarian society). Vetlesen acknowledges that more polemical writers, like political scientist Daniel Goldhagen, have argued that the ‘achievements’ of the Holocaust could never have been realized without a strong, residual strand of anti-Semitism in German society. Essentially, Goldhagen argues that the Nazis simply built on all of the negative perceptions non-Jews held regarding Jews, and the rest followed naturally. Goldhagen hoped his research would help people to “acknowledge what has for so long been generally denied or obscured by academic and non-academic interpreters alike: Germans’ anti-Semitic beliefs about Jews were the central causal agent of the Holocaust” (Goldhagen 1997:9). Evaluating Bauman’s argument against that of Goldhagen, Vetlesen asserts: I suggest that, even though Goldhagen may be right that ordinary German men and women shared a much stronger animosity against the Jews than they are attributed at any point in Bauman’s account, Bauman’s major sociological thesis may still stand (Vetlesen 2005:33-34).

Vetlesen argues that Bauman is correct in his assertion that it was the modern processes of destruction that allowed the Holocaust in its extremity to take place, reasoning that ‘violent street anti-Semitism’ (Vetlesen 2005:34) was not what killed the most Jews, because such ‘vehement hatred’ (Vetlesen 2005:34) was not what made the extermination camps run so smoothly. Yet, I would argue that the fact alone that active hatred of Jews, in its more passionate and bestial incarnations, was not routinely allowed to interrupt the serious ‘business’ of killing Jews en masse, does not prove that the Jews were not the archetypal victims because they were Jews, because the Nazis were able to draw on centuries of anti-Jewish feeling. Vetlesen does, however, concede that “the Holocaust, despite overwhelming efforts in that direction, never became a fully factory-like, cargo transporting and cargo-eliminating undertaking along the lines suggested in Bauman’s functionalist account” (Vetlesen 2005:35). Vetlesen cites the examples of a pogrom in Jedwabne in Poland, and the routine involvement of high-ranking SS in Einsatzgruppen actions, as proof that killing was often ‘hands-on’ as much as metered out from a distance. Vetlesen concludes that it is Bauman’s focus on the ‘cold’ and dispassionate elements of the Holocaust that detracts from the overall strength of his argument: In my opinion, Bauman’s account suffers a considerable loss of plausibility as a consequence of this evidence. For Bauman, the Holocaust essentially reflects on modernity because of the way in which mass murder assumed a bureaucratized, impersonal, purposive-rational form, a form cancelling out the specific human and moral content of murder. But is it true that bureaucracy worked like that in the carrying out of the Holocaust? (Vetlesen 2005:44).

For Vetlesen, this does not diminish the fact that Bauman proposes a whole new approach to the ways in which we look at the Holocaust. Bauman’s work demonstrates that, whatever the prime motivating factor behind the Holocaust was (whether antiSemitism or modernity), in modernity and during the Holocaust, genocide took on an entirely different form. Bauman has forced many to engage with the idea that

Bauman on Genocide


the Holocaust made mass murder into something ‘everyday’ and ‘normal’. As Peter Beilharz explains, echoing Henry Feingold’s earlier assertion: Auschwitz was also a mundane extension of the modern factory system, a sort of murderous Fordism in the making, a massive system of social engineering gone awry through reaching its own technical apogee. For Bauman, every element of the Holocaust was normal, in the sense of being fully in keeping with everything we know about our civilization, for civilization both creates and destroys (Beilharz 2000:91).

Vetlesen points out that Bauman shares Hannah Arendt’s belief that even great evil can be reduced to the level of banality when personal motivation (i.e. hatred) becomes ‘superfluous’. Bauman does, however, take issue with Arendt’s contention that Adolf Eichmann was thoughtless in his moral disregard of the Jews. He argues that Eichmann was not the best example of the thoughtlessness of evil, but rather of the rationality of evil. Indeed, Bauman points out, modern genocide took rather a lot of thought: “Once you assume that the happy society is a race-clean society, a decision to deport or gas the Jews and the Gypsies is a rational way to proceed, and a lot of thinking goes into seeing that job through” (Bauman & Tester 2001:58). Vetlesen explains that, for Bauman, thoughtlessness per se was not what informed the execution of genocide, it was a lack of moral evaluation and consideration: “Bauman’s claim is indeed that what accompanied the Holocaust was the blurring of any recognized difference between producing dead bodies and producing soap; that is to say, between handling things and handling humans” (Vetlesen 2005:4647). Here Vetlesen raises an interesting point, one that calls to mind the controversy caused by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger’s comments equating the processes of the Holocaust with those of mechanized agriculture. Alan Milchman and Alan Rosenberg have written of these remarks that Heidegger made in a series of lectures in 1949. The lectures became known as the ‘Bremen Lectures’; comments made in the first lecture were later published in radically altered form, while comments made in the second were never published in Heidegger’s lifetime. Heidegger’s first controversial statement featured in a lecture later published in edited form as “The Question Concerning Technology”. Heidegger reportedly said: Agriculture is now a mechanized food industry, in essence the same as the manufacture of corpses in gas chambers and extermination camps, the same as the blockade and starvation of the countryside, the same as the production of hydrogen bombs (Milchman & Rosenberg 1997:7).

A second statement was made in a lecture entitled “The Danger”. Here Heidegger stated: Hundreds of thousands die en masse. Do they die? They perish. They are cut down. They become items of material available for the manufacture of corpses. Do they die? Hardly noticed, they are liquidated in extermination camps (Milchman & Rosenberg 1997:8).

These incredibly morally thoughtless and insensitive reflections on the Holocaust are surely the embodiment of Bauman’s belief that in modernity certain people get


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

cast out of the human/moral community to a degree whereby they are no longer even deemed worthy of moral consideration when they die. Thus, for Heidegger the destruction of life becomes the ‘manufacture of corpses’, a creative pursuit. In the second lecture, Heidegger seemingly disputed that the death of the murdered Jews could even be referred to as death; such individuals merely ‘perish’ or are ‘cut down’ like so many crops or, more precisely, like weeds. The language of the Nazi bureaucracy was also heavily dependent upon the euphemistic avoidance of terminology equal to the crimes really being committed. With reference to the latter point, Jonathon Steinberg has observed: The language and tone of the Wannsee Protocol remind us that the uniqueness of Nazi genocide arises from its coldness, its lack of frenzy, its detached, correct, bureaucratic efficiency, its record-keeping and file references, its memoranda and liaison officers, its timetables and gas canisters, its lists of men, women and children ‘deloused’, ‘resettled’, ‘specially handled’, ‘sent east’, as problems ‘solved’, ‘settled’ and ‘clarified’, as actions ‘to cleanse’, ‘purify’ and ‘disinfect’. Nazi genocide speaks the language of accountants, civil servants and public health workers (Steinberg in Cesarani 1996:190).

This quote very effectively demonstrates the human cost of adiaphorization, of judgements made on the basis of utility rather than morality. In Heidegger’s comments, as in the approach of the Nazis to the murdered Jews of Vilna described in Shoah, one can see that the mass death of victims (already effectively dehumanized before their death) is seen as somehow lacking the correct ‘essence’ to make it count as death. It ranged from some kind of ‘harvest’ for Heidegger, to so much ‘mess’ to be cleared up from the Nazi perspective. Steinberg reminds us that the language of genocide was a matter for accountants, civil servants and public health workers during the Holocaust. Bauman cautions us that, in the liquid modern period, the language used by such individuals in relation to the poor and the ‘useless’ may become a rationale for future ‘eliminations’. Liquid Modern Genocides? Redefining Unwertes Leben Despite the enormous impact of Modernity and the Holocaust, arguably Bauman’s chief body of work has been primarily concerned with issues relating to social categorization/classification and exclusion. In his work after Modernity and the Holocaust, one might assert that Bauman’s chief interest has been in identifying who the new ‘weeds’ will be. In the liquid-modern ‘garden’, Bauman asserts, the contemporary outcast are the poor and stateless. Bauman’s work on contemporary categorization and adiaphorization demonstrates that future exclusion and extermination may no longer follow racial lines. Bauman argues that concerns about racial ‘cleanliness’, so integral to the era of solid modernity, have been replaced by concerns about the individual’s ability to participate fully in a consumer society. Put simply, in liquid modernity, the poor are stigmatized to the point where they are seen as serving no useful function. The Nazi conception of Unwertes Leben (unworthy lives) can quite easily be applied to such individuals. In the era of liquid modernity, as in preceding eras, there exists a growing “surplus, redundant and supernumerary

Bauman on Genocide


population” (Bauman 2005:91). Bauman asserts: “‘Overpopulation’ is a fiction of actuaries: a code name for the appearance of a number of people who, instead of helping the smooth functioning of the economy, making the attainment, let alone rise, of indices by which the proper functioning is measured and evaluated all that much more difficult” (Bauman 2004:39). For Bauman, globalization and liquid modernity might be best defined in relation to the inequality they have brought to people’s lives. He argues that we are witnessing an unprecedented polarization; the rich get richer, without needing the poor as a ‘reserve army’ of labour. Furthermore, in an increasingly secular society, the poor are no longer even conceived of as recipients of charity or as ‘our’ responsibility. Today in our post-September 11th world, the ranks of the poor are joined by asylumseekers and Muslims as demon-like figures/potential terrorists upsetting the correct ‘order’ of things. But what has this to do with genocide? Bauman has argued that simply because the ‘age of the camps’ (Bauman 1997:36) has seemingly drawn to a close, this does not make them entirely a thing of the past. In his work on the Holocaust, Bauman affirmed that the Jews were killed because of their inescapable identity, an identity that had been ‘imposed’ upon them from above, an identity that no degree of patriotism or assimilation could ever efface. It becomes clear that it is the power of definition that was the most dangerous and frightening of powers that the perpetrators held over the victims. Informed by Hannah Arendt, Bauman argued that the demise of totalitarianism did not automatically equal the demise of ‘totalitarian solutions’ (Bauman 1997:38) to political, social and economic problems. He warns: As we move with increasing speed towards the ‘one-third society’, ever more people become ‘problems’, and since means are available to remove them, and thus get rid of the problems, there seems to be no reason at all why their presence – constraining presence, offending presence, oppressive presence- should be tolerated and borne (Bauman 1995:160).

According to Bauman, being classified as a ‘problem’ is the first step on a very dangerous path for the object of classification. The Jews of solid modernity were doomed from the moment they were first deemed to be afflicted by the ‘ineradicable blight’ (Bauman 1989:93) of their origin. That was the beginning of a process of dehumanization that culminated in the gas chambers. Thus, the ‘flawed consumers’ of liquid modernity, those who lack either the means or the inclination to join in with ‘our’ life of consumer excess, are simply the latest in a long line of people denounced as ‘inconvenient’. We have lost patience with the poor, the needy, the indolent, those seeking asylum. In a society becoming ever more ruthlessly individualized, why should we shoulder the burden for those unable to meet their own needs? As Bauman states: Once effectively dehumanized, and hence cancelled as potential subjects of moral demands, human objects of bureaucratic task-performance are viewed with ethical indifference, which soon turns into disapprobation and censure when their resistance, or lack of cooperation, slows down the smooth flow of the bureaucratic routine (Bauman 1989:103).


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

While Bauman’s work on adiaphorization has focused primarily on the Holocaust, it can easily be extended to our liquid-modern way of life. Just as technological advances made the mass killing of the Jews a possibility (and indeed, an inevitability), so too have the post-Holocaust technological improvements changed the face of killing in war to an enormous degree. Bauman laments the ‘dishonest’ and impersonal nature of liquid-modern warfare, the fact that “the electronic mediation of the ‘real war’ can make the lot of the ‘squeamish’ much easier. One can easily forget what this shooting and bombing is all about; after all, one is not really shooting or bombing, but moving the joystick and pressing buttons” (Bauman 1995:150). The inference is clear: with ever greater technology at our command, how easy it is to hide from the reality of our actions. Adiaphorization then, is not a thing of the past, anymore than the Holocaust is. Rather than a freakish state of abnormal social relations, Bauman cautions that “the adiaphorization of human action seems to be a necessary constitutive act of any supra-individual, social totality; of all social organization for that matter” (Bauman 1989:217). This is almost undoubtedly true, in the liquid modern world, the lie of the ‘global village’ is daily exposed. Physical density and increasing interconnectivity have not translated into dense sociability or a sense of responsibility for one’s ‘neighbour’. Now, more than ever before, we practise daily the art of ‘mismeeting’. The unfolding catastrophe in Darfur shows how inaction prevails even when one no longer has the comforting alibi of distance or ignorance. But what of liquid modern genocides? Do not the conflicts in Bosnia and Rwanda disprove the idea that mass killing persists because modernity affords us a greater distance? At face value, the hands-on, bloody nature of the genocide in Rwanda makes it seem a world away even from the Holocaust in the immediacy of its brutality. Mark Levene, however, has argued: Even the largely rudimentary weaponry of the Rwandan case hides the degree to which the accomplishment of genocide was dependent on an organized, rigorously efficient, modern administration operating within a state communications infrastructure which included sound roads, working telephone and fax links as well as state or quasi-state radio stations (Levene 2005:105).

There were other similarities with the Holocaust however, as Alexander Hinton has argued: In colonial Rwanda, German and later Belgian officials re-imagined social differences … Tutsis therefore shared racial characteristics that enabled them to be more effective leaders than the allegedly racially inferior Hutus, who were supposedly of Bantu stock. In the postcolonial period, this origin myth was reinvented by Hutus to argue that Tutsi’s were ‘tricky’, impure foreign invaders who had to be expunged from what was Hutu soilan image reminiscent of Nazi discourse about Jews (Hinton 2002:16).

Despite these modern elements, the very physicality of the Rwandan massacres demonstrated that genocide depends more upon a psychic distance than an optical one. The roots of genocide lie in how we react and respond to one another as individuals, as moral human beings. The Hutu extermination of the Tutsis, whereby

Bauman on Genocide


some 800,000 people were murdered over a three month period in 1994, was aided by the reduction of the Tutsis to the level of ‘cockroaches’ in the minds of their killers. Such dehumanization, such classification, amounted to the first step on the road to massacre. The architects of the Rwandan genocide recognized, just as the Nazis before them had, that “to make massive participation in cruel deeds possible, the link between moral guilt and the acts which the participation entails must be severed” (Bauman 1995:148). The lesson we need to learn from the Holocaust and other later genocides, is to cease looking for new genocides to occur which follow the pattern of preceding ones. Today the vulnerable might take the form of the poor, the beggars we want pushed from sight, removed from the streets lest the sight of their poverty and need should prick our increasingly dormant consciences. This is liquid modern adiaphorization at work. In line with the Levinasian view of the ‘face’ as capable of issuing a moral demand, reprimand, or challenge; we wish to ‘efface the face’. For Bauman, this is one of the keys to the process of neutralizing morality: It consists in casting the objects of action in a position from which they cannot challenge the actor in their capacity as a source of moral demands; that is, in evicting them from the class of beings that may potentially confront the actor as a ‘face’ (Bauman 1989:216).

Asylum-seekers and others who are ineradicably cast as ‘outsiders’ might too form the backbone of those subjected to liquid modern attempts at creating ‘order’. Bauman stresses that vigilance is always required, asserting that “there are powerful reasons to doubt the reality of moral progress, and in particular the moral progress of the kind which modernity claims to promote” (Bauman 1993a:229). At bottom, Bauman cautions, the danger lies now in clashes of culture rather than in the old, largely discredited, discourses of ‘blood and soil’. He states that we now have to look for future genocides rooted in unfamiliar origins: Rejection of strangers may shy away from expressing itself in racial terms, but it cannot afford admitting being arbitrary lest it should abandon all hope of success; it verbalizes itself therefore in terms of incompatibility or unmixability of cultures, or of the selfdefence of a form of life bequeathed by tradition (Bauman 1993a:235).

With regard to this, Bauman has addressed Jadwiga Mizinska’s theory of ‘lukewarmness’, whereby those who will not take up their responsibility for the other are seen as standing outside of the sphere of ethical human relations. Bauman states that we are currently living in an era permeated by an ‘I want more space’ ethos. Against this background he concludes: “My ‘needing more space’ is bad news for the other. It portends his/her eviction from my universe of moral obligations” (Bauman 2000:92). He asserts that this ‘turning of backs’ on the other in terms of moral responsibility amounts to the “late-modern variant of adiaphorization” (Bauman 2000:95). Given that, for Bauman, adiaphorization was an integral factor in the Holocaust, the cautionary note rings clear. Peter Beilharz has argued that Bauman’s perspective on the Holocaust ultimately reminds us of Jacques Ellul’s warning that anything technologically possible will be done, simply because it is possible. Therefore, Beilharz argues, what is singular

The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman


about the Holocaust is not that it happened, but that it has only happened, in that form, once. While the shape that future genocides may take is not always easy to predict, what is, sadly, easier to affirm is that other genocides will inevitably occur. As Bauman concludes: We are not quite there – not yet. But the writing is on the wall. Let us not dismiss it as one more prophecy of doom, normally forgotten long before being tested, lest we need to follow once more the present fashion of retrospective, and belated, apology for not noticing it when it was still what it is today: merely writing on the wall (Bauman 1998:94).

Conclusion While Zygmunt Bauman’s writing on the Holocaust has attracted attention primarily for his seeming contestation of the centrality of anti-Semitism, or for the way in which his refutation of the Sonderweg thesis seems to ‘absolve’ Germans (as Germans) of responsibility for the Holocaust, I would assert that Bauman’s unique contribution to a sociological understanding of the Holocaust relates to his work on classification. In Bauman’s work on how certain individuals get assigned to categories, get classified as ‘other’ (as a ‘first step’ on the path of adiaphorization and mass murder), one can see not only an ‘explanation’ of how the Holocaust was possible, but also a moral commitment to force the Holocaust out of the shadows and into the present, indeed into the future. Not only was Bauman the first sociologist to deal substantively with the Holocaust, he also sought to free the event from the imaginative constraints that confined the it to being merely “a specialist topic in Jewish history” (Bauman 1989: ix). This does not mean that Bauman seeks to universalize the Holocaust, or challenge Jewish ‘ownership’ of a terrible and unique recent historical event. Bauman seeks instead to universalize the lessons of the Holocaust, to alert society to the fact that the liquid modern period may provide no more protection against scape-goating, stereotyping, moral bankruptcy, and mass murder, than the era of solid modernity proved able to. Classification, that dangerous “ascriptive criteria of difference” (Bauman 1991:80), is still a feature of our everyday social and cultural arrangements. The ‘I’ and the ‘we’ continue to seek self-definition through contrast with the irredeemable ‘other’. The dominant groups in society continue to marginalize and reject comparative minorities, even if no longer along only strictly ‘racial’ lines. In the case of genocide, we simply see this power, of the strong over the weak, magnified: Here, the object of extermination is defined unilaterally. No symmetry is applied or intimated in any form. By any stretch of any imagination, the other side is not an enemy, but a victim. It has been marked for annihilation because the logic of the order that the stronger side wishes to establish has no room for its presence (Bauman 1991:47).

Thus, Bauman cautions us that categorization of the Other, removing the Other from the realm of one’s moral consideration, amounts to complicity in a process that can culminate in physical destruction. Bauman ultimately attempts to signpost the

Bauman on Genocide


normality of processes that are too often regarded as ‘extreme’ or dependent upon archaic or totalitarian conditions. Most importantly, Bauman seeks not to absolve certain groups of responsibility for the Holocaust. He seeks instead to broaden a sense of moral responsibility, to demonstrate that the roots of atrocity may still flourish in the soil of our liquid modern society. Bibliography Arendt, Hannah (1963): Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. Bauman, Zygmunt (1989): Modernity and the Holocaust. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1991): Modernity and Ambivalence. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1993a): Postmodern Ethics. Oxford: Blackwell. Bauman, Zygmunt (1993b): “The Holocaust: Fifty Years Later”, in Daniel Grinberg (ed.): The Holocaust Fifty Years After. Warsaw: Jewish Historical Institute of Warsaw. Bauman, Zygmunt (1995): Life in Fragments. Oxford: Blackwell. Bauman, Zygmunt (1997): “The Camps: Eastern, Western, Modern”. Studies in Contemporary Jewry, 13:30-40. Bauman, Zygmunt (1998): Work, Consumerism and the New Poor. Buckingham: Open University Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2000): “Ethics of Individuals”. Canadian Journal of Sociology, 25 (1):83-96. Bauman, Zygmunt (2004): Wasted Lives: Modernity and its Outcasts. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2005): “Who Is Seeking Asylum – And From What?”. Mediactive, 4:90-107. Bauman, Zygmunt & Keith Tester (2001): Conversations with Zygmunt Bauman. Cambridge: Polity Press. Beilharz, Peter (2000): Zygmunt Bauman: Dialectic of Modernity. London: Sage Publications. Cesarani, David (ed.)(1994): The Final Solution: Origins and Implementation. London: Routledge. Goldhagen, Daniel (1996): Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. Boston: Little Brown. Hinton, Alexander L. (2002): Annihilating Difference: The Anthropology of Genocide. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Jacobsen, Michael Hviid & Sophia Marshman (2006): “Metaphorically Speaking – Metaphors as a Methodological and Moral Signifier of the Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman”. Polish Sociological Review, 3 (155):307-325. Langerbein, Helmut (2004): Hitler’s Death Squads: The Logic of Mass Murder. Houston: A&M University Press. Lanzmann, Claude (1995): Shoah: The Complete Text. New York: Da Capo Press. Levene, Mark (2005): The Meaning of Genocide: Genocide in the Age of the Nation State, Volume One. New York: I. B. Tauris.


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

Levi, Primo (1995): The Drowned and the Saved. London: Abacus. Milchman, Alan & Alan Rosenberg (eds.)(1997): Martin Heidegger and the Holocaust. Atlantic Heights, NJ: Humanities International Press. Varcoe, Ian (1998): “Identity and the Limits of Comparison: Bauman’s Reception in Germany”. Theory, Culture & Society, 15 (1):57-72. Vetlesen, Arne Johan (2005): Evil and Human Agency: Understanding Collective Evildoing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

PART 3 Social Integration

This page intentionally left blank

Chapter 5

Bauman on Freedom – Consumer Freedom as the Integration Mechanism of Liquid Society Poul Poder

“Today, it is the society that needs to service individual freedom, not the reverse as we were used to in much of modern and pre-modern history” – Zygmunt Bauman: Postmodernity and Its Discontents

Introduction Freedom is often treated as a philosophical, political and normative issue. And sociology has mostly been preoccupied with the opposite of freedom, namely how social forces have determined the lives and actions of individuals (Bertilsson 2007). But with respect to freedom Zygmunt Bauman can be seen as the exception that proves the rule, as he can be described as a sociologist of freedom (see also Davis forthcoming). His writings are extraordinarily concerned with conditions of and threats to freedom compared to sociologists such as Pierre Bourdieu, Arlie R. Hochschild, Randall Collins or Ulrich Beck. Bauman always asks what novel social developments mean for the possibility of human autonomy in an individual, moral and political sense (Blackshaw 2005; Davis forthcoming; Marotta 2002). Furthermore, he has outlined a sociological theory of freedom (Bauman 1988) and he argues that contemporary society is integrated through individual consumer freedom. This chapter will therefore provide an over-all exposition of Bauman’s analysis of individual freedom as developed during the last couple of decades. In doing so, it is possible to present the different facets of his analysis of freedom and thereby avoid the narrowness of focussing merely on the most recent writings. Bauman’s theory and analysis of freedom is a significant contribution to sociological understanding of freedom, agency and integration. His approach to freedom differs from a normative approach to freedom that thinks of freedom in terms of a not-yet-realized (ideal) value or a project. By theorizing resources and security as positive conditions of action freedom, Bauman moves the understanding of freedom further than the understanding of freedom qua liberation or emancipation from old tradition and structures common to conventional ‘negative’ individualization theory (Eräsaari 1993). Moreover, Bauman’s analysis of contemporary individual freedom is original, as he argues that societal integration is ensured through individual


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

consumer freedom. This answer differs from more mainstream theory that suggests that integration is achieved through domination and ideological indoctrination, common values or habit and tradition (Fuhrman 1987). After this introduction I present Bauman’s conceptualization of freedom of action as a relational privilege based on the social distribution of resources. Then, a section is devoted to Bauman’s complex analysis of individual freedom which suggests that consumer freedom is the hub of societal integration, but which also has a sharp eye for tendencies such as de-institutionalization and the consumerist syndrome that seem to undermine freedom. After this presentation, I discuss strengths and weaknesses of Bauman’s analysis of individual freedom, and emphasize that Bauman seems strongest with regard to the limitations rather than the gains of contemporary individual freedom. Moreover, I explain how Bauman’s theory of security as a precondition of freedom needs to be further elaborated. In the conclusion, I sum up the over-all contribution of Bauman’s theory. Individual Freedom as a Social Privilege In this section I briefly outline the basic ideas in Bauman’s sociological conceptualization of freedom. Firstly, Bauman underlines how a sociological approach to freedom must understand what form of freedom is constituted in different types of society, how it is constituted and distributed among the members of society and what is its effect in terms of social integration. Secondly, defining freedom as a social relation emphasizes how freedom is understood as growing out of social relationships rather than being an inherent capacity of humans. Thirdly, he understands freedom as a privilege and explains it in terms of its role in the integration of the society. Individual freedom understood as freedom of action – rather than political freedom of expression and association granted to us by the state – is the issue of Bauman’s sociological theorization of freedom as a privilege constituted by social relations first sketched out in Freedom (1988) and then developed in subsequent writings (Bauman 1997). Bauman argues that sociology should go further than believing that people are free because they are agents who act rather than abstain from acting. Here ‘freedom’ is just stating the obvious, that there is always more than one logically possible way of acting – a trivial truth implied tautologically in the very idea of action (Bauman 1988:28). Bauman defines freedom as the possibility of being able to realise one’s intentions. The chance of realizing one’s intentions depends not merely on the absence of external restrictions on one’s action, as “freedom has more to it than lack of restrictions. To do things, one needs resources” (Bauman 1988:2). Without relevant resources one’s intention will remain a fantasy. Understanding freedom as a social practice means that the negative concept of freedom – absence of external constraints - is insufficient, as it only states what an actor might be free from, rather than free to do. It is the social distribution of resources that explains why “the range of freedoms that we enjoy in order to be capable of action is differentially distributed … Some people enjoy a wider ranger of choice due to their access to more resources and we can refer to this in terms of power” (Bauman & May 2001:62).

Bauman on Freedom


Power is here understood as an enabling capacity referring to individuals’ pursuit of freely chosen ends and their command of the necessary means to realise their goals. The more powerful person has a wider range of choices and a broader scope of outcomes which they may realistically pursue (Bauman & May 2001:62). The point is not that freedom equals power in the sense of making other people do things they would not do by themselves. But: “One person exercizing their autonomy can result in the experience of heteronomy by another” (Bauman & May 2001:63). Freedom of one actor can lead to lack of freedom of the other actor, as the free actions of one actor can limit the options of action of the other. Individuals are connected in chains of dependency and their actions often have restricting consequences for others. Therefore, it is up to the particular analysis of certain areas of social practice to decide, if and how certain people’s action freedom restricts others’ potential freedom of action.1 Freedom is constituted within mutually determining social positions of either autonomy or heteronomy: “Some actors are freer than others: discrimination in the degree of freedom allotted to various categories of actors is the very stuff of which the social system is moulded” (Bauman 1988:23). Freedom exists as a social relation as freedom refers to the co-existence of two sharply distinguished conditions of either being subject to one’s own will or being the object of others’ will. The quality of freedom resides in this type of difference between action dependent on the will of others and action that is not. Freedom makes sense only as an opposition to some other past or present condition (Bauman 1988:7). To be free is therefore to aspire to escape from a form of dependency (Bauman 1988:9). That freedom is relational means that social relations or structures distribute the resources for freedom to be realised in different relations. Certain social positions give certain resources or power which is the other side of freedom in Bauman’s view (see also Campain in this volume). Bauman wants to dispense with the hopelessly abstract discussion about the voluntaristic side of the social actor as such. The possibility of freedom is a property of social relations between more or less dependent actors, rather than defined as an inherent will of individuals.2 Freedom and social inequality are interlinked. The voluntariness of human action is a matter of position in social structure. Depending on the situation you are in, you may be more voluntaristic or less so. The divorce between the discourse of inequality and the discourse of freedom is detrimental to both issues, Bauman argues (Bauman 1992:119). At the end of the day, inequality is about unequal freedom, and freedom is about the social ability to do things, and there is no point in discussing freedom and inequality separately. Freedom is 1 Bauman criticizes action theory for taking a wrong starting point, as being located in figuration of dependent relationships and unequal power is a more fundamental feature of social life than action (Bauman 1989). 2 Freedom is about realizing one’s intentions, but intensions are not sovereign. They are also influenced by social forces which Bauman is fully aware of. Here, I do not go into the complex discussion of what is one’s intention and what is maybe more a result of internalization of oppression rather than one’s own intention. In the present context a more straightforward approach to freedom – freedom as it is believed and experienced in common life – approach to intentions suffice.


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

therefore a privilege in the sense that it is based on power relations that can bring about restrictions of others’ potential freedom without the intention to do so, as when business managers freely decide to move their businesses and thereby restrict the action freedom of the now fired employees. Freedom is not a modern invention, but a practical feature of social life implicated in how society is integrated (Bauman 1988:35-36): “Instead of being an unanticipated outcome of the interplay between ‘phenomenologically equal’, similarly free agents, social order is something which some people set for others” (Bauman 1988:23). Bauman conceptualizes action freedom as a social practice that works out the integration of the social system rather than as a real or potential threat to securing social order as assumed in Hobbesian and Durkheimian social theory. Social structure is often thought of as restricting freedom and this is also the case in the sense that distribution of resources determines how much or how little free action is possible for the particular individual. But on a basic level Bauman’s point is that social structure as such differentiates freedom rather than limits it. And this differentiated freedom is the very stuff by which the social system is formed. Freedom (the reality of it, if not the ideal) is therefore a privilege that is bound to be contested (Bauman 1993:30). In other words, the integration of the system does not depend on everybody sharing the same ideas and values, as the functionalist tradition would claim. Nor does it depend on ideological indoctrination as some Marxist theorists might argue.3 Bauman’s sociological insights concerning freedom will be expounded in the following section on Bauman’s diagnosis of individual freedom in present-day society. Privatized Consumer Freedom This section presents Bauman’s analysis of what constitutes contemporary individual freedom, how it is integral to societal integration and how various tendencies seem to undermine it. Emancipation from Panopticon, Culture, Ideology and Hierarchy Nowadays, we still live in a modernizing society with relentless change, dissolution, emancipation, erosion, and rationalizing. All these liquefying and liquidating forces remain as strong as ever. But in most of the history of modern society there has 3 Bauman’s sociological conceptualization of freedom aims at being a general theory of freedom rather than a particular theory that is dependent on a certain time diagnosis. Bauman’s basic ideas about freedom refer to freedom in social life as such. Freedom is not a modern invention, but implicated in how particular historical forms of social order is worked out. Consequently, Bauman intends a more general type of theory of freedom compared to for example a purely genealogical approach to modern freedom as practised in The Powers of Freedom by Nikolas Rose (1999). How Bauman’s ideas can be taken forward to work out a proper sociological theory of freedom I choose not to elaborate as this paper primarily devotes itself to examining Bauman’s analysis of contemporary individual freedom.

Bauman on Freedom


been a solid idea of re-embedding. People from the countryside were uprooted, but then re-embedded as members of the urban working class. Modern and enlightened people also believed in the capacity of building an orderly society based on the principles of science and reason (Bauman 1991). What has evaporated, today, is the horizon of being located in a secure and better form. That is why Bauman speaks of ‘liquid modernity’, which in a nut-shell means disembedding without re-embedding. Understanding how contemporary individual freedom has been constituted means appreciating different historical forms of emancipation that cast humans as choosing individuals. ‘Solid modernity’ has worked together with a ‘heavy capitalism’ of a relatively stable engagement between capital and labour, which fostered a long term mentality of dependency. But in today’s ‘light’ capitalism capital is not tied to local communities in the committed sense that factory-owners used to be. We now live in the post-panoptical era where capital’s primary power techniques are escape, slippage and elision rather than the detailed, but engaged forms of surveillance which were characteristic of solid modernity (Bauman 2000:11, 2002:33). Liquid modernity is characterised by the ‘Synopticon’ (Mathiesen 1997) implying that the majority of the population closely watches the lives of the few in the form of stars and celebrities. These extra-ordinary individuals are taken as examples to live by as idols of exciting lives. In liquid society people are freed from culture in the sense of being subjected to a certain state-led project of cultural homogenization (Bauman 1987). Liquid individuals live in a post-culture condition where culture no longer means cultivation of certain values, but equals a market of cultural pluralism. In liquid modernity genuine or postulated hierarchical orders of superiority/inferiority are too fluid to harden into a recognizable shape. Therefore, they do not retain any shape for a long enough time to be adopted as a safe reference frame for the composition of identity (Bauman 2005:31) This post-hierarchical condition suggests an increase of freedom as people are not bound by stifling forms of hierarchies. Ideological leaders who tell people what to do are no longer attractive. Contemporary people are more into stars that can be read as inspirational examples of ways to enjoy life. Managers and leaders today are not ideological in the sense of telling others what to do. Instead, people seek out celebrities to be inspired by. Moreover, the continuous surveillance that defined heavy modern and Taylorist organization of space is increasingly abandoned, as it is no longer the manager’s role to direct the employees. Rather it is up to the subordinates to catch the superior’s attention to convince him or her about the value of their performances (Bauman 2002:34). The power relationship between manager and employee is disengaged and people are thrown upon their own self-management. To sum up, Bauman emphasizes how liquid modernity equals emancipation from cultural or ideological indoctrination and panoptical or hierarchical control. But freedom is not merely a question of emancipation as Bauman’s sociological conceptualization of freedom explains. Therefore, the next section discusses other features of Bauman’s analysis of the constitution of contemporary individual freedom.


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

Individual Freedom as Consumer Freedom The freedom of choice exercised on the market has come to signify freedom in present-day consumer society, where the majority of the population enjoys the freedom on the market.4 The attraction of the market is that it offers freedom to people who in other areas of their lives find more constraint than freedom. Moreover, the market which offers freedom also offers certainty as its experts confirm the choices of the consumers: The attractiveness of market-promoted identities is that the torments of self-construction, and of the subsequent search for social approval for the finished or half-baked product, is replaced by the less harrowing, often pleasurable, act of choice between ready-made patterns. The merchandised identities come complete with the label of social approval already stuck on in advance. The uncertainty as to the viability of self-constructed identity and the agony of seeking confirmation are thereby spared. Identikits and life-style symbols are endorsed by people with authority and by information that an impressively large number of people approve of them. Social acceptance does not need therefore to be negotiated – it has been, so to speak, ‘built into’ the market product from the start (Bauman 1991:206).

Moreover, the freedom of life-style choices can be exercised in a way where one actor’s choices do not necessarily limit the choices of another actors’ choices. There seems to be plenty of the symbolic form of freedom, as the capitalistic market is living by differentiating and satisfying each and every individual desire. This endless differentiating and growing aspect of the symbolic identity freedom of the consumer is remarkable in the history of different forms of freedom. And this is why, in Bauman’s view, the individual consumer freedom is a primal integration mechanism of contemporary society. However, the sweetness of choice is not granted to all. To be resourceful is to have the freedom to pick and choose and, most importantly, be free from carrying the consequences of wrong choices and thereby to escape the least attractive aspects of the life of choosing (Bauman 2000:89). Not all choices on display are realistic; and the proportion of realistic choices is not the function of the number of items to choose from, but of the volume of resources at the disposal of the chooser. The minority of people who do not have the resources to operate as consumers is still subjected to the well-known methods of normative regulation, disciplining and surveillance (Bauman 1988:61). The consumer society as a social system excludes a minority of the population as ‘flawed consumers’ that are of no actual or potential use for the economic system to reproduce itself (Bauman 1998, 2004). Consequently, consumer freedom is also an example of how freedom is a privilege. Bauman reformulates what stratification means, living in liquid conditions. Here again the freedom of choice plays a crucial role as this capacity is what stratifies 4 Bauman has outlined an analysis of our society as integrated qua the consumer freedom in Freedom (1988) and has elaborated this analysis subsequently in Work, Consumerism and the New Poor (1998), Liquid Modernity (2000), Society Under Siege (2002), Liquid Life (2005) and Consuming Life (2007b). See also Tony Blackshaw’s chapter in this volume.

Bauman on Freedom


people. The opposition between living life as a ‘tourist’ on the self-chosen search of pleasurable experiences, or living as a ‘vagabond’ pushed around by the will of others is the major, principal division of contemporary society (see Davis in this volume for more on ‘tourists’ and ‘vagabonds’). Freedom of choice is the most seminal stratifying factor. The more freedom of choice one has, the higher is one’s rank in the social hierarchy (Bauman 1997:93). Consumer freedom of choice is based on a social system of a market-defined code of choice and agenda setting, privatization of ambivalence and self-reproduction of expertise. This particular social system explains how contemporary individual freedom is predicated on certain restrictions on freedom. The turn to the market is often theorized as a ‘de-regulation’ by liberals who believe that abandoning a political form of (state) regulation is producing more individual freedom. By putting peoples’ money back in their pockets they get more freedom of choice, instead of letting political institutions prioritise the use of money, it is argued from the liberal side. But sociologically speaking, ‘de-regulation’ does not mean absence of regulation, but change in the forms of regulation. This is so because individual choices are always confined by two types of constraints. Firstly, individuals are guided by an ‘agenda of choice’ referring to the range of alternatives on offer. Secondly, individuals are constrained by a ‘code of choosing’ referring to the rules that tell the individual, on what ground the preference should be given to some items rather than others and when to consider the choice as proper (Bauman 1999:72). Both sets of constraints form the frame in which individual freedom operates. ‘De-regulation’ does not mean that there is no longer any ‘agenda of choice’ or ‘code of choosing’. It means curbing the state’s regulating role and this retreat or self-limitation “has as its most salient effect a greater exposure of choosers to both the coercive (agenda-setting) and the indoctrinating (code-setting) impact of essentially non-political forces” (Bauman 1999:74) associated primarily with financial and commodity markets. The code of choosing is also formed by market forces. As Bauman suggests: Were the present-day code of choosing ever to reach the level of a declared, lucidly spelled-out and cohesively articulated objective, it would in all probability put that responsiveness, sensitivity to market suggestions and seductions, as its supreme target. This code prompts one to treat the world as primarily a container of potential objects of consumption; following the principle of consumption, it encourages the search for satisfaction; and following the principle of the consumer society, it induces individuals to view the arousal of desires clamouring to be satisfied as the guiding rule of the chooser’s life and a criterion of a worthy and successful life (Bauman 1999:75-76).

One effect of this type of market regulation is a decomposition of community in a political sense, as the individual pleasure seeking does remain individual or rather private in its character. Moreover, what follows from his analysis of market regulation is that late-modern developments have not brought more individual freedom in the sense of a greater capacity for negotiating the code of choosing. Rather, the market regulation has only transformed the individual from political citizen into a market consumer (Bauman 1999:78).


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

In its quest for order ‘solid’ modernity has been incessantly preoccupied with eradicating ambivalence by the efforts of a ‘gardening state’ and ‘legislating’ knowledge classes. Now, we have witnessed the retreat of the gardening state, and knowledge classes operate in an interpretive rather than legislating mode (Bauman 1987). Consequently, individuals now face the problem of ambivalence alone in their search for certainty or at least some degree of security. Their search takes place in a network of expertise which is mediated by the consumer market and which assists individuals in gaining sufficient social approval to handle the irreducible underdetermination, ambivalence and contingency of life (Bauman 1991:16). According to Bauman the growing privatization of ambivalence means that individuals are increasingly meant to take care of all their problems and life tasks on a private and individual basis. They are becoming increasingly dependent on experts to solve every kind of problem, they may feel they have. Expertise defines the problem and the skills to deal with it, and individuals become reduced to acting merely as finders and buyers of the right expert advice and product on offer. In Bauman’s analysis, the system of expertise means that people are asked to seek the right technological solution to their problem, and such solutions are often simplified when individuals swallow, what they believe is the right kind of expert-prepared and expert-prescribed pill, in order to ‘solve’ – neutralize – a complex interpersonal problem (Bauman 1991:211). Given the expertise system individuals become increasingly dependent on experts to act on their problems. Bauman (1991:212) contends that “personal skills needed to deal directly with the problems are no longer available” and merely solutions in the shape of marketable implements or expert advice gain attraction. The system of expertise means that knowledge is located in distant knowers separated from the performers of life tasks. Individuals who live life assisted by the advice of experts in fact engage less and less in defining their life and its challenges, as they rely on how experts define challenges of life as problems to be acted upon via the solutions offered on the market. This development is experienced as freedom, as it is exercised through the operation of freedom of choice. There are many different types of expert promoted solutions on the market which are particularly attractive. Bauman argues that the original method of solving the self-formation problem through reciprocal love is becoming less attractive as a consequence of the growing availability of expert solutions. By being confirmed through the advice of experts, one is avoiding the potentially traumatic experience of negotiating a mutual approval of partners through love. This mutuality is not on the cards in the relationship between the individual and the expert. Expertise can be seen as a love without love, which means love without the risks of reciprocity and without the worrisome dependency on passion. Expertise is offering itself as the solution, and as such the traditional solutions such as romantic or passionate love are progressively devalued. Moreover, the system of expertise is self-reproducing, as the market forces engender new demands for expertise, and because the field of expertise can expand endlessly, as Bauman contends, people go for easier market mediated social approval compared to the time-consuming and laborious effort of making romantic or passionate love work (Bauman 1991:207).

Bauman on Freedom


In Bauman’s analysis of consumption society consumer freedom takes care of individual identity concerns. But consumer freedom also secures integration on a social level of common attitudes, as all or at least the majority believes in the ‘aesthetic of consumption’ which suggests that life is about getting pleasurable and exciting experiences. Finally, consumer freedom also links to systemic reproduction, as it is the consumers’ buying power that is politically meant to invigorate and reinvigorate the economy. As a consequence of this development the coercive pressure of political bureaucracy has been relieved, the past political explosiveness of ideas and cultural practices has been defused, and a plurality of opinions, life-styles, beliefs and moral values or aesthetic views has developed undisturbed (Bauman 1988:88). The consumer freedom comes together with a political system that determines the lives of its subjects, but at a distance. The paradox is that freedom of expression does not subject the over-all de-politicized system to the control of the people whose lives it influences at a distance. To sum up, individual consumer freedom comes together with various social consequences which have been explained above, and it is on this background one should apprehend why Bauman both acknowledges consumer freedom as more than an illusion and is highly critical of it. Freedom Lost in Insecurity Bauman stresses how individual freedom is central as the hub of integration of contemporary society but is also concerned with how the individual freedom is undermined due to a growing insecurity and fragility of human relations.5 More recently, Bauman has emphasized that freedom and security are interlinked: “When security is missing, free agents are stripped of the confidence without which freedom can hardly be exercised” (Bauman 2005:36). On the basis of his adding security as a prerequisite of freedom, Bauman contends that we are confronted with a “deepening imbalance between individual freedom and security. Supplies of security provisions shrink fast, while the volume of individual responsibilities (assigned if not exercised in practice) grows on a scale unprecedented for the postwar generations” (Bauman 2000:170). The growing insecurity Bauman understands as an effect of massive de-institutionalization of economic and social conditions (Bauman 1999). This trend means that individuals experience insecurity on different levels: (a) insecurity of position, entitlements and livelihood, (b) uncertainty as to their continuation and future stability, and (c) unsafety with respect to their body, self and their extensions: possessions, neighbourhood and community (Bauman 2000:161). Security in the sense of living in a stable world, where things have their stable value and are recognizable, is evaporating. This also happens with security in terms of certain distinctions between sense/non-sense, useful/useless or reliable/unreliable, which are all needed in everyday life decision-making. Finally, security understood 5 Bauman deals with the issue of insecurity in Postmodernity and its Discontents (1997), In Search of Politics (1999), Liquid Modernity (2000), Liquid Fear (2006) and Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty (2007a).


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

as the absence of threats to body and material possessions is also undermined in a culture of fear, in which homes are no longer or not sufficiently felt as safe places. Liquid modernity favours a condition of disengagement between labour and capital, and this condition produces a flexible working market saturated with insecurity. A ‘spectre of insecurity’ takes over the power formerly exercised by controlling levels of managers. Given the job-instability of liquid times people increasingly fear becoming socially redundant. This fear makes people comply and work ‘enthusiastically’ to a degree that dissolves the need for managers to apply stick-and-carrot forms of power. Managers need no longer exercise power over employees “once it is up to the managed to prove their mettle and convince the managers that they won’t regret hiring them” (Bauman 2002:34). As organizations work qua ‘integrationby-succession-of-short-term-projects’ there is no or only minimal need for control from the top. It is up to the employees to continuously prove themselves worthy of employment. In the liquid social conditions the spectre of insecurity hovering over the heads of the controlled employees is the most efficient form of social control (Bauman 2002:35). As Bauman observes: “A most salient aspect of the vanishing act performed by old securities is the new fragility of human bonds. The brittleness and transience of bonds may be an unavoidable price of individuals’ right to pursue their individual goals, and yet it cannot but be, simultaneously, a most formidable obstacle to pursue them effectively – and to the courage needed to pursue them” (Bauman 2000:170). This new fragility of human bonds Bauman explains as a consequence of a ‘consumerist syndrome’ that conquers our social relations. People increasingly perceive the world as a collection of consumer goods and see the aim of life as getting instant gratification. The consumption ethic is so strong in the liquid society that the pleasure principle has won over the reality principle. Today, the pleasure principle is the presiding judge over the reality principle (Bauman 1997:2, 2002:187). The consumer syndrome gradually takes hold of every kind of inter-human relationship, and this makes it more difficult, if not impossible, to establish enduring human bonds (Bauman 2005:63). This is so because of a shift of values in favour of ‘connections’ rather than ‘partnerships’. Connections which can be established and terminated immediately become the dominant standard. This makes people insecure and while they might need friendship more than ever, it becomes more and more difficult to practice friendship when life is lived according to consumerist patterns of thinking and behaviour. To live and act on the condition of insecurity is nothing new. What is new is that almost everybody is significantly influenced by insecurity. Also the great number of middleclass people who fear how they can support themselves, as jobs become more unstable and everybody has to work hard to maintain and develop employability to get jobs that become more and more episodic in character. Only the strongest minority of people with resources enough to avoid for example job insecurity or to alleviate ‘bad’ or unwanted consequences of actions can navigate confidently in this fluid condition. The world of today is full of fear, and people desperately seek to express their fear in ways which each individual hopes can be shared with others (Bauman 2006). However, insecurity works mostly as an individualizing force, as it is unclear what

Bauman on Freedom


the next day will bring and therefore it is impossible to mobilize collectively against this insecurity (Bauman 2000:207). At the heart of contemporary life-politics lies an unquenchable desire for security. Bauman argues that people’s acting on that desire rebounds in more insecurity, as they seek private and privatizing solutions which strengthen the market’s deregulation of society. Thereby more insecurity becomes the end result (Bauman 1999:23). Bauman argues that increasing insecurity undermines people’s agency, as security is a precondition of actively acting rather than merely reacting. The undermining of the three forms of security has the effect of dissipation of self-assurance, the loss of trust in one’s own capacity and other people’s intentions, growing incapacitation, anxiety, caginess, and a tendency towards fault-seeking and fault-finding, scapegoating and aggression (Bauman 1999:17). In sum, Bauman has a sharp eye on certain social tendencies that undermine the individual freedom, so that freedom is reduced to merely reacting on various immediate concerns rather than act creatively on a basis of a projection of a future. As Bauman argues, liquid individuals seem to have no hold on the present in a way which makes them capable of acting creatively towards the future. Discussion of Bauman’s Analysis of Freedom In this section I discuss the value and limitations of Bauman’s sociological analysis of individual freedom in respect to contemporary liquid modern Western society. Overall, I want to argue that Bauman’s analysis is complex, as he dialectically points out the ambivalent features of this particular form of freedom. However, his analysis also tends to reduce individual freedom to being merely a matter of consumer freedom. Bauman’s Theoretical Elaboration of the Sociological Concept of Freedom In Freedom Bauman rejected a purely negative concept of freedom as absence of external constraints characterizing a liberal rational choice position (Aakvaag 2005:161) by emphasizing how action freedom is based on resources such as e.g. knowledge and money. I find it important to stress that Bauman underlines both relation and possession of resources in his conceptualization of freedom and power. In his view, it is unfruitful to distinguish between an approach to freedom/power that emphasises possession of resources as something non-relational and another approach that merely conceives freedom/power as something which is only practised in actual social relations. Bauman’s notion of freedom as relation parallels Michael Foucault’s stress on power as relational (Foucault 1980). However, in Bauman’s view there is no reason to distinguish between an approach that stresses relations and one that stresses possession, because he explains power (resources) as a matter of location in particular social relations. Other theorists also stress how freedom is based on rights, resources and options (Ringen 2005), but the strength of Bauman’s relational conceptualization of freedom is that freedom is understood as being both relational and based on (social) possession of resources. Consequently, he goes a


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

step further than for example Foucault who assumes a basic kind of freedom of individuals instead of trying to explain it (Foucault 1982:221). Moreover, Bauman’s conceptualization of positive conditions of freedom is further elaborated through the notion of ‘security’ as conducive of freedom (Insole 2004). Security can be seen as a resource, but one which is also more basic in a social sense than the possession of different kinds of power resources, as it seems to be a precondition for acting as such, without respect to whether one has few or many conventional power resources. Freedom is also based on security which Bauman theorises as an effect of institutionalization. His emphasis on lacking security supplements his conceptualization of individual freedom, as he generally argues, that institutionalization ensuring a degree of security is integral to agency as such. Bauman is pointing out how institutionalization is conducive of agency as it secures security in an intellectual, emotional and physical sense, which can make people capable of acting in a creative, projective sense rather than merely reacting to circumstance. Consequently, he develops his conceptualization of the material conditions of freedom to involve more than resources in the sense mentioned in Freedom. In Bauman’s discussion of the increasing insecurity the concept of security is mostly defined negatively. He points to various processes that allegedly engender insecurity. Bauman lists various factors that contribute to ‘a second line of trenches’. According to him security is ensured by, for example, universal social rights which institutionalise a commonality (community), a more stable form of family and neighbourhood, the old block world order, a more rigid world of tradition. The last three points are implications of his analysis in which he argues that lack of family and neighbours, the presence of the new fluid world order and the lack of orientation points in everyday life are engendering insecurity (Bauman 1997:21-25). Moreover, his conceptualization of security is rather more metaphorical than analytical: “Without a second line of trenches, few people other than dare-devil adventurers can muster enough courage to face the risks of an unknown and unsecured further future, and without a safety net most people will refuse to dance along the tightrope and will feel utterly unhappy if they are forced to do so against their will” (Bauman 2005:36). Central factors in causing insecurity are ‘de-institutionalization’, which means that institutions evaporate and ad-hoc networks come to predominate, and ‘de-regulation’ which means regulation by market forces instead of regulation by political institutions (Bauman 1999). However, security is not necessarily that things stay the same. Routine can be debilitating but also empowering – it depends on other circumstances, when it is the one thing or the other. The same can be said about institutionalization. Consequently, I suggest that there is a need to unpack the notion of security to get a more refined analytical understanding of this emotional level (‘security’), which is co-constitutive of action freedom.6 In such an exploration it can be useful to draw on Jack Barbalet’s theory of how confidence, trust and loyalty are basic social emotions that co-constitute agency on a personal, interpersonal and institutional level 6 Richard Sennett also thinks in broad terms when he argues that de-institutionalization as such is undermining freedom (Sennett 2006).

Bauman on Freedom


(Barbalet 1996, 1998; see also Poder 2004). However, having said this, Bauman’s conceptualization of freedom as a differential capacity of social relations is a first step away from the unfounded notion of a generic agency of individuals, which is not unusual in contemporary social theory (Layder 2004).7 Appreciating Consumer Freedom One comparative advantage of Bauman’s analysis is that it acknowledges consumer freedom as a real kind of freedom: “Reproduction of the capitalist system is therefore achieved through individual freedom and not through its repression” (Bauman 1988:61). Bauman takes an analytical approach to understanding the connection between consumption, freedom and integration rather than condemning the consumption society as a society of controlled masses, fake or illusory individuality and alienation which has been a common approach in both conservative and liberal theory (Slater 2005; see also Blackshaw in this volume). In my reading, Bauman’s analysis is not an echo of the diagnosis of the old Frankfurt School theorists Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, who according to Mark Davis suggest that “the life of the successful consumers, free to pursue their own individual identities, turns out to be little more than an illusion. The Critical Theorists present consumerism as a way of life that is pre-determined by the mass culture industry, where each free choice is nothing of the sort” (Davis 2006:106-107; see also Davis forthcoming). Modern capitalism provides more of an opportunity of choice for self-assertive individuals compared to earlier periods in the history of modern society. Moreover, in Bauman’s analysis, consumer freedom is not so directly part of a zero-sum game compared to forms of freedom in modern and ancient history (Bauman 1988). Consequently, it would be quite elitist and arrogant to denigrate this kind of freedom enjoyed 7 Bauman’s conceptualization of action freedom (agency) as based on social relations and being a differential capacity is a very early formulated critique of the idea of agency as a generic feature of individuals (see Bauman 1989). Derek Layder carries this critique further: “We need to be able to account for the fact that some people are more confident of, or in tune with, themselves than others and hence are more capable of managing social situations. They exert more subjective power, and thus control, over their circumstances. On the other hand, we need to register that other individuals, perhaps because of a ‘learned helplessness’ (or some other psychological debilitation), are less effective in dealing with desperate circumstance of the ‘ordinary’ misfortunes of life. It is misleading to speak of transformative power as a generic capacity – as if everyone had equivalent powers and possibilities for control. They don’t, and that’s what makes them unique in the first place” (Layder 2004:11). In order to understand agency as a variable, emotion sociological theory can be helpful. For example Barbalet’s theory of silent social emotions confidence, trust and loyalty that energise individuals to act (a) on behalf of self (confidence), (b) together with others (trust), and (c) act on behalf of institutional setting (loyalty) (Barbalet 1996, 1998). Moreover, Randall Collins’s theory of how individuals get emotional energy through participating in interactional rituals is useful in understanding how agency comes about socially (Collins 2004). I emphasise dynamic social processes of generating emotions as part of the formation of agency. But my point is not that agency is exclusively a sociological issue, as a psychological approach which considers for example issues such as self-understanding and self-acceptance as elements of constituting an autonomous personality is also relevant (Henle 1960).


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

by the majority of the population as nothing but illusory. The point of Bauman’s analysis of consumer freedom is exactly, that this freedom is experienced as very real compared to other spheres of life where freedom is experienced less. In my view, Bauman’s main message is that consumer freedom is real rather than illusory. Societal reproduction based on individual freedom rather than its repression seems more favourable, and even so in the critical eyes of Bauman. Though, it is also a limited form of freedom bound to the market-mediated way of life (see Blackshaw and Carleheden in this volume). The consumer freedom of choice links to stratification, as it signals the supreme value. The decisive thing is that you have the power to choose: “Consumer choice is now a value in its own right; the activity of choosing matters more than what is being chosen, and the situations are praised or censured, enjoyed or resented depending on the range of choices on display” (Bauman 2000:87). Consequently, it is possible to maintain the idea of stratification (not homogenization or equalization) together with the thesis of an increasing eroding of substantial orders that tell what is culturally superior and what is inferior and thereby can orient people in their attempts at composing an identity. This point also explains why contemporary society is not a mass-society which has violated all distinctions and forms of hierarchy. Liquidity means undermining institutional hierarchies in a society that values ad-hoc projects and networks. But there is still a basic top-bottom dimension, as those people who have resources to enjoy life and get the most out of it, rise as stars which less fortunate individuals look at in either an inspired or depressed fashion. Liquid society is not merely liquid, but also tough as it is based on a social system that excludes a minority of ‘flawed consumers’ subjected to panoptical discipline (Bauman 1988). Individual consumer freedom is, like other forms of freedom, a limited freedom. Bauman stresses the ambiguities of consumer freedom and is critical of it as it is not for all people and counteracts a comprehensive, political and collective form of freedom (Marotta 2002). He underlines how this form of freedom is based on privatization of ambivalence and regulation effected by market rather than by political – i.e. more or less democratically governed – institutions. A central point of Bauman’s analysis of contemporary individual freedom is that there is no such thing as ‘de-regulation’ understood as absence of regulation. And in accordance with his social and relational understanding of freedom he explains how also the consumer freedom is a limited and partial form of freedom. Bauman’s analysis of freedom and consumerism is ambiguous. On one hand he stresses the contemporary condition as being post-ideological and subjecting only the minority of ‘flawed consumers’ or ‘human waste’ to normative social control. The majority of citizens have only one single norm to adhere to, namely the norm of striving for the opportunity of choice. Otherwise, liquid individuals live in a condition of marked cultural pluralism. On the other hand, Bauman describes consumerism as a very strong and all-encompassing (‘totalitarian’) phenomenon, and in this way he describes it in terms that seem similar to the more familiar sociological terms of ‘ideological control’, ‘normative reference-groups’ and ‘dominant value-system’. Mark Davis suggests that, at times, it is possible to read Bauman’s approach to consumerism as being close to that of the Critical Theorists in

Bauman on Freedom


proclaiming it just another form of dominant ideology or value-system (Davis 2006; Davis 2008). Bauman can be read in a number of ways, as we encounter a complex area of interpretation here. I myself am inclined to an interpretation that emphasises, how Bauman is suggesting something different from seeing consumerism as merely another example of a dominant value system. I would emphasise, that one single norm hardly forms a whole value system and that consumerism is a more fluid form of culture than we are used to thinking when applying the concept of culture (see also Blackshaw in this volume). Narrowing Down Individual Freedom Bauman’s suggestion is that with market pluralism there is freedom to construct from a range of life-style options that are socially legitimate. Consequently, there is a kind of inbuilt confirmation in marketable life-style choices. But although individuals can choose a certain type or a particular brand of clothes, they cannot be sure that others who are significant to them will appreciate their particular choice. They might find it inappropriate or unsuitable and, in this sense, there is no inbuilt social acceptance beyond the space of inter-subjective negotiation. People want more recognition than the recognition contained in the fact that millions of others have also bought, for example, Levis’ jeans. Another reservation of mine concerns Bauman’s implicit idea that people used to be more autonomous in defining their life problems. In his view contemporary individuals are now completely dependent on experts and how they define our life tasks as little technical or technological problems to be handled by applying their techniques. But have people not always been dependent on experts, or at least authority figures like the king or the priest? Bauman’s suggestion is that the system of expertise implies that individuals become increasingly de-skilled in a social sense, as he indicates that people used to be able to confront and work on life problems more directly. However, he does not provide any examples of this, and therefore I find this aspect of his analysis rather unconvincing. He claims that contemporary individuals do not feel dependency on the market as a dependency, but they rather experience this as freedom and a triumph of individual autonomy (Bauman 1991:261). However, this claim is not backed up by any kind of research, and therefore also proves to be a weak point in his analysis. All in all, the question is therefore, whether or not Bauman is reducing the issue of individual freedom by merely discussing it in terms of freedom of choice concerning the market? The importance of consumer choice for self-construction is merely relative since individuals are also seeking recognition from others in their relationship to their children, family, friends, colleagues and managers. People are also oriented towards post-materialistic values, which might indicate that contemporary individuals are not necessarily merely happy with their dependency on the market. They orient themselves in terms of values that exceed consumer freedom as a value. However, in Bauman’s analysis, there is no consideration of the fact, that social groups who may be invested with a wealth of available resources, might nevertheless shun the hedonistic pursuits of the consumer experience on the grounds of morality, ethnicity or religious belief (Davis 2006:182; see also Davis


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

2008). Neither does his analysis consider contemporary individuals’ preoccupation with and striving for ‘personal development’, which is also a dimension that is crucial for an understanding of individual freedom (Bovbjerg 2001). Individual freedom is also about choosing the life-style that one is most happy with and about emancipating oneself from influences of past family patterns that may be limiting (Giddens 1991). To sum up this discussion, Bauman explains very well how this form of freedom comes about and why it plays a significant role in people’s lives. But there is a weakness in his writings, when he tends to see contemporary individuals as subjected to nothing else but their immediate cravings (Poder 2007), and it is important to recognise other dimensions than consumer freedom of choice as part of what individual freedom is about. Not Completely Beyond Ideology and Democracy Bauman describes liquid modernity as being a post-ideological condition which reproduces itself with reference to any form of legitimacy. Carleheden argues that Bauman is unconvincing in giving up any notion of legitimacy (see Carleheden in this volume). In my view, Carleheden is surely right in emphasizing, that Bauman pays almost no attention to democracy compared to social theorists such as e.g. Jürgen Habermas. According to Bauman, the system of consumer freedom appears as a self-reproducing mechanism as individuals become fascinated by the allurements of the market (Bauman 1991:262). The social system integrated through individual consumer freedom needs neither coercion-supported dictatorship nor ideological indoctrination. It fosters a dependency sustained and reproduced primarily by Do-ItYourself methods (Bauman 1991:261). Bauman’s point about absence of ideological indoctrination should be understood in the context of his analysis of the establishing of modern societies, which involved the intensive work of ‘cultural crusades’ that fostered a homogenous national population (Bauman 1997). Liquid society is not ideological in that articulate sense. Rather the movement towards market regulation involves a silent ideology, which can be described as neo-liberal, as its basic point of orientation is teaching everybody to look out for individual consumable pleasures. Carleheden also criticizes Bauman with respect to his understanding of democracy. He thinks that “Bauman is completely unambiguous in his assertion that liquid modernity does not have a ‘systemic need’ for democracy” (Carleheden in this volume). However, in my reading, Bauman acknowledges formal democracy to some degree by arguing that present society is strong, as the majority votes in favour of consumerism. The reproduction of society is based on both market and formal democracy. That is, the majority of consumers rules democratically and does not vote for another system than the consumption system (Bauman 1998:55-59). Bauman ascribes a certain ideologically legitimizing significance or at least functional role to democracy in his analysis of the stability of how contemporary society is integrated. It is consumer freedom plus formal democracy that make the wheels of consumer capitalism go smoothly round.

Bauman on Freedom


Conclusion I have now explained Bauman’s idea of how we live in a society of freedom. Individual freedom is liquid in the sense that it is emancipated from former constraining forms of culture, hierarchy and ideology. It is also privatised and based on a system of expertise and a society that excludes a minority of ‘flawed consumers’ subjected to normative regulation and panoptical forms of discipline. However, Bauman does not suggest a straightforward increase of individual freedom, as growing insecurity and the consumerist syndrome engender interpersonal relationships characterised by disengagement, irritability and anxiety, which result in lack of confidence in oneself, in others and in institutions. Bauman explains how contemporary consumption society is integrated qua individual consumer freedom. In understanding the consumer society as a certain social system, it is also possible to focus on what are the resources necessary for freedom to be realised, and what are the limitations of this particular form of freedom. Freedom is not merely a question of emancipation as Bauman’s sociological conceptualization of freedom has stated. Bauman explains how and why freedom consists of more than emancipation from older structures or traditions as suggested by ‘negative’ individualization theory. And by linking freedom and social inequality he explains why, for sociological reasons, it is naïve to think that practical action freedom can be universalized, as the consequences of free actions often restrain other actors’ potential freedom. Rather than being an inherent, generic feature of actors, freedom is unavoidably a partial and socially contested phenomenon. Theoretically, Bauman further develops a sociological approach to freedom by theorizing security as a precondition of action freedom compared to other sociological approaches that focus merely on rights, resources and options (Ringen 2005). This point about security as an emotional component of freedom is important, although it has to be further developed, as I have shown. Bauman’s analysis of how societal integration is ensured by supporting rather than repressing individual (consumer) freedom is original, as it differs from mainstream theory of integration qua normative control, dominant ideology, domination or disciplinary work ethic. Bauman has thereby revised sociological theory which he called for as necessary in order to work out concepts fitted to grasp modern conditions different from the conditions as modern sociology used to know them (see Bauman 1992, chapter 9). Bibliography Aakvaag, Gunnar C. (2005): “Sociologi og frihet”. Sociologisk Tidskrift, 13:157182. Barbalet, Jack (1996): “Social Emotions: Confidence, Trust and Loyalty”. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 16 (9-10):75-96. Barbalet, Jack (1998): Emotion, Social Theory, and Social Structure – A Macrosociological Approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

Bauman, Zygmunt (1987): Legislators and Interpreters: On Modernity, PostModernity and Intellectuals. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1988): Freedom. Milton Keynes: Open University Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1989): “Hermeneutics and Modern Social Theory”, in David Held & John B. Thompson (eds.): Social Theory and Modern Societies: Giddens and His Critics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1991): Modernity and Ambivalence. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1992): Intimations of Postmodernity. London: Routledge. Bauman, Zygmunt (1993): Postmodern Ethics. Oxford: Blackwell. Bauman, Zygmunt (1997): Postmodernity and Its Discontents. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1998): Work, Consumerism and the New Poor. Buckingham: Open University Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1999): In Search of Politics. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2000): Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt & Tim May (2001): Thinking Sociologically, 2nd Revised Edition. Oxford: Blackwell. Bauman, Zygmunt (2004): Wasted Lives: Modernity and its Outcasts. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2005): Liquid Life. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2006): Liquid Fear. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2007a): Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2007b): Consuming Life. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bertilsson, Thora Margareta (2007): “Sociology and Freedom – An Essential Tension”. ISA paper, Department of Sociology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, at id=5&menid=365. Blackshaw, Tony (2005): Zygmunt Bauman. London: Routledge. Bovbjerg, Kirsten Marie (2001): Følsomhedens etik – tilpasning af personligheden i New Age og moderne management. Højbjerg: Hovedland. Collins, Randall (2004): Interaction Ritual Chains. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Davis, Mark (2006): Freedom in the English Language Writings of Zygmunt Bauman. PhD thesis, University of Leeds, School of Sociology and Social Policy. Davis, Mark (2008): Freedom and Consumerism: A Critique of Zygmunt Bauman’s Sociology. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Ltd. Eräsaari, Risto (1993): Essays on Non-Conventional Community. Publications of the Research Unit for Contemporary Culture, University of Jyväskyla, Finland. Foucault, Michel (1980): The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction. New York: Vintage/Random House. Foucault, Michel (1982): “Afterword: The Subject and Power”, in Hubert L. Dreyfus & Paul Rabinow (eds.): Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics. Brighton: The Harvester Press.

Bauman on Freedom


Fuhrman, Ellsworth (1987): “Morality, Self and Society: The Loss and Recapture of the Moral Self”, in Mark Wardell & Stephen Turner (eds.): Sociological Theory in Transition. London: Allen & Unwin. Giddens, Anthony (1991): Modernity and Self-Identity – Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Cambridge: Polity Press. Henle, Mary (1960): “A Psychological Concept of Freedom: Footnotes to Spinoza”. Social Research, 27 (1/4):359-374. Insole, Christopher J. (2004): “The Worship of Freedom: Negative and Positive Notions of Liberty in Philosophy of Religion and Political Philosophy”. The Heythrop Journal, 45 (2):209-226. Layder, Derek (2004): Social and Personal Identity: Understanding Yourself. London: Sage Publications. Marotta, Vince (2002): “Zygmunt Bauman: Order, Strangehood and Freedom”. Thesis Eleven, 70:36-54. Mathiesen, Thomas (1997): “The Viewer Society: Michel Foucault’s ‘Panopticon’ Revisited”. Theoretical Criminology, 1 (2):215-234. Poder, Poul (2004): Feelings of Power and the Power of Feeling: Handling Emotion in Organizational Change. PhD thesis, University of Copenhagen, Sociological Department. Poder, Poul (2007): “Relatively Liquid Interpersonal Relationships in Flexible Work Life”, in Anthony Eliott (ed.): The Contemporary Bauman. London: Routledge. Ringen, Stein (2005): “Liberty, Freedom and Real Freedom”. Society, 42:36-39. Rose, Nikolas (1999): The Powers of Freedom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Sennett, Richard (2006): The Culture of the New Capitalism. New Haven: Yale University Press. Slater, Don (2005): “The Sociology of Consumption and Lifestyle”, in Craig Calhoun, Chris Rojek & Bryan Turner (eds.): The Sage Handbook of Sociology. London: Sage Publications.

This page intentionally left blank

Chapter 6

Bauman on Consumerism – Living the Market-Mediated Life Tony Blackshaw

Introduction As the discursive formation known as sociology’s interest has continued to extend itself to successively ‘new’ fields of interest, one of the oldest of the new is consumerism, which Steven Miles (1998:5) defines as the “psycho-social expression of the intersection between the structural and the individual within the realm of consumption”. Keen not to denigrate consumers as unsuspecting dupes (or dopes) blinded by the false god that obscures from them their ‘true’ plight, in the manner of the Frankfurt School (Adorno & Horkheimer 1979), sociological interpreters of consumerism, in common with their counterparts in cultural studies, make the point that individuals do not merely consume commodities within the realm of consumption, but use them to “generate their own meanings through the interplay of commodities and consumers’ cultural competencies” (Barker 2004:33). Out of this reading there have emerged two broad lines of sociological investigation. The first one identifies consumption as part of ‘material culture’, or the study of ‘person-thing’ relationships and the ways in which people use objects of consumption and invest them with their own meanings (Lury 1996). And a second, which is concerned with cycles of consumption and how their unremitting engagement with consumerism takes on different meanings for different people (see Chapter One in Aldridge 2003) as well the impact it has on them as individuals, their practices and relationships with each other (see, for example, Warde 1992, 1994, 1996, 2005). Zygmunt Bauman has contributed to the investigation of consumerism in contemporary sociology in an original fashion. In the following I will argue that Bauman has a bigger goal than most other sociologists of consumerism because in his view “there is little hope that a ‘theory of consumption’ likely to quench the thirst of understanding will be ever construed” (Bauman in Rojek 2004:297). It will be argued that he holds up a mirror to a culture whose stamp is the market-mediated mode of life, which appears to be the only one it knows, really wants to know. I will argue that Bauman critically explores the pervasive and excessive character of what he calls the ‘consumer attitude’ (or the ‘consumer syndrome’), which seems to me is to recognize that the issues surrounding the debates about consumerism are much more than just about a self-contained realm of cultural life endowed with its own causa sui. As Bauman (in Rojek 2004:293) himself suggests, to make the point that ours is a consumer society is to say much more than its denizens consume, or even


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

that having found they get a great deal of satisfaction out of consuming they spend a great deal more of their time and effort trying to consume still more. It is to say into the bargain: that the perception and the treatment of virtually all fragments of social setting and of the actions they evoke and frame tends to be subordinated to the ‘consumerist syndrome’ … [which] implies more, much more than the fascination with the pleasures of ingesting and digesting, with pleasurable sensations and ‘having a good time’. It is truly a ‘syndrome’, a variegated bunch of attitudes and strategies, cognitive dispositions, value judgments and prejudgments, explicit and tacit assumptions of the ways of the world and the ways of walking them, visions of happiness and ways to pursue them’, indicating not only a particular set of value preferences but the existence of something that is problematic in this ‘unstructured field of unproblematic familiarity’ (Schutz 1970:26).

As this suggests, it is often the case with writers of real conviction that they may at the time appear to be tacking an issue of the moment, but if you care to look more closely at their work, you can see that the insights it sheds light on are much more complex and far-reaching than what at first seemed to be the case. And so it is with Bauman’s work on consumerism, which rather than centring the topic in its own terms, offers deep insights, not of an epiphenomenon as such, but of something which must be understood in relation to the wider trends, ambivalences and vacillations surrounding freedom and oppression in a world where once the market laid its friendly hand on the shoulders of humankind, it was, to a previously unimaginable degree, touched and moved. As the reader will see, in the process Bauman provides us with a way of understanding consumerism that accompanies the purposes of critical analysis better than the current alternatives on offer, gifting sociology a quite unique vision. The chapter will proceed in four parts. Firstly, I discuss the conditions Bauman suggests prove conducive to a life spent consuming. As the reader will see, Bauman’s is a particular way of seeing, a view turned on the market-mediated mode of life, as well as the world that constitutes its cognitive frames and tacit assumptions, rather than merely reflecting ostensible empirical truths about consumerism. Consequently, what emerges in his analysis is that a consumer life is slippery and multifaceted, as Jean-Francois Lyotard might say, sublime even, and nowhere near as easy to explain as some commentators would suggest. Accordingly, at the heart of Bauman’s critique is a veritable cluster of ways of thinking about consumerism’s ways and means – specific and more universal evidence but also a full range of ideas, themes and notions, metaphors and analogies, hunches and feelings – kept in perpetual, shape-shifting motion. Bauman knows that the world we inhabit today continually outstrips the available critical vocabularies of sociology and what I shall argue is that it is this knowledgability that makes him a controversial but highly perceptive and essentially ethical thinker, who, in the words of the man who was one of the shrewdest commentators of the cultural scene Roland Barthes, “chooses his necessary language, in accordance with a certain existential pattern, as the means of exercising an intellectual function which is his, and his alone ... He puts into the operation his ‘deepest self’, that is, his preferences, pleasures, resistances, and obsessions” (Barthes in Smith 2007:22).

Bauman on Consumerism


Secondly, the chapter deals with mainly five criticisms that are regularly wheeled out in relation to Bauman’s work on consumerism. It will be my contention that while their adherents make some good basic points, collectively these can be dismissed as straw target readings incomplete in their inability to properly engage with the work of a sociologist who knows that the visible iceberg is only part of the story about consumerism. Thirdly, I will argue that for all the strengths of Bauman’s understanding of the market-mediated mode of life that has become the central feature of contemporary existence, what his work lacks is a convincing epistemological basis for making this assertion. This third part will feature my reflections on the efficacy of drawing on the work of Jean-Francois Lyotard (1979) in order to overcome this lack with particular reference to his idea of the ‘performativity criterion’ and the conspicuous shift in the way in which knowledge claims are legitimated in liquid modernity. Fourthly, I close with the observation that if Bauman’s work can be summarized as a radical confrontation with the dominant ethos of our time whose mantra is the market, revivified social hierarchies through global consumer inequalities and the inability to grasp the consequences of consumerism for a world that seems to be slipping ever faster into an environmental catastrophe, it is also suggestive of an alternative life strategy for maintaining the faculties of what it means to be human when the world all around is trying its damnedest to turn you into a perennial shopper. The Society of Consumers Bauman has written prolifically about consumerism and what I offer below is a general outline of the central planks that capture the basic essence of the ideas. This is a difficult task, not least because over the years Bauman has constantly shifted his conceptual gears to capture the significance of consumerism at a number of different levels, moving from understanding it as an idea which “stands for production, distribution, desiring, obtaining and using, of symbolic goods” (Bauman 1992:223), involving a kind of symbolic rivalry over the meaning of commodities and the differences and distinctions they signify vis-à-vis Pierre Bourdieu, to a much more discursive approach which suggests that men and women not only do not know why they are consuming but that their sole objective seems to be to keep in what has become essentially the only game in town, where “sporting a fixed taste and narrowing one’s choices could be only a symptom of deprivation and retardation; not the ‘culturally correct’ model of conduct, not a model likely to be embraced and practiced by those aiming at the top” (Bauman in Rojek 2004:303). Still, if Bauman’s discussions in his latest works are speaking with a new accent, they are not novel, and there is no doubt that in his writings in the 1980s he was already foretelling the prospects for an even deeper penetration of the ‘consumer attitude’ and the reduced possibilities for the transgression of its hegemonic authority: Bit by bit, problem by problem, the consumer attitude refers the whole of life to the market; it orients every desire and each effort in the search for a tool or an expertise one can buy. It dissolves the problem of control over the wider setting of life (something


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman most people will never achieve) in the multitude of small shopping acts that are – at least in principle – within your reach. It privatizes, so to speak, issues so that they are not perceived as public; it individualizes tasks so that they are not seen as social. It now becomes my duty (and, as I am encouraged to hope, also a task I can perform) to improve myself and my life, to culture and refine, to overcome my own shortcomings and other vexing drawbacks to the way I live (Bauman 1990:204).

As Bauman points out in the same piece of work, Thinking Sociologically, the ‘consumer attitude’ leads to a radically revised sense of the self which entails perceiving life as a series of problems, which can be specified, more or less clearly defined, singled out and dealt with. It means, secondly, believing that dealing with such problems, solving them, is one’s duty, which one cannot neglect without incurring guilt or shame. It means, thirdly, trusting that for every problem, already known or as may still arise in the future, there is a solution – a special object or recipe, prepared by specialists, by people with superior know-how, and one’s task is to find it. It means, fourthly, assuming that such objects or recipes are essentially available; they may be obtained in exchange for money, and shopping is the way of obtaining them. It means, fifthly, translating the task of learning the art of living as the effort to acquire the skill of finding such objects and recipes, and gaining the power to possess them once found: shopping skills and purchasing power (Bauman 1990:203-204).

Notwithstanding the significance of these five central features of the ‘consumer attitude’, the bigger point that Bauman is making here is this: Einmal ist keinmal, or to paraphrase Milan Kundera, what happens once might well not have happened at all. If men and women only have a consumer life to live, they might as well not have lived at all. In other words, the question Bauman’s analysis returns us to most often is why do individuals – who are ostensibly free to develop a form of subjectivity that creates the possibility of their own individual transcendence – choose a life that is not conducive to freedom de facto, only freedom of a very limited (consumer) kind? Bauman’s response is that the answer to this question lies with the redundancy of ‘heavy’ and ‘solid’ hardware focused modernity with its largely ‘predictable and therefore manageable’ habitat (read: social class structure) and its replacement with a more ‘light’ and ‘liquid’ software focused modernity in which the art of living is understood, not just as a possibility, but the right of all men and women, notwithstanding their persisting economic differences. According to Bauman, the ideal bourgeois citizen of modernity in its ‘solid’, formative stage was cautious and apprehensive “given to deferred gratification, to considering the rainy days ahead, and to paying the price of present pleasures forgone” (Ryan 2006:70). However, the ideal ‘liquid’ modern bourgeois citizen (read: consumer) is not averse to throwing caution to the wind, and is, on the contrary, given to instant gratification, to putting off until further notice planning for future hardships, and unwilling to forgo pleasures – in liquid modernity the lived life is the only life worth living (Blackshaw 2005). In essence, once they were freed from the shackles of the imagined ‘social contract’ that accompanied the legislating virtues and the habitats of a ‘solid’ modern society based on industrial production – from the social solidarity and community formations associated with the working classes, via the self-interest and propriety of

Bauman on Consumerism


the middle classes, to the mimicking ‘aristocratic’ virtues of generosity and courage of the upper classes – which cast them ‘ready-made’ through their rank in the class hierarchy, men and women needed an alternative raison d’être, or in other words, some element of transcendence for making their identities anew in a ‘liquid’ world whose deafening silence on matters of legislature (with the exception of what to do with the persistently intransigent) now enveloped their newly individualized lives and characters. Thus, the crux of Bauman’s thesis is that once the majority recognized that it was in their grasp to find a place “in that under-defined and under-determined social space stretched between the well-marked top occupied by the aristocrats who had their position guaranteed by heredity, and so did not need to ‘achieve’ or ‘prove’ anything, and the bottom – where people who for the lack of resources could not try, even if they wished, to achieve a position different from the one in which they were born, were cast – apparently once and for all, no appeal allowed” (Bauman in Rojek 2004:294), for the first time in history they were in a position to think of themselves as individuals de facto, which also meant exceeding the possibilities of the formative experiences of modernity with its rigid class and gender differences. In his own inimitable way, Michel Foucault takes this argument one step further when he argues that, from the moment we were no longer convinced “that between our ethics, our personal ethics, our everyday life, and the great political and social and economic structures, there were analytical relations, and that we couldn’t arrange anything, for instance, in our sex life, in our family life, without ruining our economy, our democracy, and so on”, there could only be one practical consequence: we would have to create ourselves as a work of art: “Couldn’t everyone’s life become a work of art? Why should the lamp or the house be an art object, but not our life?” (Foucault 1984:350). Foucault’s key argument here is that to become an individual de facto, “one has to do something that is both significant and very different from whatever has been done before” (Nehamas 1998:183). So why was it that when the world was saying to the men and women, ‘forget who you are and if you cannot be what you want to be, imagine that you can’, they were by and large only capable of rethinking themselves as individualized consumers? Or, to put the question in a more metaphysical form, why did they move, as Eric Fromm used to say, from a state of ‘being’ to a state of ‘having’? The straightforward answer is that liquid modernity emerged at a time when the majority of people – for the first time – could afford to consume items that were not necessary for mere survival. And given the fact that from the very beginning, consumerism has always been about transport, taking the consumer out of the penumbra of the present and into another world, its success in engaging men and women as consumers first and foremost should perhaps come as no surprise. These observations notwithstanding, the more complicated answer to this question is never ever sufficiently well articulated in Bauman’s work, which I return to in the third part of this chapter. But at this point in the delineation of consumerism we must first of all consider what happens when individuals appear content just with ‘having’.


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

Consuming Life If solid modernity was a world of men and women beset by fear that they would never arrive, but would always be passing through, liquid modernity is a world in which passing through is an obligation, the only obligation. Bauman alerts us to the different paths that a liquid modern life can take and what he suggests is that liquid moderns are not so much challenged with finding their essential identity as being open to the challenge of making and remaking it. Men and women act, are compelled to act, in a world which is always on the move and where nothing stays the same for very long. Liquid modernity is episodic and contingent and life’s essential incompleteness doesn’t merely invite its denizens to fill its gaps; it compels them to do so. It is no wonder men and women these days are always on the look out for guides to living – those institutions of “lifelong consumer education” (Bauman 2004:66) – which tell them how to live, how to pose, what music to listen to, where to shop, what to eat and drink and where to go for their holidays. What this suggests is that consuming life makes perfect sense, since it is through consumption that people perceive that they are best able to exert their individuality. Bauman’s understanding of consumerism is redolent of the way Hannah Arendt understood totalitarianism. To paraphrase Corey Robin (2007), it is the product of mass sociality which arises from the breakdown of classes and nation-states. Neither a class in itself nor for itself, the mass now engages with consumerism individually, together – divided, they shop. Its members have no interests, no concern for their ‘wellbeing’, no collective beliefs, community or identity they can call their own. What they do have is an anxiety brought on by loneliness, or what Arendt called ‘the experience of not belonging to the world’, and a desire to subsume themselves in consumerism even if this means ultimately extinguishing their ‘individual identity permanently’. With its insistence on absolute loyalty and unconditional obedience to the market-mediated mode of life, consumerism satisfies a need once fulfilled by totalitarian movements: it fastens individuals with its own ‘band of iron’, providing them with a sense of structure and belonging. If Ernest Gellner’s ‘industrial man’ could be compared with an artificially produced or bred species which (could) no longer breathe effectively in the naturegiven atmosphere, but (could) only function effectively and survive in a new, specially blended and artificially sustained air or medium, Bauman’s homo consumens can be compared with a virtual species which thrives in the market-driven atmosphere of liquid modern capitalism, and through his own self-interest finds inch-perfect personification in the market-mediated mode of life, which ‘starts early, but fills the rest of life’. The problem is that a life spent consuming is essentially an incomplete life; incomplete in its inability to recognize alternative forms of emancipation. In his famous essay The Myth of Sisyphus, the existential philosopher Albert Camus (1955) suggested that if we admitted to ourselves what most people feel about the meaning of life, we would feel compelled to commit suicide. If, however, we accept that life has no purpose whatsoever, we would be inclined to keep going, grumbling and stoically resigned to our fate, in the manner of Sisyphus, condemned in Tartarus, endlessly pushing his boulder to the top of the hill only to see it roll down again. What Bauman is suggesting is that liquid modern men and women are by the same

Bauman on Consumerism


token resigned to their fate, but not so much cussed as happy with their lot and not so much pushing rocks as consuming and throwing away their unwanted waste and leftovers along the way. Like Walter Benjamin before him, Bauman knows that you learn more about a civilization from its waste than from its great architectural achievements: we are what we throw away. The “picture of publicly produced inauthenticity” (Bauman 2000:87) that is associated with contemporary consumerism might suggest that it is a fake way of life; but it is still life itself, the opposite of death, yet in quite alarming proximity to it: obesity and anorexia nervosa and other diseases promoted by the marketmediated mode of life. Addicted to consuming as well as having a consuming fear of its risks, liquid modern men and women seem incapable of doing anything about either. This is because the consumer syndrome has its own code of aesthetics that excuses them from the effort of hard thinking. What Bauman is essentially saying is that never mind not contemplating their unconscious desires, liquid modern men and women do not in fact deal with consciousness particularly well either. This sense of powerlessness that accompanies a life spent consuming is summed perfectly in Paul Laity’s recent observation of the irony of the recent trend for ‘ethical living’, which relies somewhat perversely on its own kind of consumerism and even “being green can seem merely a question of where one shops” (Laity 2006:22). Consumerism Liquid Modern Style, or, the Frankfurt School Reconsidered What I have discussed so far might lead the reader to conclude that Bauman’s analysis belongs to the Frankfurt School tradition of hostile critiques of consumerism. As is well known, Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s (1979) critical position had its own foundation stone in the idea of the ‘culture industry’. What this provided them with was not only a foil against which to build their arguments in favour of, but a paradigm for, the construction of type of subversive analysis designed to undermine the central assumptions of the culture industry, both philosophically and sociologically. Such a foundation stone is missing from Bauman’s account. As the reader will see below, when Bauman surveys consumerism it is from a postideological vantage point, and if he perceives a similar outline to the Frankfurt School, he takes its measure differently. Although he accepts the problem of the dominance of a mass consumer culture, the idea that the consumer attitude stunts the imagination and leaves little room for critical reflection, and the dearth of a political will to imagine things differently, he invests this story with a very different meaning. Indeed, in two striking ways Bauman turns away from the Frankfurt School tradition and marks its limits. What is significant in his story is that it is about action in spite of knowledge (rather than false consciousness) and the inability of liquid modern men and women to deal with ambivalence. If Bauman’s critique is a revealing account of consumerism and the grip it has on liquid modern men and women, it is also something much more than that. He demonstrates that the thrill of consuming is in the ambivalence it represents in the swinging hammock between freedom and security. In a nutshell, not only are consumer desires pleasures liquid modern men and women can never fulfill, except


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

only temporarily, but the act of consuming itself is more thrilling than actually acquiring consumer goods. The real pleasure of shopping lies in the thrill of seeking rather than the acquisition of commodities. Bauman suggests that consuming might have a wide range of meanings and come with a wide range of practices but the fact is that it is not really consumerism per se that interests liquid modern men and women. In other words, the meanings and practices that come with consuming are not really about satisfying consumer needs. On the contrary, it is ambivalence that counts; the accomplishment of a consumer aspiration with the insight that it was the chase – not the commodity itself – people really wanted. As Bauman puts it: “People tend to believe sincerely that what they truly desire is tranquillity – but they delude themselves: what they are truly after is agitation. What they really crave is to chase the hare, not to catch it. The pleasure is in hunting, not in catching the prey” (Bauman 2001:9-10). However, what people presently lack is the insight that it is the thrill of the chase that counts – not consumerism – and in the main seem reluctant to contemplate this and the many other different kinds of ambivalence which they encounter in their lives. The upshot of Bauman’s analysis is that with this abnormally high propensity to consume and normally low ability to understand their own behaviour, liquid modern men and women are bound to carry on acting without the knowledge of the ambivalences of consumerism, and they will be destined to experience ambivalence, and as a result are likely to remain unhappy people who – despite their ostensible addiction to consuming – know deep down that they already have everything. And not only that, it would seem that rather than contemplate why they are unhappy, they would presently more willingly close their eyes to the ambivalences of consumerism and project the bases of them onto the lives of others (read: waste, expendable relationships, exploitation of third world workers making goods for first world consumers, etc.). Pace the Frankfurt School, consumerism is not so much an ideological conspiracy in which we collude, as a competition between sellers and buyers who try to get the best value for their money. Capitalism wants nothing from consumers but their capacity “to stay in the game and have enough tokens left on the table to go on playing” (Bauman 2004:52). The contingent worlds that constitute liquid modernity operate as a matter of action in spite of knowledge: individuals in their liquid modern roles as consumers are not so much brainwashed as lacking the appetite for the class struggle – beliefs and ideologies are relegated to the background. In other words, from the moment the market laid its friendly hand on our shoulder in this all-encompassing way, we were, to a previously unimaginable degree, touched and moved. It was as if the roads to shops opened before us, giving the reality to the dictum: ‘There is no alternative’. In this sense, Bauman’s sociology captures the irony that if for the majority of people solid modernity was a time when freedom was seen an astonishing but largely unachievable hope, in the time of liquid modernity they appear to be prepared to surrender their hard fought freedoms to the vast decentred power-knowledge of consumer capitalism, which they happily (and unhappily) allow to not so much regulate as deregulate their lives. To put it another way: rather than just being a ‘January’ or ‘Summer’ treat, the ‘sales’ have become a ubiquitous feature of the liquid modern landscape and Bauman recasts men and women as ubiquitous sale

Bauman on Consumerism


shoppers too heavily weighed down by all the delightful purchases they have been making to devote any of their time to more serious issues. Consumer capitalism bombards them, every day, with images of things that they can and cannot afford to pay for, and encourages them to want all of them. Rational men and women know that their economic survival depends on buying only what they can afford, but the availability of credit encourages people to live above their means. Liquid modernity is in effect a sociality in which these class-bound virtues have been subsumed by credit, which, as Peter Conrad (2006) recently argued, lasts as “long as you pay your bills, proof of moral standing, and the merchants who extend it express their own faith in your probity”. As Bauman suggests, it is the configuration of economic arrangements associated with consumer capitalism which is of far greater importance for explaining patterns of social control today. To put it another way, social control – like much else in liberal democracies – has by and large been commodified and privatized. The comfortable majority no longer lives in the shadow of tyranny of the state; instead they create their own turmoil, their own paroxysm, driven by market forces that they have no authority over, but which at the same time have no final authority over them. The turmoil is barely noticeable – publicly at least – it is simply how people live. As Bauman puts it, it is as if “we have been trained to stop worrying about things which stay stubbornly beyond our power … and to concentrate our attention and energy instead on the tasks within our (individual) reach, competence and capacity for consumption” (Bauman 2004:74). In liquid modernity, consumption replaces work as the backbone of the reward system in a sociality which is underpatterned rather than patterned, disorganized rather than ordered. It is only the poor who are still controlled through the ‘work ethic’. To put it simply, liquid modernity redraws the boundaries between social class divisions as a relationship between those who happily consume and those who cannot, despite their want of trying. Instead of being repressively controlled, this fragmented sociality is driven by the ‘pleasure principle’. Bauman (2000) ventures the across-the-board generalization that if solid modernity was a class society based on Panopticon surveillance, the single dominant symbol at the core of liquid modernity is consumerism with its (dis)organization of social control based on ‘precarisation’ as the ‘reality principle’ and the ‘pleasure principle’ strike a deal. All of this has served to liberate liquid modern men and women from the Panopticon belief that the institutions of governmentality that make up civil society should unfailingly try to set the parameters of right and wrong. Instead they are today presented with a celebration of everything that makes life magical as well as irresponsible, at least within the boundaries of consumer culture. The repressive apparatus of the Panopticon has largely been supplemented by the seductive allure of Synopticon watching, whose central organising principle follows the legendary Hollywood star Mae West’s maxim that ‘it’s better to be looked over than overlooked’. Unable to find our true selves and fearful of not having just the right ‘street cool’ – most of us have difficulty keeping on the right side of the line dividing cool from naff – we also constantly crave the confirmation of others that is the Synoptic other side of liquid modern surveillance. Social control is barely noticeable, except


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

for the flawed consumers, the izgoy1 of liquid modernity – incapable of fulfilling their designated social positions as ‘consumers first, and all the rest after’ – whose subordinate position prevents them from participating freely in what has become for the masses a dream world of consumption. Bauman implies that what we are dealing with in liquid modernity is the kind of sociality, once again so aptly described by Albert Camus (1953) in the opening chapter of his book The Rebel, that is knowledgeable but is incapable of contemplating itself, and which asks no questions because it allows consumerism to provide all the answers – in other words, a sociality which has not learned rebellion. Accordingly, he suggests that we need to recognize that it is not ideology but the power of seduction that is central to the understanding the social control of the majority in liquid modernity. As he suggests, it is the willingness to be seduced – but not in any deep way – combined with something to believe in and belong to that drives liquid modern men and women. Indeed, it is faith – whatever its ephemeral currency – that is the key to understanding the ways and means that seduction works in the lives of ordinary men and women; faith in the clothes they buy, their faith in themselves, their faith in their relationships, their faith in the market, their faith in religion – faith is all the rage. Yet, Bauman is at pains to point out that for all its surface toughness and apparent impregnability, we ought to remember that faith is a surprisingly fragile thing, liable to shatter should its adherents lose the slightest bit of interest. Censure and Riposte: Dealing with Bauman’s Detractors According to his critics, there are a number of problems with Bauman’s understanding of consumerism. First, certain sociologists have challenged his contention that we are all ‘consumers first, and all the rest after’, asserting that such a proposition amounts to nothing less than a faulty ‘abstract or speculative’ conception of consumption practices, taking into consideration more modest theorising based on empirical findings which suggests there is little evidence for this (Warde 1994). In a later article, Alan Warde also castigates Bauman on another more general level suggesting that blanket assertions about the all-pervasive nature of consumption are conceivably responsible for the current lack of theoretical consolidation both within and without sociology where most alternative lines of investigation have been skewed towards favourite but restricted topics – fashion, advertising and some form of popular recreational activity – with particular attention paid to their symbolic meanings and role in the formation of self-identity. These case studies, perhaps encouraged by prominent versions of the abstract theories which say that the consumer has no choice but to choose and will be judged in terms of the symbolic adequacy of that choice (e.g. Bauman, 1988; Giddens, 1991), have very often operated with models of highly autonomous individuals preoccupied with symbolic communication (Warde 2005:132).

1 An izgoy is “an ancient Russian term for someone who is unfit for their social position, such as illiterate priest, or bankrupt merchant” (Meek 2006:5). Bauman’s ‘flawed consumers’ are unfit for their social position which casts them as consumers first and foremost.

Bauman on Consumerism


With reference to Warde’s first point, it is reasonable to suggest that, notwithstanding Bauman’s assertion that the consumer attitude expresses a particular set of dispositions and desires, he underestimates the extent to which actual consumption practices vary and change over time and space and between individuals, different cultures and national configurations. And one could add that conceivably it is precisely for this reason that Bauman has a propensity to focus his attention on the American and British cases to the extent that he ends up neglecting important variations, for example, between the USA and the rest and within Europe. What does the research evidence on contemporary consumption practices suggest? There is not the space here to discuss what is by now a vast and still growing corpus of work, so I will turn very briefly to some of the most exemplary. As that most distinguished historian of the longue durée of consumer trends John Brewer (2006) recently pointed out in his excellent review of Victoria de Grazia’s Irresistible Empire: America’s Advance Through Twentieth-Century Europe, in the period leading up to the Second World War, Europe was neither economically equipped nor politically prepared to embrace mass consumerism on the scale of the USA. For example, by 1937 every country in Europe except Britain and Sweden had introduced legislation restricting the growth of chain stores. This position changed profoundly after the war with Europeans electing governments that would “respond to the needs of their citizens rather than waging war on their own civil society and on other nations” (Brewer 2006:60), and which allowed them to take the opportunity to once and for all put an end to the want and misery that accompanied their lives before and during the conflict. Accompanied as they were by increasing economic prosperity these social and political inclinations made Europe much more receptive to the consumer attitude which on the face of it corresponds closely with Bauman’s analysis. As Brewer suggests: For the first time many Europeans had disposable income to spend on items other than essentials of food and clothing, Cars, televisions, kitchen and other and household appliances – goods whose ownership had previously been confined to the rich and to the prosperous bourgeoisie – spread (albeit it at different rates in different countries and more slowly that is often assumed) into the homes of clerks, shopkeepers, small proprietors, and skilled workers (Brewer 2006:58).

As de Grazia (2005) points out, though, this period also saw the beginning of a new conflict between the vision of the European social citizen and ‘the American notion of sovereign consumer’. Nowhere in his work does Bauman consider the implications of this clash of cultures. With regards to the ‘facts’ about consumer practices, there is also a good deal of current evidence about important variations in patterns of consumption between the USA and the rest as well as between different European countries that challenges Bauman’s unanimous assumption that all roads today ‘are many and scattered, but they all lead through shops’. As Brewer explains, for example, the percentage of food budgets spent in supermarkets in the USA and Britain are considerably much higher than they are in Europe. Moreover, per capita individual consumption expenditure and consumer debt in the USA both far exceed those in Europe. When we compare retail sales in Britain to the rest of Europe, they are excessive, and at £249 billion in 2005 were larger than the combined economies


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

of Ireland and Switzerland. With regards to research that explores what people think and feel about consumption, evidence collected by Pew Research Center’s ‘Global Attitudes Project’, for example, shows unequivocally that it is only in the USA that the majority of the population believes that consumerism is not a threat to its culture (Brewer 2006). This last point leads us on to the second criticism of Bauman’s work on consumerism. As it was suggested in the foregoing discussion, according to Bauman, the energy coming off the consumer syndrome seems to hit some invisible force field of indifference when the shops close, which renders liquid modern men and women averse to politics. In this regard Bauman sounds a lot like the J. G. Ballard of sociology, who in his latest novel Kingdom Come argues that consumerism has certain affinities with fascism, not least its way of voting which takes place, not at the ballot box but at the shop counter (Ballard 2006). However, indifference to or retreat from politics cannot be entirely laid at the door of consumerism. Even if it could, the evidence suggests that in common with other discursive formations, it is inevitable that consumerism will generate its own forms of resistance which, as Michel Foucault (1980:142) pointed out, “are all the more real and effective because they are formed right at the point where relations of power are exercized; resistance to power does not have to come from elsewhere to be real, nor is it inexorably frustrated thorough being the compatriot of power”. Let us illustrate Foucault’s argument with a current example. One of the incontrovertible challenges facing contemporary sports fans is the problem of how to maintain their abiding devotion that makes them fans when the professional clubs they support all seem to be trying their hardest to turn them into consumers. However, as Adam Brown, Tim Crabbe and Gavin Mellor’s (2007) recent research on the foundation of FC United of Manchester suggests, there are major variations in fans’ commitment to their clubs, but for those inclined towards heavy commitment there is one cultural identity that is important in their lives and they are not only fully committed to it but also insistent on politicising it, as in this particular case, by contesting corporate power at Manchester United by withdrawing their support and setting up a community-based club. Indeed, drawn together in their rejection of consumerism, conformity and celebrity, and in their readiness to reject success-seeking, self-obsession and self-deception that goes with supporting Manchester United, the break way fans of FC United of Manchester represent an exemplary community-based political response for grasping the challenges posed by contemporary consumerism and its discontents which Bauman’s work on consumerism overlooks. This leads us on to the third criticism of Bauman. This is that he not only works with a model of ‘highly autonomous individuals’ in his discussions of consumerism (Warde 2005) but he also marginalizes the significance of collectivism and latter day forms of community. What this criticism ignores is the truth that liquid modern men and women are destined to live their lives against a backdrop of relentless upheaval and change. Nothing – from jobs to relationships – comes fully equipped or with a life-time guarantee. Into the bargain we all, and each one of us, are instructed … to seek biographical exits from the socially concocted mess. So we are all individuals by (unwritten) decree – spending most of our

Bauman on Consumerism


life trying to gain an individuality de facto. This is a tall order of a task, and no wonder we tend to dream of respite … [But no contemporary social formation built on liquid modern lines] is likely to deliver on the hopes invested, since they leave the roots of insecurity unscathed (Bauman in Blackshaw 2002:3).

Bauman is well aware of Theodor W. Adorno’s crucial observation that “the illusory importance and autonomy of private life conceals the fact that private life drags on only as an appendage of the social process” (Adorno 1981:30), however, he insists that those living in an individualising, liquid modern world are always on the verge of being struck by lightening: you never know where or when it is going to strike, only that is has happened. What he also insists is that getting struck by lightening is more commonplace than people are prepared to imagine. Consequently, liquid modern identities are protean and palimpsest, sometimes confused, sometimes desperate for attention, but always self-absorbed and total in their devotion to selfauthorship. In the event, liquid modern men and women are shape-shifters whose identities lie not within them, so much as in the current form they assume, at any particular moment, and in their ability to metamorphose, while defying any tacit expectations about social class, gender or ethnicity, never mind expectations about values such as mutual obligation and reciprocity. In other words, if things are as they are now, they could always be different. The final and two weakest criticisms of Bauman’s work on consumerism suggest that on the one hand he is an elitist, or at the least a thinly veiled snob, and on the other he has a tendency for ‘armchair theorising’ and in the event relies too much on ‘anecdotal evidence’, which renders most of his arguments about consumerism out of proportion to the everyday reality of the contemporary world (Fearn 2006). I will deal with these two issues in turn. As Ian Varcoe suggests in the same article, if Bauman is an elitist, it is in the cultural rather than the social sense. As he is constantly reminding us, lives ought to be different from consumer lives and one of his central concerns is when areas of life previously not commodified are opened up to consumerism, what, then, happens to culture. For Bauman, a consumers’ life, however exciting it may seem, is nothing more than a likeness of a life, and any likeness, however exciting it is lived, does not make for a life, and our tacit acceptance of its ways and means is as good as accepting that it is only death that can give life its true intensity. In response to the final criticism of Bauman, what should be clear by now is that his interests lie not so much with revealing the ‘facts’ about the precise levels of consumerism, or even with what individuals may actually have to say about their own relationships with consumption and consumer culture, but rather in the more allpervasive sense elaborated in his concept of the ‘consumer syndrome’. Consequently, what is implicit in Bauman’s writing is the message that because we are dealing with consumerism in a liquid modern sociality, one that is no longer co-extensive with a solid modern society, we need the help of a sociology of a new kind that is not necessarily guided by a stringent realist logic, believing that you should stick to the clearly discernible ‘facts’, concentrating only on what you observe yourself, or what people tell you, and little else. In other words, to be blessed with the sociological imagination these days is to not only know that we live in an Unsicherheit-driven


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

liquid modernity, that is all the time fragmenting and constantly changing, irresolute and incomplete, but it is to have the ability to know that what you can see, or what people tell you, habitually is not what it seems. The Liquid Modern Sociological Imagination Summarising the points made in relation to the criticisms of Bauman’s perspective on consumerism, his overall analysis of consumerism is in line with his consistent rejection of bivalent logic – the view that things must be true or false, good or bad, and nothing in between – in favour of contingency. What is more, ambivalence ignored, or even worse still, manifested as a relativist neutrality, is a form of complicity that, in seeming ineffable, comes to seem like a lack of complexity altogether – just like the waste of consumption rendered invisible across time and space, it loses its sting. Consequently, understanding the whys and the wherefores of liquid modernity requires an exquisite ear and sharp eyes on the part of the sociologist, an ability to listen and read a world where nothing is quite what it seems. Accordingly, Bauman’s sociology is a dialogue on how people would speak were they ever to feel obliged to translate their personal experiences into sociological discourse. Bauman knows that sociology in liquid modernity can no longer be business-asusual and he challenges his readers (and other sociologists) to enter into the world imaginatively as well as social scientifically. In other words, he is not prepared to regard poetic truth as truth of an inferior variety. His is a hatch through which we can look at the inner workings of the decentred liquid modern sociality – at its heart beats and digestive churn. Bauman’s target is the market-mediated mode of life, the consumer sense of the world, not some fallacious rendering of its empirical certainties. He is not interested in telling a concrete, point-to-point narrative about consumerism that is laden with all the right ‘facts’. Rather he leads us into the mishmash of consumer consciousness, to the pains (and the pleasures) of its emotional truth, by way of an allusive and richly metaphorical writing style. To this extent his sociology has a distinctive energy and involvement with the feeling of the world. Bauman creates a sociology the target language of the discursive formation known as sociology could never have produced. He thinks on a different scale from most other sociologists of consumerism, to the point that you really need to find another label for what he does. Notwithstanding these observations, I suspect that Bauman is likely to remain a straw target for those critics who suggest that his ideas make too many tacit assumptions about people’s obeisance to consumerism and they will no doubt continue recommending that we be sceptical of his ideas because they are too much determined by the theoretical tastes and habits of their author. The key problem is that for all the strengths of Bauman’s understanding of the market-mediated mode of life that has become the central feature of advanced capitalism, what his postideological analysis of consumerism does not do is to map out satisfactorily enough in explicit terms the fundamental conjunctural change that marks the changes in the ways that knowledge claims are legitimated in liquid modernity, which is implicit in his view that “economy has moved from the realm of means to that of ends.

Bauman on Consumerism


Economy is no longer instrumental – it is now the supreme objective by which all other forms of human togetherness need to legitimize their raison d’être” (Bauman in Rojek 2004:298). As the reader will see in the next section, this is precisely what Jean-Francois Lyotard (1979) develops in his analysis of the emergence of the postmodern condition, which I shall argue provides Bauman’s position with a more thoroughgoing epistemological basis than does his own idea of the consumer syndrome. Hyper-Capitalism and the Performativity of Truth/Knowledge As is well known, Jean-Francois Lyotard’s basic premise is that modern knowledge established its monopoly of ‘Truth’ through the use of grand narratives (e.g. Marxism, Hegelianism), which not only promised justice at the end of inquiry but which were also able to legitimate themselves in such compelling ways that they were hardly ever questioned. In modern society, it emerged that it was science (rather than religion) that would be the chief criterion by which the most convincing of these knowledge claims were made. However, Lyotard points out that with the emergence of postmodernity (read: liquid modernity), we have witnessed the collapse of all grand narratives. Basically, in keeping with the social, cultural, political and economic changes that are consistent with postmodern change, there has been a conspicuous shift in the way in which knowledge claims come to be legitimated. Bauman develops his own sociological version of these events in Legislators and Interpreters (1987), but he pays far less attention to Lyotard’s argument that the idea of performativity is coterminous with this new ‘generalized spirit’ of knowledge. Basically, with the advent of postmodern consumer society, capitalism becomes so pervasive that there is nothing left that is not commodifiable. Inevitably science (like religion, sex, sociology or sport) becomes merely another commodity and in turn ‘Truth’ is now determined, not by its ability to tell the ‘Truth’, but by its exchange value. If modern society stood for the language game of denotation (the difference between ‘true’ or ‘false’), postmodern society stands for an alternative, ‘technical’ game of efficiency versus inefficiency. As a result, performativity becomes the new criterion of the legitimacy of knowledge claims. In liquid modernity everybody seems to have a view about what constitutes the ‘Truth’ and as a result various ‘language games’ or knowledge claims are made and these are played out through the ‘techniques and technologies’ of performativity. For Lyotard, this plurality of competing voices is made possible by the ‘performativity criterion’ which invokes an ‘incredulity to metanarratives’ – in short, scepticism towards any idea or theory which posits universal truth claims. For Lyotard, then, in liquid modernity the status of knowledge is altered and performativity comes to represent a kind of hyper-capitalist efficiency which is able to bring the “pragmatic functions of knowledge clearly to light and elevate all language games to self-knowledge” (Lyotard 1979:114). In John L. Austin’s (1962) terminology, truth is now ‘performative’ rather than ‘constative’ and the most convincing truth claims are those which the market will determine are the most performatively efficient. In a nutshell, everything in liquid modernity has to


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

be judged by its market value and if it does not sell, it is not what is wanted, pure and simple. Truth is today in the manner of its performance and the upshot is that if branding was once upon a time solely the language of the market, it has now become the language of the world as a whole. The ‘new’ hyper capitalist conditions of knowledge of which Lyotard speaks resonate well with Bauman’s view that the market-mediated mode of life is today so pervasive that it has become “the social link between the life-world of individuals and the purposeful rationality of the system as a whole” (Macey 2000:35). In my view, this clearly demonstrates that the idea of the ‘performativity criterion’ substantiates Bauman’s considerable contribution to our understanding of contemporary consumerism. Though perhaps the main reason for this omission from Bauman’s own analysis is his scepticism toward abstract theory, which no matter how convincing it sounds on paper is always going to be vulnerable to “the word/ world slippage, the unbridgeable gap between what we say about the world and what may actually be going on in the world” (Natoli 1997:198). Regardless, Lyotard’s important insight that the pragmatic singularity of the language game of the market renders all other contenders at a disadvantage, provides Bauman’s nuanced, balanced and perceptive account of consumerism and socio-cultural change with a more convincing epistemological basis than his own sociological account allows. Taking Responsibility for Forging Our Own (Non-Consumer) Destiny What emerges most powerfully in Bauman’s work on consumerism is that in a global world in which the market is assumed to be the source of freedom there are many things about consumerism that should make us feel uneasy – from its polluting waste, to the diseases of consumer culture, to the until further notice ways of relating that consumerism encourages at the expense of longer term commitments – and that if we are prepared to ask ourselves the kinds of questions he asks, we may find out a good deal about our own consumer habits that we did not know before, or we were not prepared to admit to ourselves. And, above all, the confidence to recognize that even if we have left our children a planet more environmentally damaged than when we inherited it, things could still be different. As Peter Beilharz points out, for all his criticisms of the consumer attitude Bauman prompts us to recognize that “even in consumption there is creativity of action, for culture is praxis” (Beilharz 2002:xxx). What is the greatest virtue of consumers, in Bauman’s eyes, is their ability to forget the world in the way that children do, to be irresponsible and delight in it. But what is missing in their free-wheeling flights of fantasy is any attempt to play around with the rules that govern the market-mediated mode of life and consuming itself, as well as all other attempts to legislate the known world. In other words, what Bauman is saying is that liquid modern consumers might spend the whole day playing, but what they lack is the deepest conviction that the freedom which allows them to do so has been hard won, which makes their playing more serious than they know. What they need to remind themselves of is that because their freedom has given them the power to look directly into the centre of things the way only children can, they have the ability to imagine things anew. But

Bauman on Consumerism


what they need to find first is the courage to set some new rules for the games they play so freely, and only then will they be able to take responsibility for responsibility that freedom brings. While liquid modern men and women may be slaves to consuming, another life is not only possible, it is vital, for humanity, for the planet. Liquid modernity is a world starting over, a world forever in embryo, and the best, most human thing that we should all learn by heart is that if this means our lives are inevitably governed by contingency rather than by fixity, and ambivalence rather than by certainty, and that if all of this weighs heavy on our individual shoulders, it also presents us with the opportunity for perpetual renewal and the concomitant changeability of reality, which can only mean, as Hannah Arendt would have been pleased to observe, the arrival of new beings “who would, or could, say and do things no one had said or done before” and who “might move others to speak and act in new ways as well” (Robin 2007). Bauman’s message is clear: what liquid modern men and women need to do is develop the ability to get away from the dominant re-usable language of consumerism to an alternative discourse that speaks itself for the first time. Instead of greedily consuming, they need to get greedy for the small, true details of life. It is only when they are able to grasp this possibility that they will be able to step clear of their consumer cluttered lives into a new relationship with the world, one that is at once fuller and more responsible than their present circumstances allow. Bibliography Adorno, Theodor W. (1981): “Cultural Criticism and Society”, in Prisms. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Adorno, Theodor W. & Max Horkheimer (1979): “Culture Industry: The Enlightenment of Mass Deception”, in Dialectic of Enlightenment. London: Verso. Aldridge, Alan (2003): Consumption (Key Concepts). Cambridge: Polity Press. Austin, John L. (1962): How to Do Things with Words. Oxford: Clarendon. Ballard, James Graham (2006): Kingdom Come. London: Fourth Estate. Barker, Chris (2004): The Sage Dictionary of Cultural Studies. London: Sage Publications. Bauman, Zygmunt (1987): Legislators and Interpreters: On Modernity, PostModernity and Intellectuals. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1988): Freedom. Buckingham: Open University Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1990): Thinking Sociologically. Oxford: Blackwell. Bauman, Zygmunt (1992): Intimations of Postmodernity. London: Routledge. Bauman, Zygmunt (2000): Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2001): “Consuming Life”. Journal of Consumer Culture, 1 (1):9-29. Bauman, Zygmunt (2004): Identity: Conversations with Benedetto Vecchi. Cambridge: Polity Press.


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

Beilharz, Peter (2002): “Editor’s Introduction: Bauman’s Modernity”, in Peter Beilharz (ed.): Zygmunt Bauman: Sage Masters of Modern Social Thought. London: Sage Publications. Blackshaw, Tony (2002): “Interview with Professor Zygmunt Bauman”. BSA Network – Newsletter of the British Sociological Association, 83:1-3. Blackshaw, Tony (2005): Zygmunt Bauman. London: Routledge. Brewer, John (2006): “Selling the American Way”. New York Review of Books, 53 (19), November 30. Brown, Adam, Tim Crabbe & Gavin Mellor (2007): “FC United of Manchester: Supporter Communities and Contesting Corporate Football”, in Adam Brown, Tim Crabbe & Gavin Mellor (eds.): Football and Community in the Global Context: Studies in Theory and Practice. London: Routledge. Camus, Albert (1953): The Rebel. London: Hamilton. Camus, Albert (1955): “The Myth of Sisyphus”, in The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays. London: Hamilton. Conrad, Peter (2006): “The Making of the Girl Next Door”. The Observer, December 3. de Grazia, Victoria (2005): Irresistible Empire: America’s Advance Through Twentieth-Century Europe. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Fearn, Nicholas (2006): “NS Profile – Zygmunt Bauman”. The New Statesman, January 16. Foucault, Michel (1980): “Power and Strategies”, in Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-197. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf. Foucault, Michel (1984): “On Genealogy of Ethics: An Overview of Work in Progress”, in Paul Rabinow (ed.): The Foucault Reader: An Introduction to Foucault’s Thought. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. Giddens, Anthony (1991): Modernity and Self-Identity. Cambridge: Polity Press. Laity, Paul (2006): “Short Cuts: Ecology and Environmentalism”. London Review of Books, 28 (24), December 14. Lury, Celia (1996): Consumer Culture. Cambridge: Polity Press. Lyotard, Jean-Francois (1979): The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Macey, David (2000): “Zygmunt Bauman”, in David Macey (ed.): The Penguin Dictionary of Critical Theory. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. Meek, James (2006): “The Best Memorial”. The Guardian Review, October 14. Miles, Steven (1998): Consumerism: As a Way of Life. London: Sage Publications. Natoli, Joseph (1997): A Primer to Postmodernity. Oxford: Blackwell. Nehamas, Alexander (1998): The Art of Living: Socratic Reflections from Plato to Foucault. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Robin, Corey (2007): “Dragon-Slayers”. London Review of Books, 29 (1), January 4. Rojek, Chris (2004): “The Consumerist Syndrome in Contemporary Society: An Interview with Zygmunt Bauman”. Journal of Consumer Culture, 4 (3):291-312. Ryan, Alan (2006): “Is Capitalism Good For You?”. New York Review of Books, 53 (20), December 21.

Bauman on Consumerism


Schutz, Alfred (1970): Reflections on the Problem of Relevance. London: Yale University Press. Smith, Zadie (2007): “Fail Better”. The Guardian Review, January 13. Warde, Alan (1992): “Notes on the Relationship Between Production and Consumption”, in Roger Burrows & Catherine Marsh (eds.): Consumption and Class: Divisions and Change. London: Macmillan. Warde, Alan (1994): “Consumption, Identity-Formation and Uncertainty”. Sociology, 28 (4):877-898. Warde, Alan (1996): “The Future of the Sociology of Consumption”, in Stephen Edgell, Kevin Hetherington & Alan Warde (eds.): Consumption Matters. Oxford: Blackwell. Warde, Alan (2005): “Consumption and Theories of Practice”. Journal of Consumer Culture, 5 (2):131-153.

This page intentionally left blank

Chapter 7

Bauman on Globalization – The Human Consequences of a Liquid World Mark Davis

“‘Globalization’ is on everybody’s lips; a fad word fast turning into a shibboleth, a magic incantation, a pass-key meant to unlock the gates to all present and future mysteries. For some, ‘globalization’ is what we are bound to do if we wish to be happy; for others ‘globalization’ is the cause of our unhappiness. For everybody, though, ‘globalization’ is the intractable fate of the world, an irreversible process; it is also a process which affects us all in the same measure and in the same way. We are all being ‘globalized’ – and being ‘globalized’ means much the same to all who ‘globalized’ are” – Zygmunt Bauman: Globalization: The Human Consequences

Introduction The world is full. This is Zygmunt Bauman’s stark message about our globalized, ‘liquid modern’ times. Not a literal statement of physical or human geography, Bauman’s message relates to the sociological and political understanding of a world in which all of its inhabitants are now in the close, indeed immediate, vicinity of each other (Bauman 2002a:13). This chapter aims to outline Bauman’s understanding of the processes of globalization. Characteristic of his wider sociological writings, his ideas in this area tend to resist simple classification and evade those attempts to establish a semblance of order in his thinking. Much like the ‘liquid world’ described in his work, chaos and ambivalence dominate. As such, this chapter does not provide an exhaustive account of Bauman’s thinking on globalization and makes no claim to completion. What follows is rather informed by Bauman’s (1990:19) own methodological message that understanding goes in circles rather than developing in a straight line and that, though the process of understanding may never reach any ultimate end, much may be gained in its course. As such, the chapter offers an introduction to the central themes that inform Bauman’s thinking on globalization, specifically the social, political and ethical dimensions that are manifest in the all-too-human consequences of its world-wide impact. These are, principally, the relationship between globalization and his wider theoretical model of ‘liquid modernity’; the re-stratification of the world’s population into those that are free to move globally, and those that are condemned to a life lived


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

locally; and, finally, the prevalence of fear and insecurity at both the macro- and micro-levels of ‘liquid life’ in the age of ‘negative globalization’. The chapter is thus an exposition of Bauman’s ideas on globalization with all evaluative comments reserved for a final section of critical reflections. Towards a Sociological Understanding of Globalization Globalization has been a fashionable sociological concept since the 1980s, becoming a world-wide currency for intellectual exchange. Zygmunt Bauman has made a considerable contribution to sociological interpretations of globalization, and this chapter will explore the particularities of his interpretation in detail. However, Bauman was by no means the first to consider processes of globalization sociologically, and so it is worth beginning with a brief synopsis of key ideas in order to locate Bauman’s own approach within a suitable context. By far the most significant contribution to a sociological understanding of globalization was that put forward by Roland Robertson. Robertson’s name has become synonymous with the formalization and specification of globalization as a viable concept (Waters 1995:39) and his ideas have had an identifiable impact on Bauman’s own understanding of globalization. In short, Robertson (1992:8) understands by globalization the ‘compression of the world’, which is to say ‘the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole’. He identifies social processes that have created a greater concentration of global interdependencies, so that individual and national reference points are relativized to the supranational or global level. That is, increasingly, local issues effecting individuals and small groups are seen to be the result of global processes. This is reflected at the political, economic, and cultural levels of society, as locality and globality become mutually constitutive. Indeed, this relationship between the global and the local as articulated by Robertson’s concept of glocalization is a central feature of Bauman’s own writing on the subject (Bauman 1998c).1 A further key aspect of a sociological understanding of globalization concerns what is variously called ‘time-space distanciation’ or the ‘compression of time and space’. What is meant by such claims, put forward by Anthony Giddens (1990), Ulrich Beck (1992) and David Harvey (1990) amongst others, is that the relationship between time and space has been radically altered by globalization. Put simply, there is a shortening of ‘time’ to the level of instantaneity – i.e. much of social life can now be conducted at the speed of the electronic signal such as communicating by text message or via email – and the shrinking of ‘space’ – i.e. people from different parts 1 Whereas the term glocalization was used by Robertson to illustrate the development of communication technologies that increasingly connected the global platform with the local platform, Bauman’s use of the term is somewhat different to this. At the core of Bauman’s own understanding of glocalization is the claim that it results in a world-wide restratification of society based upon the freedom of movement. The consequence of this development is an increasingly polarized world, in which the ‘globalized’ individuals are free to move around the world, whilst the ‘localized’ individuals are tied to place and have an inferior existence with fewer opportunities. I explore this premize in more detail throughout the present chapter.

Bauman on Globalization


of the world are able to share common experiences of global events. This latter point can be seen in global culture, where the diversity of world cultures are absorbed and realized at the local level, or in terms of global media, where the destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York or the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans were experienced by people all around the world almost simultaneously. What is important about this changing relationship between time and space is that it is largely about perception. Globalization does not imply that the material reality of time, or the physical reality of space, has been ‘compressed’. Rather, globalization involves the ‘phenomenology of contraction’ – i.e. time and space appear to have been compressed in the quotidian experiences of our everyday lives. This shift in perception is seen to be what marks out the present stage of human history from those that have gone previously, in so far as we have arrived at a new and distinct phase of modernization. One could be forgiven for thinking, therefore, that the concept of globalization is little more than a synonym for modernization, as various interpreters trace the social processes involved back as far as the 16th century and sometimes earlier. However, what is particular to this globalized phase of modernity is precisely this ‘phenomenology of contraction’. The world appears to have speeded up; social life appears to take place in a series of instantaneous episodes that may or may not be linked together; and the feeling that dominates is that the world in which we live appears now to have no one in control, indeed, it is now un-controllable. As Bauman himself explains: To put it in a nutshell: no one seems to be now in control. Worse still, it is not clear what ‘being in control’ could, under the circumstances, be like. As before, all ordering is local and issue-oriented, but there is no locality that could pronounce for humankind as a whole, or an issue that could stand up for the totality of global affairs. It is this novel and uncomfortable perception which has been articulated (with little benefit to intellectual clarity) in the currently fashionable concept of globalization (Bauman cited in Beilharz 2001:299).

Whether sociologists have chosen to characterize this global phase as ‘late’, ‘high’, ‘reflexive’, ‘second’ – or indeed ‘liquid’ – modernity, it is the desire to understand the effects of this ‘novel and uncomfortable perception’ that forms a central part of their analyses. Globalization and Liquid Modernity As Keith Tester (2004:162) has correctly observed, the two related principles of globalization and ‘liquid modernity’ characterize Bauman’s later ‘postpostmodernity’ writings. The relationship concerns the meta-political and the micropolitical levels of human life and in this way can be seen, to some extent, to mirror the inter-relationship of the global and the local that informs Bauman’s thinking in this area. Indeed, Bauman regards globalization as one of two ‘meta causes’ behind contemporary social change, the other being individualization. The two principles are related by the notion that there has emerged a global figuration in which all


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

human activity is bonded together by a free-market economic framework that is utterly beyond any localized control. This creates the appearance of a ‘new global disorder’ that penetrates an individualized ‘liquid life’ with feelings of fear, anxiety and uncertainty that men and women are solely responsible for managing in their everyday lives. However, in spite of this identified move away from the postmodernity literature, Bauman’s understanding of globalization clearly continues to borrow much from this wider discourse, specifically concerning the increasing global flow of capital, which is seen to eradicate the need for physical geographic restrictions. From this standpoint, society is seen to experience an acute process of ‘de-spatialization’, which incorporates the cultural compression of both time and distance (Harvey 1990; Jameson 1991; Waters 1995). Transformations in the global free-market economy, such as currency speculation and futures and options markets, signal key departures from the previous order of modernity and impact upon both the territorial sovereignty and the political machinery of extant States. As the flow of global capital begins to gather momentum, no longer subject to the constraints of time and space, the power of nationally-rooted political institutions becomes threatened (Bauman 1998a, 1999, 2002a, 2005a; Castells 1996). Entrenched in a debilitating physical environment, the nature of political power undergoes a significant change as it is no longer able to control this flow of capital between the free markets of the world economy. In short, the new cyberspace transactions know no cartographic boundaries. As Bauman points out: The holders of neither economic nor cultural power are today place-bound; they have cut the ties harnessing them to the ‘populace’ at large, which remains as local as it used to be in the heyday of the industrial and nation-building phase of modern times. The holders of power occupy cyberspace, separate from the rest of the population (Bauman 1999:122).

On this argument, then, the geographically-fixed – what Bauman terms ‘localized’ – political institutions remain at the mercy of the all-powerful ‘globalized’ market, precipitating a previously unknown impotency amongst politicians as they now operate entirely at the behest of uncontrollable and ever-changing economic conditions. As Bauman (1999:170) remarks, the most decisive parameters of the human condition are now shaped in precisely those areas that the ‘localized’ States cannot reach. The late Cornelius Castoriadis, an almost ever-present reference in Bauman’s later work, suggests that one of the consequences of this is that the sole purpose of politicians these days is to stay in office (Castoriadis cited in Bauman 1999:4). Clearly echoing the sentiments of Richard Sennett (1977:260ff), Bauman describes this as the ‘aestheticization of politics’, the scenario whereby the private lives of personalities are transformed into media scandals that come to dominate public discourse (Bauman 2001a:108). With the loss of a genuine public sphere for meaningful debate about those public issues that concern each individual, there is a waning of expectation regarding what political institutions can actually achieve in the face of these unmanageable global processes. As such, at the micro-political level of ‘liquid life’ (Bauman 2005a), individuals find that responsibility for dealing with

Bauman on Globalization


the human consequences of these global processes has been entirely individualized and so must be faced alone. This individualization of responsibility in ‘liquid modern’ times is seen to have led to the rise of governments promising to protect their citizens from those capricious threats to their personal safety that are a consequence of globalization. Unable to promise their citizens a secure existence and a certain future, governments demonstrate their energy and determination by unloading the accumulated insecurities and uncertainties onto local targets. This is done by waging wars on those who can be shown to have disrupted a once orderly, quiet and familiar national backyard (Bauman 1999:194). Nowhere is this more explicitly demonstrated than in the rhetoric surrounding the ‘war on terror’, where the social contract between citizen and State involves the protection of each individual by the State from the increasing spread of global terror networks. As such, this shift can be seen to represent a ‘legitimation crisis’ (Habermas 1976) in the role of the localized, territorially-bound modern States. If political institutions are incapable of controlling the ‘hidden hand’ of the global free-market, which is now entirely extraterritorial, then perhaps they can legitimate their powerful role by promising to protect their citizens from the ‘hidden hands’ of political extremists. That is, globally generated grievances float in global space in the same way as global finances or global information. Wherever they land, global problems become translated as ‘local’ issues and seek ‘local’ targets upon which to pin the blame. As States are themselves ‘local’ entities in a global world, the domestication of global grievances provides an opportunity to demonstrate their – albeit radically reduced – power and effectiveness. The consequences of this ‘liquid’ phase of modernity, then, are represented by what Bauman (2002b) terms a ‘post-Trinitarian world’. In the nation-building era of modernity, it was necessary for the State to gain legislative, regulatory control over the premodern patterns of social interaction and of tribal loyalties. One of the principal tasks facing the modern State was the need to acquire the right to reorganize, and thus to control, cartographic space. In short, the premodern landscape was to be re-ordered and modernization – among other things, for sure – meant precisely this spatial administration of the world, the monopolization of cartographic rights. By so doing, States were able to manage the spatial distribution of human beings on the planet, through classifying them according to an identifiable territory, by imposing and legitimating a State-administered order to that space, and by associating this territory and this State with commonsensical narratives of nationality and, often, ethnicity. As such, Bauman conceives of modernity as the gradual formation and interdependency of the trinity of territory, State, and nation (Bauman 2002b). In ‘liquid modernity’, globalization has undone the interdependency between this trinity. The sovereignty of the State to administer its territorial space and claim nationality as a simple commonsensical notion has been radically undermined by global processes that have seen political, economic and cultural factors escape the cartographic boundaries established in the modern era. The escape of economic power from the hands of the State has been the single most seminal change. As Bauman explains:


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman Due to the unqualified and unstoppable spread of free trade rules, and above all the free movement of capital and finances, the ‘economy’ is progressively exempt from political control; indeed, the prime meaning conveyed by the term ‘economy’ is ‘the area of the non-political’ (Bauman 1998a:66).

Thus, among other things, globalization means the progressive separation of power from politics (Bauman 1999:120). When power flows, and flows globally, modern political institutions are unable to respond anything other than locally. Global finance, global trade and global information depend for their freedom of movement to pursue their own ends on precisely this fragmentation of the modern world scene. As Bauman (2001a:85) has argued, global capital has a vested interest in the shattering of the modern trinity and in the proliferation of ‘weak States’. Capable solely of policing their own local territories, the weak States of ‘liquid modernity’ are unable or unwilling (perhaps unwilling because unable?) to provide an effective brake on the freedom of the global elite. In short, Bauman suggests, globalization demands that orthodox-style State sovereignty be severely curtailed and weakened. And so, it is now possible to understand more fully what Bauman means when he states that all ordering is now localized and issue-oriented, but that there is no locality capable of managing the totality of global affairs. A human consequence of this globalized ‘liquid’ phase of modernity is a world-wide re-stratification of people into those who operate globally and those that must continue to operate locally. Tourists, Vagabonds and Wasted Lives: Stratifying a Liquid World Bauman’s sociology often can be seen as interpreting social life in terms of two sharply distinct social conditions. I have elsewhere referred to this as Bauman’s ‘will-to-dualism’ (see Davis 2008)2 and have highlighted the many cultural-types present in his writings as being the result of this characteristic inclination to think in terms of dualities. Fundamentally, Bauman follows the convention of stressing the division between what is often commonsensically referred to as the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. This emerges in various guises, including the ‘seduced’ and the ‘repressed’, the postmodern ‘pure’ and postmodern ‘dirt’, and the ‘free consumers’ and the ‘flawed consumers’ (Bauman 1993, 1997, 1998b). This tendency to perceive social life in terms of dualities also informs his thinking on globalization, specifically in terms of the distinction between the global and the local: What appears as globalization for some means localization for others; signalling a new freedom for some, upon many others it descends as an uninvited and cruel fate. Mobility 2 I here employ the term ‘will-to-dualism’ to capture a simple tendency within Bauman’s work to view the social world in terms of a basic Marxian dualism between ‘bourgeois’ and ‘proletarian’ or, in lay terms, between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. This is a tendency that I see running throughout Bauman’s sociological thinking, with the precise nature of this basic dualism reformulated as his thematic priorities shift. It is this tendency that I believe has given rise to such intriguing dualistic categories as the ‘postmodern pure’ and the ‘postmodern dirt’; the ‘free consumers’ and the ‘flawed consumers’; the ‘seduced’ and the ‘repressed’; and, the ‘tourists’ and the ‘vagabonds’.

Bauman on Globalization


climbs to the rank of the uppermost among the coveted values – and the freedom to move, perpetually a scarce and unequally distributed commodity, fast becomes the main stratifying factor of our late-modern or postmodern times (Bauman 1998a:2).

In his work on globalization, Bauman (1998a:77) argues that nowadays “we are all on the move”, either physically around the globe or virtually through cyberspace. As such, it is the value of mobility – of the freedom to move, to be global – that comes to be the most coveted of values and, as such, the central stratifying factor of ‘liquid modern’ times. And, again supporting the idea that all is seen through the lens of dualities, if mobility is the most coveted of values, then immobility – the inability to move, to be local – is seen as the basis of a new form of social deprivation. In the course of this re-stratifying process, a new world-wide socio-cultural selfreproducing hierarchy is established between the global and the local. Bauman divides the worlds of these two distinct social conditions as starkly as he does all of those other dualisms in his work. In a telling passage, he remarks: For the first world, the world of the globally mobile, the space has lost its constraining quality and is easily traversed in both its ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ renditions. For the second world, the world of the ‘locally tied’, of those barred from moving and thus bound to bear passively whatever change may be visited upon the locality they are tied to, the real space is fast closing up (Bauman 1998a:88).

Those privileged enough to belong to the global playground of the somewhat provocatively entitled ‘first world’ are understood to be truly extraterritorial, analogous to the flow of global capital, global commodities and global information in their contempt for State boundaries. According to Bauman (1998a:89), these are the increasingly cosmopolitan global businessmen, global culture managers and global academics, for whom State borders are levelled down in much the same way as they are dismantled for the world’s capital, commodities and information. However, for those underprivileged individuals of the ‘second world’, their life of locality is a life condemned to living in the new ‘ghettos’, amongst criminals and asylum seekers without the means, nor the hope, of ever escaping (Bauman 2001b, 2004). For the inhabitants of the second world, Bauman (1998a:89) states, there are walls built of immigration controls, of residence laws, and of ‘zero tolerance’ policies. Thus, being local in the globalized world of ‘liquid modernity’ is a sign of social deprivation and degradation (Bauman 1998a:2). For some people, globalization augurs an unprecedented freedom from physical obstacles and constraints, an unheard-of ability to move and to act from a distance. For others, it portends the impossibility of escaping their locality in order to move somewhere, perhaps anywhere, else. Far from being a hotbed of community life, locality conjures up feelings of constraint, imprisonment and an inability to enter the first world of the global elite, whom they are condemned simply to watch from afar. As Bauman (1998a:91-92) explains, if the experience of the first world is lived through as the freedom of the globally mobile, the experience of the second world may feel rather like the slavery of the locally immobile. However, the experience of the globally mobile is itself internally divided, again between two opposing extremes. This is one


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

of Bauman’s better-known dualisms, that between the ‘tourists’ and the ‘vagabonds’ (Bauman 1998a:92ff). The ‘tourist’ resembles most closely the life of the ‘first world’ that Bauman identifies. The tourists are free to stay or move at their heart’s desire, abandoning their current location when new, more exciting opportunities beckon elsewhere. Thus, the tourists move because they find the world within their reach irresistibly attractive. Globalization is thus geared to the (consumer) dreams and desires of the tourists. However, the life of the wandering tourist is somewhat bitter-sweet. If they are indeed always on the move, it is not always because they know exactly where it is that they are going; that they are heading after some predetermined goal or destination. It is rather an experience of constantly having to move for fear of standing still – as if, as soon as they stop moving, they cease to be globally mobile and so become locally-tied. Thus, perhaps unsurprisingly given the ‘liquid modern’ context discussed previously, the experiences of the globally mobile – the globally free – are largely those of anxiety, insecurity and aloneness. The meanings attached to the word ‘restlessness’ capture the life of the tourist well. What keeps the feelings of ‘home-sickness’ at bay for the tourists, and thus what perpetuates the search for ever more satisfying consumer pleasures in the global playground and keeps them from standing still, is both the nightmare of the ‘second world’, of a life tied to locality, and the plight of the globally mobile ‘vagabonds’. Unlike those locals from whom the tourists are also eager to remain separated, the underprivileged individuals of the vagabonds are seen by Bauman as the ‘alter-ego’ of the ‘tourists’. Equally free to move, they do so not because they find the global playground alluring, but rather because they find any place that they stay for too long suddenly and irredeemably inhospitable (Bauman 1998a:93). Vagabonds are global travellers refused the right to become tourists. As Bauman explains: Ask the vagabonds what sort of life they would wish to have, given the chance of free choice – and you will get a pretty accurate description of the tourist’s bliss ‘as seen on TV’. Vagabonds have no other images of the good life – no alternative utopia, no political agenda of their own. The sole thing they want is to be allowed to be tourists – like the rest of us ... In a restless world, tourism is the only acceptable, human form of restlessness (Bauman 1998a:94).

What unites the tourists and the vagabonds, therefore, is that they are both cast into the role of the consumer. However, following one of Bauman’s other culturaltypes mentioned above, the tourists are the privileged ‘free consumers’, whereas the vagabonds are the underprivileged ‘flawed consumers’. This means that, although as consumers they both share the same images of the good life, as a result of their limited resources the vagabonds are not able to afford those kinds of sophisticated choices made by the tourists. Thus, they are ‘flawed’ and this makes their position in society terrifyingly precarious. As consumers unable to consume, “they are useless, in the sole sense of ‘use’ one can think of in a society of consumers or society of tourists” (Bauman 1998a:96). It is in this way that Bauman understands the vagabond as the tourist’s nightmare, a sure fire sign of what the tourist may become should they fail to cope with the pressures and anxieties that the ‘liquid life’ of the global consumer can bring. As such,

Bauman on Globalization


on the one hand, a world without vagabonds is conceived as ‘utopia’3 for the society of tourists. Indeed, as Bauman (1998a:97) points out, much of the politics in the society of tourists can be explained as an ongoing effort to eradicate the vagabonds from the picture of their reality, such as through an obsession with security, law and order, and the criminalization of poverty. On the other hand, however, to a certain degree the life of the tourists actually depends upon the presence of the vagabonds for its enjoyment. The insecurities associated with life as a tourist are made all the more palatable for being haunted by the prospect of the nightmare that is the life of a vagabond. As such, it is worth highlighting that in order to keep the tourists in the global game, the hands of the vagabonds must remain forever unequal. The globalized world of ‘liquid modernity’ is thus an evermore hospitable and friendly place for tourists and an evermore unwelcoming and hostile place for vagabonds. It is this stark opposition between tourists and vagabonds that Bauman (2004) develops further in his more recent ideas on the ‘wasted lives’ brought about by processes of globalization. At the basis of this development is Bauman’s observation that both sides of the identified opposition between tourists and vagabonds can be characterized by their freedom to move. However, whereas the former travel for enjoyment or profit, and are rewarded for doing so, the latter travel for survival, and – alarmingly – are condemned for doing so. For Bauman, it is this ‘lie of the free trade promise’ that marks the present day combination of the annulment of entry visas and the reinforcement of immigration controls with a particular symbolic significance. In short, it lays bare the fact that ‘access to global mobility’ is the basis of a world-wide re-stratification. To put it in a nutshell: if indeed we are nowadays ‘all on the move’, only some of us are permitted to be so. Moreover, Bauman notes how the dismantling of all barriers to the free movement of capital, commodities and information, and its carriers, is accompanied by the concomitant production of new and ever-higher barriers to keep out the multitude wishing to follow suit and go where the opportunities beckon. This is supported by the sociological and political phenomenon highlighted at the start of the chapter in relation to the world being ‘full’. This new ‘fullness’ of the planet – or, perhaps more accurately, of those particular areas of the planet where dreams and desires are most likely to be realized – have resulted in an acute crisis of what Bauman calls the “human waste disposal industry” (Bauman 2004:7). According to him, globalization has become a prolific production line of ‘wasted humans’ precisely because of the global spread of the ‘liquid modern’ form of life as a single homogenising force. Those different forms of human life and togetherness that, heretofore, represented adequate ways and means of survival in both the biological and sociological sense are destroyed by the dominance of the global over all aspects of the local. As a result, those who represent difference – and thus evoke precisely those feelings of uncertainty and insecurity endemic to ‘liquid life’ – are uniquely suitable to play the part of visible local target for the unloading of frustrations caused by invisible global forces. As Bauman suggests:

3 For an insightful discussion of the concept of ‘utopia’ in Bauman’s sociology more broadly, see Jacobsen (2006).


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman After all, asylum seekers and ‘economic migrants’ are collective replicas (an alter ego?, fellow travellers?, mirror-images?, caricatures?) of the new power elite of the globalized world, widely (and with reason) suspected to be the true villain of the piece. Like that elite, they are untied to any place, shifty, unpredictable. Like that elite, they epitomize the unfathomable ‘space of flows’ where the roots of the present-day precariousness of the human condition are sunk (Bauman 2004:66).

And it is these groups of asylum seekers, ‘economic migrants’ and refugees that represent the ‘human waste’ of globalization, the vagabond nightmare in the society of tourists. All periods of modernity have, of course, produced social suffering amongst the excluded. However, Bauman (2004) argues that the suffering experienced by the growing ranks of vagabonds is unique insofar as the included do not forge any common cause with those ‘wasted humans’ precisely because they rarely come into contact with them. By being managed and administered in localized camps or ‘sink estates’, the tourists have no opportunity to converse with vagabonds and, as a result of their stigmatization and criminalization, frequently have little desire to do so. As a consequence, an entire way of human-being-in-the-world is denied its reality and so easily removed from the realm of moral obligation. Indeed, it is this that represents one of the central ethical challenges that faces humanity in the era of globalization: the need to recognize the plight of the ‘wasted humans’ produced by those global processes that make the life of the tourist so desirable. One of the main obstacles to this ethical challenge is precisely the experience of insecurity and fear that ‘wasted humans’ are so often taken to embody. Furthermore, Bauman notes how current local solutions to these problems fail to address their global causes – ‘there are no local solutions to global problems’, as he frequently asserts. The growing pervasiveness of fear in ‘liquid modern’ society, coupled with an absence of global solutions, has led Bauman to explain globalization as entirely ‘negative’. Negative Globalization and Liquid Fear Fear has become the dominant currency of contemporary public life. It is the public resource increasingly mined in order to boost the legitimacy and authority of extant political and economic institutions, as well as individual politicians themselves. As the individualized society comes increasingly under siege from processes of globalization, there is a reduction in, and perhaps the cancellation of, the ability of ordinary men and women to collectively negotiate the reality of those fears and anxieties that they may all privately feel. The ‘flexibilization’ inherent in these processes of globalization – which themselves are taken to be entirely ‘negative’ – have led to a political economy of insecurity in which human misery is commonplace and the human condition is characterized by humiliation, distress, anxiety and fear. The negative impulse of globalization not only leads to the experiential awareness of an exponentially changing world, but also to the realization that our collective ability to manage and shape this change has become impotent. The forces of ‘negative globalization’ have torn from the hands of human agents the ability to control these processes, to stem the tide of capital and commodity circulation, and to

Bauman on Globalization


halt the flow of conflict and violence that plague the streets of local towns and cities and result in the deep-seated suspicion of ‘the Other’ that has become the conditio sine qua non of human interaction in ‘liquid life’. With politicians unable to control the inherent insecurity of global free-market capitalism, it is with their ability to assuage tangible local fears over personal safety that they rush to our collective aid. Consequentially, ‘fear’ itself has become a lucrative commercial market, with ‘security’ fast emerging as one of the biggest global growth industries. The culture of fear shifts newspapers and glues viewers to their TV screens. Fear has developed its own momentum in these times of ‘negative globalization’ and anxious individuals now crave any semblance of security in a life that willingly bows down to the heteronomy of State authorities. Such is the global landscape painted in Bauman’s later sociological writings (Bauman 2001a, 2001b, 2002a, 2002c, 2004, 2005a, 2006, 2007). In Bauman’s own words: Fear is arguably the most sinister of demons nesting in the open societies of our time. But it is the insecurity of the present and uncertainty about the future that hatch and breed the most awesome and least bearable of our fears. Those insecurities and uncertainties, in their turn, are born of the sense of impotence: we seem to be no longer in control, whether singly, severally or collectively. To make things worse yet, we lack the tools that could allow politics to be lifted to the level where power has already settled, and so enable us to recover and repossess control over the forces that shape our shared condition while setting the range of our options and the limits to our freedom to choose: control which has now slipped or has been torn out of our hands (Bauman 2005b:18).

Developing the ideas expressed in Globalization: The Human Consequences (1998a), it is throughout In Search of Politics (1999) that Bauman lays the foundations for a normative critique of ‘liquid modern’ society as one beset by uncontrollable processes of a strictly ‘negative globalization’.4 By this concept, Bauman (2006) implies a highly-selective globalization of trade and capital, surveillance and information, coercion and weaponry, crime and terrorism, that all show disdain for State boundaries. Indeed, Bauman (2006:98) suggests that it is precisely these processes of ‘negative globalization’ that have led to the ‘spectre of vulnerability’ that haunts the ‘liquid modern’ society. Such a situation cannot but portend a life of unremitting insecurity. Left alone to deal with the invisible forces of ‘negative globalization’, the individuals of the ‘liquid modern’ world are now forced to live a life of increasing uncertainty. It is in this sense that Bauman remarks how “living in uncertainty is revealed as a way of life, the only way there is of the only life available” (Bauman 1999:18). As such, it is a state that increasingly afflicts not only those excluded groups of vagabonds and ‘wasted humans’, but all individuals in society. This state of perpetual insecurity is neatly summed up by Bauman:

4 Although Bauman does not actually use the term ‘negative globalization’ in In Search of Politics (1999), he nevertheless identifies there those processes that he later refers to as being endemic to ‘negative globalization’.


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman Misfortunes produced by people in the course of negative globalization still happen like natural catastrophes, by which I mean nobody knows when they are coming, and where they come from. As if we were walking through a minefield. It is known that an explosion will occur, although nobody knows when and where (Bauman & Galecki 2005:3).

The only way in which one can respond to such a life is to use the resources at one’s disposal to cope at the ‘micro-social’ level by securing one’s own personal safety. This means fully retreating into the private sphere where an individual’s home fast becomes a personal fortress and the explosion of the security industry in recent times has been fuelled exactly by just this kind of retreat. Improving the locks on the doors and bettering the surveillance techniques for monitoring private homes allows one to feel more secure when no longer in the public sphere. One may not be able to stem the flow of global capital, nor manage the increasing flexibilization that is a consequence of the deregulation endemic to processes of ‘negative globalization’, but one can retreat from public life and fortify the barricades to one’s own private castle. In this context, it is worth quoting here at length an extract from one of Bauman’s lectures at the London School of Economics in 2005, as it captures precisely the experience of intense fear that he sees as evermore endemic to ‘liquid life’: Unable to slow down the mind-boggling pace of change, let alone to predict and determine its direction, we focus on things we can, or believe we can, or are assured that we can, influence: we try to calculate, and minimize the risks of falling victims of uncounted and uncountable dangers which we suspect the opaque world and its uncertain future to hold in store. We are engrossed in spying out ‘the seven signs of cancer’ or ‘the five symptoms of depression’, or in exorcising the spectre of high blood pressure and high cholesterol level, stress and obesity. In other words, we seek substitute targets on which to unload the surplus existential fear that has been barred its natural outlets, and find such makeshift targets in taking elaborate precaution against inhaling someone else’s cigarette smoke, ingesting fatty food or ‘bad’ bacteria (though avidly swilling the liquids promising to contain the ‘good’ ones), exposure to sun, or unprotected sex. Those of us who can afford it, fortify ourselves against the visible or invisible, present or anticipated, known or yet unfamiliar, scattered but ubiquitous dangers through detoxicating interiors of our bodies and homes, locking ourselves behind walls, stuffing the approaches to our living quarters with TV cameras, hiring armed guards, driving armoured vehicles or taking martial arts classes (Bauman 2005b:17).

As this rather austere account of the human condition in ‘liquid modernity’ demonstrates, Bauman’s account of ‘negative globalization’ relates also to the localized, intimate lives of ordinary men and women as well. In Liquid Love (2003), for example, Bauman dwells on the idea that individuals consume both goods and each other in order to manage their insecurities. This is possible because other people are increasingly interpreted as consumer goods, as objects; that is, capable of either delivering immediate satisfaction, and so kept close by, or incapable of keeping us entertained and so pitilessly excluded. In comparison to Robert Musil’s classic masterpiece The Man Without Qualities [Der Mann Ohne Eigenschaften], Bauman (2003:vii) describes his liquid modern ‘hero’ as Der Mann ohne Verwandtschaften – the man without bonds. Put simply, relationships are seen as a delicate balance between providing the collective security

Bauman on Globalization


once offered by ‘primary ties’ and the individual freedom one needs to break away at a minute’s notice should the bond become unsatisfying and, hence, constraining. Again, the uppermost value in ‘liquid modern’ times is the ability to move, to be mobile, and to avoid being ‘tied down’ for a moment longer than one may wish. There is thus a tension at the heart of ‘liquid life’ relating directly to striking a balance between freedom of movement and security of constraint, which Bauman manages to capture neatly in revealing that the heroes of ‘liquid modernity’ are men and women, our contemporaries, despairing at being abandoned to their own wits and feeling easily disposable, yearning for the security of togetherness and for a helping hand to count on in a moment of trouble, and so desperate to ‘relate’; yet wary of the state of ‘being related’ and particularly of being related ‘for good’, not to mention forever – since they fear that such a state may bring burdens and cause strains they neither feel able nor are willing to bear, and so may severely limit the freedom they need – yes, your guess is right – to relate (Bauman 2003:viii).

Human relationships in increasingly globalized ‘liquid modern’ times have thus come to be dominated by a guiding principle – all relationships are now ‘until further notice’. As such, being completely excluded from a network of interpersonal bonds is presented by Bauman as the most vexing of all situations. In ‘liquid modern’ times, it is the ‘spectre of insecurity’ that may portend our complete exclusion from the life of the globally mobile, which provides a constant source of insecurity for ordinary men and women. In short, it is the threat of becoming the ‘human waste’ of ‘liquid modernity’ (Bauman 2004). To cope with this, the heroes of the ‘liquid modern’ world require a quantity of relationships, relatively unconcerned about the quality. Bauman asserts that so long as there are enough people to call on in times of trouble – and trouble there will be, though when and where one cannot be sure – then this is more than sufficient. To elucidate further, it is worth noting how Bauman considers the mobile phone to be the archetypal item of the globalized ‘liquid modern’ age. Stored in the memory bank of each mobile phone is a phonebook containing a summary of each individual’s significant social others. This ‘community of numbers’ offers a semblance of security in times of need; indeed, mobile phones are increasingly marketed as essential items for those who would brave the dark, threatening streets of the local. If the mobile is the medium, then it is the text message that conveys the essence of ‘liquid modern’ relationships. What is written is often banal – abbreviated to be sure, truncated to speed up the circulation – but being enveloped in a web of messages is the cocoon within which ‘liquid modern’ individuals shelter from the storm of global insecurity. It is the act of messaging, therefore, and not the message itself, which keeps one within this network of security. As Bauman explains: “Stop talking – and you are out. Silence equals exclusion. Il n’y a pas dehors du texte, indeed – there is nothing outside the text – though not just in the sense meant by Derrida” (Bauman 2003:35). It is the fear of silence and the exclusion that it implies that keeps the conversation going. One of the greatest faux pas ‘liquid modern’ individuals can commit is not to reply to a text message; moreover, not to reply quickly enough. The anxiety felt following the bleep of the mobile phone should one be incapable of answering it immediately is born of a matter more serious than simply being kept out of the


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

conversation for a moment. It is born of the knowledge that it could mean exclusion from the conversation for good and thus a loss of the quantity of relationships one needs to feel secure in ‘liquid modern’ times. And so, what is to be done? Undoubtedly, the picture of globalized ‘liquid life’ that Bauman paints is consciously and particularly austere, saturated as it is with fear and existential anxiety. What is more, the human consequences of a ‘liquid world’ are forever to be confronted and dealt with individually, with no recourse to collective action. The separation of the economy from politics – one of the most fundamental aspects of globalization – has meant the exemption of the former from the control of the latter. The result of this, for Bauman, has been the disempowerment of politics as an effective site of collective agency. As noted previously, the plight of the local and of the ‘mobile-yet-excluded’ vagabonds is easy for the constantly moving tourists to overlook, perhaps even to ignore, as they seldom come into contact with the reality of their social suffering. As such, it becomes evermore difficult to re-forge social issues into effective collective action, especially given the retreat from public life into the safety of tightly locked private fortresses. In the individualized (as well as globalized) society of ‘liquid modernity’, it is now up to individuals to solve their individual problems individually. And, as we have seen, global grievances frequently seek more manageable and controllable local targets onto which to unload their frustration. It is this tendency to ‘think global, act local’ – so often the mantra of the anti-globalization social movements – that Bauman (1999:196) believes is as widespread as it is mistaken. For Bauman, there is only one way to respond positively to the problems caused by ‘negative globalization’ and that is – globally: On a negatively globalized planet, all the most fundamental problems – the genuinely meta-problems which condition the chances and the ways of tackling all other problems – are global, and being global they admit of no local solutions. There are no local solutions to globally originated and globally invigorated problems, and there cannot be (Bauman 2006:128).

The separation of global power from locally-grounded politics means that the idea of ‘global citizenship’ represents little more than a postulate at best. With individuals preoccupied with their own life-projects, aimed at exorcising the ‘spectre of insecurity’, and with governments aiming to control the global sources of liquid fear by battening down the national hatches, Bauman (2006:127) suggests that the paramount challenge confronting the present century is to re-unite power and politics. The fate of such a feat depends upon the emergence and entrenchment of a global political arena. Such an arena – a truly global arena, as distinct from the modern framework of the inter-national – is conspicuously missing and, for obvious reasons notes Bauman (2002a:19), the global players are singularly unwilling to set it up. As is so often the message from Bauman’s sociology, what is needed as the first step in this process of tackling ‘negative globalization’ is to remind all that this ‘liquid world’, just like any other human world, has been made by humans, and that far from being a product of the inscrutable and invincible laws of Nature, it is just as capable of being re-made by humans as well.

Bauman on Globalization


Critical Reflections Following this exposition, by no means exhaustive, of Zygmunt Bauman’s perspective on globalization, there are two major critical reflections that I would like to offer briefly in this final section. The first of these concerns the overall tenor of Bauman’s sociological analysis of globalization. As is evidently clear from the preceding exposition of his ideas, Bauman’s approach to understanding human social life in the era of ‘liquid modernity’ leads him to paint a particularly austere, gloomy and depressing picture of ‘liquid life’. By exclusively focusing upon the strictly ‘negative’ aspects of globalization, Bauman’s account may be seen as lacking a semblance of balance. For Bauman, globalization – in its current ‘liquid modern’ manifestation, to be sure – is an entirely negative phenomenon, showing disdain for the modern economic, political and cultural order. This has led to a separation of the free-market economy from political control, causing a global pandemic of fear and insecurity that penetrates both the macro- and micro-levels of society. As such, from reading Bauman’s work, one could be forgiven for concluding that there are simply no positive benefits to globalization at all. Those arguments that may put forward the idea that globalization has helped to unite the various human cultures of the world through increased communication and information flows, allowing people from all corners of the globe to share experiences and events with each other, are seen only for the negative portents that these processes imply. The second reflection I would like to offer is a more substantial criticism of Bauman’s approach to globalization and relates to a tendency in his sociological thinking more broadly. In short, I believe that there are potential problems with the way in which he perceives the human condition in terms of dualities (Davis forthcoming). As noted in an earlier section of the present chapter, Bauman sees globalization as forming two dominant cultural-types, namely the ‘tourist’ and the ‘vagabond’. However, as is the case with all of the dualities that are presented in his writings, the boundaries that separate one side of this dualism from the other are rather ambiguous. The ability to plot specific individuals on Bauman’s map of cultural-types is not a straightforward task and one that is doubtful ever to be supported by empirical measurement. It is fair to counter this argument and claim that Bauman intends these dualities to be, not only cultural-types, but ‘ideal-types’: useful heuristic devices by which he can render the extreme polarity of the social world intelligible. For sure, this is a reasonable defence. However, I believe that it does remain a potentially problematic tendency in Bauman’s work precisely because of the import these dualities are given in his analysis. To take the present example of ‘tourists’ and ‘vagabonds’, one finds it far from easy to identify particular empirical social groups that fit the descriptions Bauman provides, whereas one can think of many that cut across the rather neat dualism. For instance, there are social groups which may be invested with a wealth of available resources, but which nevertheless refuse the hedonistic consumer pursuits of the ‘tourist’, either on moral, ethnic or religious grounds. Whether these groups are subsequently considered to be ‘free’ or ‘flawed’ consumers, or ‘tourists’ or ‘vagabonds’ for that matter, becomes a matter of subjective interpretation and something akin to a proclamation of faith.


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

And yet, in spite of these critical reflections, it remains the case that I believe there is a great deal to be learned from Bauman’s sociological approach to globalization. Although his portrayal of the human consequences of a ‘liquid world’ does present a particularly negative account of globalization, he nevertheless identifies positive steps that can be taken to start to balance the world in which we all live. By refusing to accept local solutions to global problems, perhaps we can start to contemplate collective solutions to common human problems and set about facing the ethical and moral challenges that Bauman identifies as the hallmark of the present century. In close, one does not have to accept the full extent of the negative picture of the ‘liquid world’ that Bauman paints to agree that there remains much for the whole of humanity still to achieve, and to achieve together. Bibliography Bauman, Zygmunt (1990): Thinking Sociologically. Oxford: Blackwell. Bauman, Zygmunt (1993): Postmodern Ethics. Oxford: Blackwell. Bauman, Zygmunt (1997): Postmodernity and its Discontents. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1998a): Globalization: The Human Consequences. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1998b): Work, Consumerism and the New Poor. Milton Keynes: Open University Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1998c): “On Glocalization: Or Globalization for Some, Localization for Others”. Thesis Eleven, 54:37-49. Bauman, Zygmunt (1999): In Search of Politics. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2001a): The Individualized Society. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2001b): Community: Seeking Safety in an Insecure World. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2002a): Society Under Siege. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2002b): “The Fate of Humanity in the Post-Trinitarian World”. Journal of Human Rights, 1 (3):283-303. Bauman, Zygmunt (2002c): “Reconnaissance Wars of the Planetary Frontierland”. Theory, Culture & Society, 19 (4):81-90. Bauman, Zygmunt (2003): Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2004): Wasted Lives: Modernity and Its Outcasts. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2005a): Liquid Life. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2005b): “The Demons of an Open Society”. Melting Modernity: The Ralph Miliband Lecture Series, London School of Economics, 20 October, Bauman, Zygmunt (2006): Liquid Fear. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2007): Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Bauman on Globalization


Bauman, Zygmunt & Lukasz Galecki (2005): “The Unwinnable War: An Interview with Zygmunt Bauman”. Open Democracy, 1 December, http://www. Beck, Ulrich (1992): Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. London: Sage Publications. Beilharz, Peter (ed.) (2001): The Bauman Reader. Oxford: Blackwell. Castells, Manuel (1996): The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, vol. 1: The Rise of the Network Society. Oxford: Blackwell. Davis, Mark (2008): Freedom and Consumption: A Critique of Zygmunt Bauman’s Sociology. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Ltd. Giddens, Anthony (1990): The Consequences of Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press. Habermas, Jürgen (1976): Legitimation Crisis. London: Heinemann. Harvey, David (1990): The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change. Oxford: Blackwell. Jacobsen, Michael Hviid (2006): “‘The Activating Presence’: What Prospects of Utopia in Times of Uncertainty?”. Polish Sociological Review, 3 (155):337-356. Jameson, Frederic (1991): Postmodernism, Or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. London: Verso. Robertson, Roland (1992): Globalization: Social Theory & Global Culture. London: Sage Publications. Sennett, Richard (1977): The Fall of Public Man. New York: Knopf. Tester, Keith (2004): The Social Thought of Zygmunt Bauman. London: Palgrave/ Macmillan. Waters, Malcolm (1995): Globalization. London: Routledge.

This page intentionally left blank

Chapter 8

Bauman on Strangers – Unwanted Peculiarities Niclas Månsson

Introduction In this chapter, I will focus on a theme Zygmunt Bauman stubbornly and continuously returns to in his work in order to disclose and understand the thoughts behind human estrangement, social marginalization, and cultural exclusion, namely the stranger. Bauman’s academic focus on the stranger can be traced as far back as to the late1950s or at least to the early 1960s (Marotta 2002). During the 1960s and the early 1970s, Bauman’s curiosity regarding the including and excluding processes of structuring, clearly inspired by the thoughts of Antonio Gramsci and Claude Lévi-Strauss, continued in articles such as “Marx and the Contemporary Theory of Culture” (1968), “Praxis: The Controversial Culture-Society Paradigm” (1972) and “The Structuralist Promise” (1973). This intellectual adventure spanning across social structures, culture, and identity, is nicely summed up in the 1973 book Culture and Praxis (Bauman 1999a), where the stranger makes her appearance as the dirt of the orderly and pure world. Through at least three decades – from Memories of Class (1982), via the trilogy of modernity (Bauman 1987, 1989a, 1991), the writings on postmodernity (Bauman 1993, 1995a, 1997), and the later writings, from Work, Consumerism and the New Poor (1998a) and Globalization: The Human Consequences (1998b), to Liquid Modernity (2000), Society Under Siege (2002) and Wasted Lives (2004) – Bauman has focused on the stranger and the social and cultural conditions by which she is understood either as a pariah or a parvenu. The focus on the social construction of the stranger and the different configurations in which the stranger might appear is also evident in a remarkable number of articles that has been published in various journals especially during the late 1980s and early 1990s, such as “Exit Visas and Entry Tickets: Paradoxes of Jewish Assimilation” (1988a), “Strangers: the Social Construction of Universality and Particularity” (1988b), “Making and Unmaking of Strangers” (1995b), and “From Pilgrim to Tourist – or a Short Story of Identity” (1996). In Bauman’s books and articles, the stranger tends to make her appearance as a member of the suffering classes, as a social outcast constantly kept at bay by society. Considering the extensiveness of Bauman’s work on the stranger, and the acknowledgement that his work on the stranger is highly relevant (e.g. Beilharz 1999; Smith 1999; Jacobsen 2004; Tester 2004), it seems somewhat odd that his work has


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

not been recognized more than has been the case in academic circles struggling with questions about social marginalization and cultural exclusion. However, while Bauman’s understanding of the social construction of the stranger is found missing in some work (e.g. Harman 1988; Tabboni 1995; Stichweh 1997), others frequently refer to his work (e.g. Dessewffy 1996; Diken 1998) in their efforts to understand the stranger as a specific sociological form. Although Bauman’s work on the stranger is used by some, the more analytical work on Bauman and the stranger is still rather limited. Some authors focus on the stranger as a frequent theme in his writings (Marotta 2002), or try to reconstruct Bauman’s understanding of the making of the stranger in order to use it in their research on normality and abnormality (Hughes 2002). Yet others use Bauman’s writings to explain why some social groups classify some other people and groups as strangers to find a deeper understanding of the institutional origins of social marginalization and cultural exclusion (Månsson 2005), or work towards an understanding of the awkward position the stranger is given by being the antipode of order and by showing how ambivalence forms itself in its relation to the stranger (Diken 2006). In order to give some sort of background from which it is possible to understand and appreciate Bauman’s notion of the stranger, I will in this chapter first place him within an academic context which dates from Georg Simmel’s presentation of Der Fremde in 1908 to the present. In the next part of the chapter, I discuss the social context in which strangers are constructed, before turning to the different kinds of strangers that appear throughout Bauman’s writings. In the concluding section, I discuss Bauman’s contribution to our understanding of the stranger and its implications on social theory. The Stranger as a Sociological Form Academic work on strangers often acknowledge Georg Simmel’s authority in formulating the stranger as a sociological ‘form’. Simmel (1950) defined the stranger as someone who might be accepted into a group or a society, but who nevertheless remains detached from it. A stranger, according to Simmel, is a person who is near and far at the same time. She is not a wanderer “who comes today and goes tomorrow”, but someone “who comes today and stays tomorrow” (Simmel 1950:402). For this reason, the stranger is not really perceived as an individual in her own right, but as a person of a certain type. The relationship between a stranger and her surroundings is an abstract one. This relation, Simmel continues, tends to have the effect of giving an extraordinary focus on what the stranger is not, namely what she does not share with the society in which she is located. Simmel’s understanding of the stranger as someone never fully absorbed into society, nor fully excluded from it, has had a powerful impact on American sociology as its key figures – such as Robert E. Park, Everett V. Stonequist, Margaret Mary Woods, and Alfred Schutz – all struggled to make sense of urban multiculturalism (Harman 1998). This somewhat classical tradition, which mainly focused on the quest for membership and the stranger’s relation to the host, used social types such as the immigrant, the visitor, and the guest worker to signify the stranger. This

Bauman on Strangers


tradition has, however, been criticized as being out of date. The main critique from a more modern reception is that the classical representations of the stranger are not compatible with the modern world at its current stage of social and cultural complexity. By referring to a pluralistic social environment, social interaction and mutual dependencies between people, a clarification and re-conceptualization starting during the 1970s and continued through the 1980s and 1990s placed the stranger in a highly pluralistic and multicultural social context (Harman 1988). In this latter discussion it is possible to separate two main positions. The first position (Harman 1988; Stichweh 1997) claims that, due to a pluralistic and multicultural world, we have seen the stranger for the last time. The other position (Simonetta 1995; Dessewffy 1996) is less plucky in its claims and recognizes the continued existence of deviant strangers (Månsson 2005). A more radical approach within this latter position is represented by Bülent Diken (1998), who seeks to understand the presence of strangers as part of the very society in which they live. This position acknowledges rather than denies the existence of ambivalence and ambiguity. If the modern society of today is understood as a highly differentiated social modality, difference ought to become something that constitutes the very basis of this society rather than something that is being confined to its margins. This argument, however, does not bring any joy or comfort to the stranger. According to Bauman (1995a), all societies produce strangers in this respect, and every society produces strangers in its own specific way. Strangers are found in multicultural societies where there should be no difference that makes a difference, as well as in homogeneous societies where it is easy to diverge from others. Since there is nothing natural about the stranger, she is not only produced by the specific social circumstance that surrounds her, she is also reproduced by those same circumstances. As a social relation, the category of the stranger is not fixed but unstable and mobile and varies from one social context to another. With the aid of Bauman’s way of understanding the world, it becomes evident that deviating strangers do still exist. The cosmopolite, the refugee, the immigrant, the vagabond and the tourist are all strangers since they carry the qualities of being on the move and not being of the place in which they find themselves. There are, however, certain important differences between these different types of strangers, differences attended to by Bauman. The ‘tourist’ is a voluntary traveller and can always return to her home, a luxury that is not shared by the ‘vagabond’. According to Bauman (1998b), the tourist can travel freely with few restrictions and is often welcomed upon arrival. Vagabonds, on the other hand, do not become wanderers by choice – they are often forced to travel due to war, poverty or persecution. While the cosmopolitan stands as a stranger in a place of her own choice, the immigrant stands as a newcomer among already established people. There is also a difference between the immigrant and the refugee; while the immigrant is looking for a home, the refugee is fleeing hers. In so far as strangers are a part of the social order, they will not disappear; neither through pragmatic statements nor by wishful thinking. Furthermore, the problem with strangeness cannot be reduced merely to a hermeneutical problem. The strangeness of the Other will not disappear even if I gain more knowledge of her strange language and strange customs (Bauman 1991).


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

What then does the social category of the ‘stranger’ mean? Strangers are not Kurds in Kurdistan, but Kurds in Sweden. Strangers are ethnic Ethiopians who are ‘Swedish’ in their language, have a Swedish passport or driving licence, and who went to school in Sweden. Strangers are the indigenous Sami who in their selfunderstanding are Sami but feel estranged in Sweden. These strangers all live in Sweden, yet they do not feel that they belong in Sweden. The difference between foreigners and strangers is that the former know where they belong, whereas the latter do not: In the native world-view, the essence of the stranger is homelessness. Unlike an alien or a foreigner, the stranger is not simply a newcomer, a person temporarily out of place. He is an eternal wanderer, homeless always and everywhere, without hope of ever ‘arriving’ (Bauman 1991:79).

Bauman’s stranger, like Simmel’s stranger, is both far away and near, a neighbour that is not like ‘us’, physically close but socially distant. The peculiar thing about Bauman’s stranger is that she is not anybody, but is indeed somebody. Hence, everyone is aware of the stranger’s existence; otherwise she would have disappeared in the faceless crowd with the rest of the population (Bauman 1991). The stranger is, in the writings of Bauman, not marked by particular existential propositions, but is a product of her position respectively in modern or postmodern societies. Standing as an undecidable among already clear-cut categories, strangers produce fear in the hearts of those who belong by their very and endemic position of being in but not of a given society. Due to their ambivalent position, strangers become unwanted peculiarities who are constantly kept at bay since they are considered to be viruses within and parasites upon a host body. Creating Order, Making Strangers According to Bauman (1999a), culture is an expression of human beings’ meaningcreating and order-creating activities. Our structuring effort, as human beings, is thereby explained as a praxis through which we are structuring the world in order to understand it. We acquire knowledge of the world through arranging things in groups and groups in relation to each other, and from this ordering praxis a given social order is produced and reproduced. Human beings do not only shape the world, they are also shaped by it. Ontologically speaking, structuring is inherent in the human capacity to order the world: “Being structured and being capable of structuring seem to be the twin-kernels of the human way of life, known as culture” (Bauman 1999b:39). Furthermore, Bauman (1989b) informs his readers that the structuring activities through which we shape and reshape the social world are by no means symmetrical or innocent processes and argues that some people are more likely to be structuring the world and some are more likely to be structured by it. The degree of control one group (those who structure) has over another group (those who become structured) depends, in other words, on how much the behaviour of the other side can be determined and predicted.

Bauman on Strangers


Through Bauman’s examination of culture it becomes clear that the establishment of any given order, social and cultural, is not only a way in which human’s structure their world in their efforts to make sense of it, it is also connected to their sense of belonging (Bauman 1999a, 1999b). It is, in other words, from culture as a structuring activity that we acquire the collective identity so vital for our sense of belonging; that is, by relating my sense of belonging to an imagined community, such as a nation or a social class, or a concrete community, such as a tribe or an association. Through this identifying praxis we not only find a place in the world but also a way to determine if another individual belongs to a certain community or not: either she belongs to an in-group or she belongs to an out-group. The in-group stands for the friends, community, and proximity with others. The in-group constitutes a collective ‘we’ that considers the out-group which constitutes a collective ‘they’ as the enemy, or outsiders, who are to be held at a distance (Bauman 1991, 1999a). This relationship is a part of the social order in so far as ordering means classifying and separating, and is fundamental in Bauman’s understanding of the social world: Indeed, a graduated nature of ‘we-ness’ and ‘they-ness’, if at all imaginable, would undermine the very foundation of the human-orientation-of-the-world. ‘We’ play with each other a non-zero-sum-game, or at least try or pretend to, while with ‘them’ the zerosum-game is what is to be expected as well as desired. ‘We’ share the same fate, grow rich together or get destitute together, while ‘they’ prey on our calamities and are hurt by our success. ‘We’ are supposed to assist each other, while ‘they’ lie in wait for our lapse. ‘We’ understand each other, feel the same feelings and think the same thoughts, while ‘they’ remain impenetrable, incomprehensible, sinister aliens (Bauman 1999a:102).

This order-making and meaning-making activity involves an asymmetrical as well as a symmetrical relationship. One group subordinates another in order to control the social world; at the same time this group is dependent upon the subordinate group in order to legitimate its own power. Ordering, then, is a double praxis that includes both a structuring activity that makes sense of the world and a classifying effort that separates different groups from each other in order to control the reproduction of a given society. The presence of strangers cannot, however, be associated only with social and cultural diversity. According to Bauman (1991, 1999a), the presence of strangers has a much more complex effect on processes of social and cultural differentiation. Strangers do not constitute a separate group based on social, cultural or ethnic similarities; strangeness involves a separating process that works above and through social and cultural differentiation. Hence the social construction of an in-group and an out-group is different from the social making of strangers. Instead, strangers are constructed in the ambivalent position between the in-group and the out-group, a predicament that makes them the very antipode of social order as such (Bauman 1991, 1995b). Strangers appear, in other words, as a third and liminal category that falls betwixt and between conventions, customs and clear-cut categories. This category of undecidables, rather than mere unfamiliars, consists, according to Bauman, of individuals and groups standing on the threshold or transcending the boundaries between well-defined in-groups and out-groups. The difference between an out-


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

group and a stranger is that the in-group knows that the out-group is kept at a safe distance on the other side of the border. Strangers, on the other hand, violate that border by standing on the threshold of both worlds. Hence, strangers embody the non-position that exists in the space between given categories, such as us and them, friends and enemies, proximity and remoteness, sameness and difference: The stranger comes into the life-world and settles here, and so – unlike the case of mere ‘unfamiliars’ – it becomes relevant whether he is a friend or a foe. He made his way into the life-world uninvited, thereby casting me on the receiving side of his initiative, making me into the object of an action of which he is the subject: all this, as we remember, is a notorious mark of the enemy. Yet, unlike other, ‘straightforward’ enemies, he is not kept at a secure distance, nor on the other side of the battle line. Worse still, he claims a right to be an object of responsibility – the well-known attribute of the friend. If we press upon him the friend/enemy opposition, he would come out simultaneously under- and overdetermined (Bauman 1991:59).

In this respect, a stranger brings the outside into the inside and becomes a ‘neither/ nor’ being, who violates one of society’s most profound ‘either/or’ constructions. And, since the stranger appears as a liminal category between two already established categories, she is an inevitable by-product of a given social order. The Making of Modern Strangers As depicted by Bauman (1993, 1995b), modern society is very much a world of strangers. Modernity usually refers to a historical period starting in Western Europe in the 17th century and implies a series of profound cultural, economic and administrative rationalizations and differentiations of the social world. Furthermore, modernity represents the intellectual and cultural heritage of the Enlightenment project, namely the rejection of traditional and religious sources of authority in favour of reason and knowledge on the road towards human emancipation (Bauman 1987). The modern project did not emancipate the individual from the structures of society, but placed her in another type of social fabric. Bauman’s view of modernity is primarily developed through Max Weber’s understanding of the modern society as an iron cage (Bauman 1982) and through Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno’s critique of the Enlightenment and the self-destructive potential of modern civilization (Bauman 1991). In his writings, Bauman uses the Fordist model, the social contract which bound workers to employers, and the rise of nationalism to explain the transformation from a premodern to a modern society (Bauman 1982, 1998a, 2001). According to the Enlightenment master-plan, modern man was supposed to become a member of society by embracing the abstract values of work and nation. The nation expressed a sense of belonging to something bigger than its separate parts, and the social class structure, based on work, determined one’s place in the social hierarchical order. As Bauman (1998a, 2000) explains, when work becomes the norm in a producer society, it also gives people identity and a sense of purpose. Work was also considered as “a collective effort of which every single member of humankind had to partake”

Bauman on Strangers


(Bauman 2000:137). Using the Fordist factory as a metaphor for the imagined unity between capital and labour, Bauman highlights the relationship between capital and work: Solid modernity was, indeed, also the time of heavy capitalism – of the engagement between capital and labour fortified by the mutuality of their dependency. Workers depended on being hired for their livelihood; capital depended on hiring them for its reproduction and growth (Bauman 2000:145).

Those who controlled capital, in a society of producers, were more likely to be in the position to structure rather than to be structured, while workers’ capacity to structure were rather limited, and they were therefore more likely to be structured. This mutual but hierarchical relationship between capital and work is a part of the modern social order. In order to guide and monitor human conduct, a change in the type of social power had to occur that focused on the management of people rather than on the management of surplus: The power reached now towards the body and the soul of its subjects. It wished to regulate, to legislate, to tell the right from the wrong, the norm from deviance, the ‘ought’ from the ‘is’. It wanted to impose one ubiquitous pattern of normality and eliminate everything and everybody which the pattern could not fit (Bauman 1982:41).

Following Michel Foucault and using the metaphor of the Panopticon, Bauman describes a type of disciplinary power that controls and administers labour itself, through the factory. However, the disciplinary function of the factory sought to control not only workers within the factory. According to Bauman, the system reaches even the master-less women and men, or the dangerous classes, the mobile vulgus, which have not yet been immobilized by the factory walls, since the new system of social control made them more visible: ‘Dangerous classes’ and the ‘dark districts’ of the town must have had something to do with the obsessive fear of darkness, invisibility, opacity; and the overwhelming wish to pierce the mist enveloping crowded new cities, to place the people in a space so organized that whatever they did was immediately visible, and visible so clearly that the people themselves were aware of their openness to public gaze, and would therefore refrain from performing acts which they would not enjoy being seen to do (Bauman 1982:49).

The modern control of the masses is thereby developed simultaneously through the will to power and the fear of the Other. When Bauman explains the new modern form of social control, the Other of producer society is not represented by the worker but the ‘flawed worker’ (Månsson 2005). It has to be pointed out that the notion of the ‘flawed worker’ is not a metaphor used by Bauman. I do, however, think it is equivalent to the ‘flawed consumer’ that Bauman uses in order to explain the Other of consumer society (Bauman 1998a). Successful workers are administered and controlled by the disciplinary power of the work ethic. Flawed workers, on the other hand, are the by-products of producer society and fall between the relationship of capital and work: when work becomes the normal condition, being out of work becomes “an abnormality” (Bauman 2000:137).


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

Just like work, the nation served as an identifying mark since it offered a readymade identity to each and every one of its members, a nationality (Bauman 1989a). According to Bauman’s argument on culture, the nation created a sense of belonging by separating its own members from those of another group since they shared a different language, different cultural symbols, and a different geographic territory. In a world neatly divided into nations and nation-states, people without nations become strangers: In a world fully and exhaustively divided into national domains, there was no space left for internationalism, and each scrap of the no-man’s-land had become a standing invitation to aggression. The world tightly packed with nations and nation-states abhorred the non-national void. Jews were in such a void: they were such a void (Bauman 1989a:53; original emphasis).

The Jew became the perfect stranger of modern society since she could not fit the category of the foreigner or that of the native. A Jew in England was not English, a Jew in France was not French, and a Jew in Germany was not German, and yet they were not foreigners. Being both/and, rather than either/or, Jews found themselves falling between the borders that separated different nations from each other. The Jew’s ability to upset boundaries and oppositions by being both an outsider and an insider produced the ambivalence that found its apotheosis in the figure of a ‘conceptual Jew’, in order to visualize “the horrifying consequences of boundarytransgression”. Furthermore, the “conceptual Jew carried a message; alternative to this order here and now is not another order, but chaos and devastation” (Bauman 1989a:39; original emphasis). By separating Jews from everybody else, it became easier to control and finally to exterminate them. The fear of the Other is, in this perspective, based on the fear of introducing impurity and disorder into the social body: “Like all other weeds, they [Jews] must be segregated, contained, prevented from spreading, and kept outside the society’s boundaries; if all these means provide insufficient, they must be killed” (Bauman 1989a:92). In order to uphold and control a certain social order, it becomes quite clear that the modern project could not coexist with strangers, and yet it could, paradoxically, not exist without them either. Bauman, however, has taken the notion of the ‘conceptual Jew’ as an incarnation of ambivalence in general and used it as a concept to understand strangers in the modern world. The ‘conceptual Jew’ includes not only Jewish people but takes into account all liminal individuals and groups falling between two well-defined groups, while not belonging to any of them (Bauman 1995a). The aforementioned ‘flawed worker’ can, at least in this respect, easily be identified as a ‘conceptual Jew’, since this kind of stranger also stands for all that defies the order of things. When the dream of a rationally ordered solid modern society transformed into a liquid and globalized consumer society, the values of work and nation lost their unifying power. In depicting the rise of postmodern strangers, Bauman replaces the figure of the ‘conceptual Jew’ with that of the ‘vagabond’ (Bauman 1996, 1998b).

Bauman on Strangers


The Making of Postmodern Strangers Throughout Bauman’s writings it becomes quite evident that supposedly temporary, yet annoyingly stubborn and persistent, irritants like ambivalence, plurality, incongruity and uncertainty would not be overcome through modernity’s obsession and infatuation with order. Can a postmodern world, characterized by more fluid or flexible social and cultural boundaries, offer any alternative ways to handle the temporary irritants and afflictions of modernity? Although Bauman (1992) initially described postmodernity as having a potentiality to embrace, or at least to deal with, ambivalence, plurality, incongruity and uncertainty, his recent work shows that the world is not yet hospitable to strangers. In accordance with a more liquid modern outlook, new social categories emerge and develop, which in turn constitute the foundation for the re-making of deviating strangers. If the social Other was represented by the ‘flawed worker’ in industrial society, the social Other in consumer society is now represented by the ‘flawed consumer’, or the ‘new poor’. Since capital is, just like in the days of the society of producers, in control of the market, the people who control the capital are more likely to structure the social order than to be structured by it. This hierarchical position makes capital belong to the collective ‘we’ which controls and governs other people’s actions. Since consumers are ordered in accordance with the structures (and demands) of the market, they fulfil the criteria for belonging to a collective ‘they’. In a consumer world that is organized around consumer freedom and access to the market, those who are unable to exercise their freedom will be recognized as the Other of consumer society (Bauman 1998a). Another postmodern stranger, ‘the non-voluntary traveller’, makes her appearance through the consequences of the globalization process (Bauman 1998b). Just as the ability to consume decides who or what a person is, access to the global space decides where a person is located in the social hierarchy of the global world order. According to Bauman, the process of globalization cannot proceed without segregation, separation, polarization and exclusion. In a world where access to the global space and mobility constitute the basis for the most significant type of social stratifications, the world is divided into globals and locals, or voluntary and nonvoluntary travellers, into which the latter categories fall the new strangers. Either they are not permitted to leave their place, or they are forced to leave it, an experience well known and shared amongst unwanted indigenous minorities all over the world who find themselves in a state of constant homelessness. Since strangers are often denied access to other already populated places and given that they are (most likely) flawed consumers, they also become useless to a consumer society. Bauman (2002, 2004) paints a gloomy picture indeed when he states that flawed consumers and non-voluntary travellers are not only the Others of consumer society, they are also its waste products. As human waste, they represent the unwanted peculiarities that linger at the gates of the orderly society. The decline of the nation-state does not mean that the culture of exclusion has ceased to exist in postmodern society. Modernity’s struggle to create unity and uniformity has, according to Bauman (1999b), not disappeared; it has only changed forms from universal claims to particular ones. In the postmodern pluralistic world,


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

there are large numbers of communitarian movements that, on different grounds – ranging from religion, ethnicity, ideology and nationality, on the one hand, to membership in certain groups or associations, on the other hand – offer a sense of belonging to a community that transcends the individual, since it is greater and stronger than its constituent parts. As a consequence of the communitarian division of the life-world, the new strangers, whom Bauman (2002) with some help from Jacques Derrida identifies as ‘undecidables’, emerge in the borderland between existing in-groups and out-groups. These strangers exist in a constant limbo between the promise of social integration and the threat of being subjected to the praxis of cultural hierarchization and social marginalization. Moreover, even if national soil and national blood have ceased to function as given criteria for our sense of belonging in a multicultural and plural society, Bauman (1999b) reminds his readers that the thought of the greatness of the nation is still with us. The nation is still an important entity not only for national events such as the national championship in football or the Eurovision song contest, but also when the nation experiences an increasing influx of immigrants, refugees, or guest workers. One of the characteristic features in a contemporary Western multicultural and pluralistic society is that it is constituted by an ideological construction which obscures its homogeneous ground. The dominant culture is working as the centre from which the similarities and differences of other cultures can be measured, accepted or repelled. The prevailing opinion of normality belongs to the members of the majority and works as a weapon to legitimate a certain vision of the social order (Bauman 1999c). The three new types of strangers described above – the flawed consumer, the non-voluntary traveller and the undecidable – are, however, just different expressions of the same postmodern social type, namely the ‘vagabond’ (Bauman 1996, 1998b). The concept shares the same characteristics as the ‘conceptual Jew’, such as homelessness and rootlessness, characteristics that have now been extended to non-Jewish communities (Bauman 1995a). They embody different, ambivalent and worthless people who are being denied equal access to society since they are considered to be deviant. Along with the strangers whom the postmodern world inherited from modernity, these unwanted peculiarities represent a growing category of the new poor which includes, among others, unemployed people, welfare mothers, homeless people, beggars, housing project tenants, illegal immigrants, refugees, and indigenous minorities, all carrying different religions, ethnicities and nationalities. The world is now increasingly full of unwanted strangers, and as Bauman (2004) pointedly illustrates, in postmodern society the proper place for such useless people seems to be out of sight. Living With Strangers According to Bauman (1989a), strangers did not make so much of a fuss in the premodern world. Premodern strangers were socially and culturally distant and therefore seldom a worry or a menace to society. But unlike their modern heirs, premodern strangers were also physically distant. They were visitors “who come

Bauman on Strangers


today and go tomorrow”, rather than settlers “who come today and stay tomorrow” (Simmel 1950:402). From the perspective of community, it was easier to live with strangers in the premodern world, where the unknown became known through every one belonging to a designated community. Jews, although known as outsiders, were just one community among many, and there was no, or little, social interaction between the Jewish community and other communities (Bauman 1989a). The interaction most likely related to financial matters and limited to the market and passing trade, the kind of interaction that rarely threatened the social world of the host community or the social fabric of society: The accommodation was possible because of the relatively low intensity of tension and conflict generated by the boundary-drawing and boundary-maintaining processes. But it was also made easier by the segmentary structure of premodern society and the normality of separation between the segments (Bauman 1989a:35).

It was not until modernity, solid modernity, that we were forced to live with strangers in our midst. Modern life is city life, and as depicted by Bauman (1995a:130), it is a “life among strangers”. When strangers become a rule rather than an exception to the rule, they are no longer physically distant. When Bauman (1993, 1995a) discusses different ways modern society deals with strangers, he to a large extent follows Claude Lévi-Strauss by mentioning the anthropogenic and the anthropoemic approaches. An anthropogenic strategy deals with strangers by devouring or swallowing them up. This is the assimilating strategy of making strangers similar to us. If it is possible to make the unknown known and to reduce their strangeness there is a chance for them to live in a place to which they initially did not belong. The second strategy, anthropoemic, vomits out strangers, keeps them outside of society or encloses them in specially designed institutions or ghettos. This is the major tactic of exclusion. If a group of strangers is impossible to assimilate, it has to be removed or made invisible, and kept at a secure distance behind mental or physical walls, preferably both. By using excluding and assimilating strategies simultaneously, modernity tried to create a world free from strangers. The modern effort to keep the social world free from incongruity led to a rationalized and bureaucratized form of barbarism, which cannot be understood outside the ordering tendencies and technical achievements of modernity. The modern state violence that sponsored the genocide of unwanted people was produced by its unique cultural and historical conditions and was carried out through the will-to-order (Bauman 1989a, 1991). The negative consequences of human praxis, which is possible to distinguish through the separating logic of an either/or identity that excludes any third possibility, have, however, not disappeared in the postmodern society. Even if the postmodern world has, more or less, abandoned the assimilation strategy, its inhabitants have not been relieved of it’s excluding efforts. Three strategies are put forth by Bauman in order to explain the way women and men live with strangers in a postmodern world: mismeeting, the formation of ghettos, and confining to camps. First, by developing the ‘technique of mismeeting’, Bauman explains how it is possible to allocate strangers “to the spheres of disattention, the sphere within which all conscious contact, and above all a conduct which may be recognized by him as a


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

conscious contact, is studiously avoided” (Bauman 1993:154). Meeting a stranger is not like meeting a friend or an acquaintance, and through this technique it is possible for us to meet a stranger without actually developing any relation to her, a relation that might force us to consider her well-being or develop moral responsibility for the plight of the stranger. The second, and perhaps more obvious, approach to keep strangers at bay is to construct so-called ‘voluntary and non-voluntary ghettos’ (a strategy probably known among indigenous as well as foreign national minorities). The voluntary ghetto is not a ‘real ghetto’, as Bauman observes: “The real ghettos are places from which their insiders cannot get out”, while the main reason to establish voluntary ghettos “is to bar outsiders from going in – the insiders are free to go out at will” (Bauman 2001:116-117). This second strategy, that will either prevent strangers from entering somebody’s home or to stop them from leaving their own home, has become “an organic part of the waste-disposal mechanism set in motion in times when the poor are no longer of use as a ‘reserve army of producers’ and have become instead flawed, and for that reason also useless, consumers” (Bauman 2001:120). Living as strangers within, but not as people of the orderly world, they will be bound to be the unwanted peculiarities in our midst. The third strategy (well known among refugees), is to send the stranger to a place from which there is no return (Bauman 2002), a place commonly identified as ‘the camp’: The camps are artifices made permanent through blocking the exits. The inmates cannot go back ‘where they came from’ – the country they left do not want them back, their livelihoods have been destroyed and their homes burned or stolen. But there is no road forward either: no government would gladly see an influx of homeless millions. And their new ‘permanently temporary’ location, the refugees are ‘in it, but not of it’. They do not truly belong to the country on whose territory their huts are assembled and tents pitched. They are separated from the rest of the host country by the invisible, but thick and impenetrable veil of suspicion and resentment. They are suspended in a spatial void in which time has ground to a halt. They are neither settled nor on the move, they are neither sedentary nor nomads. In terms in which the humanity of humans is narrated, they are ineffable. They are Jacques Derrida’s ‘undecidables’ made flesh (Bauman 2002:113).

In sum, then, Bauman claims that at the very heart of modernity one will find a vision of an orderly world through which society can be understood in terms of its need to establish order. This ordering effort or ambition leads to the imposition of social, cultural and symbolic boundaries through which it is possible to exclude anyone who comes to symbolize disorder by being strange. To be defined as a stranger, is to be defined as the antithesis of modern order. Even if the postmodern world rests upon more particularistic grounds rather than universal foundations, modern and postmodern communities are constructed by way of an almost identical architectural ideal: to achieve secure social homogeneity within their own borders. Both modern and postmodern ways of living with strangers are thereby not about acknowledging the stranger as a third category against, violating or transcending two already defined categories. The construction of strangers and the assessment of their resources and shortcomings derive from the critical gaze of the normatively established group.

Bauman on Strangers


Being a stranger then means that nothing is given to you, nothing comes for free – not even the right to self-definition. The Choices We Make In this concluding section, I would like to reflect upon what Zygmunt Bauman’s sociological perspective may offer our understanding of the stranger as a sociological form. Bauman’s work on the subject teaches us that we tend to overlook the fact that we create our own strangers. The strangers we create are the same people we refuse to recognize as fellow human beings. They are the waste products of the same world that denies them entry visas. Bauman’s “stranger is constantly ante portas, but it is the declared presence of the stranger, of a stranger conspiring to trespass, to break in and invade, that makes the gate tangible” (Bauman 1995a:136). In this respect, strangers represent people who are denied their rightful access to society and symbolize not only an alternative identity but a threatening counter-identity to the prevailing one. Since this counter-identity is a product of society’s own ordering ambitions, the image of the stranger reconstructed and reproduced through time is an illustrative anti-model exposing the ambivalence inherent in those constructing it. Bauman makes it quite clear that the social making of the stranger does not stem from an arbitrary and isolated adventure but is part and parcel of a cultivating and order-building strategy which excludes a third possibility. The stranger is there to remind us that the mechanism of social marginalization and cultural exclusion works against people who are defined as other, as too different and hence too difficult to handle. Even if Bauman’s stranger is a predominantly negative figure, an archetype which most people are likely to defend themselves against, and even if Bauman often guides the reader through the dark side of the world, the vision he offers is not entirely negative. Through a reinterpretation of the world where the familiar becomes unfamiliar and the unfamiliar becomes familiar, Bauman finds hope for humanity in one of modernity’s greatest fears – ambivalence. Bauman’s critique of the modern understanding of living together might be summed up in the following way: Modern reason has since the dawn of Enlightenment been guided by the postulate that there is and ought to be a rational order in and structure to the world. This Enlightenment tradition, resting upon a certain rational aspect of understanding, claims that there is a link between universalism, rationalism and an orderly society. The judgements and the choices that we make are all part of the history of this modern tradition. The very fact that we are able to judge and make choices not only presupposes that we are a part of a tradition which makes it possible for us to do that; it also means that we tend to embrace, rather than to criticize, the very tradition that guides the choices we make. Since this tradition focuses on the rational side of human interaction, a modern and well-ordered society can only work well when people know one another, understand one another, and get along nicely. By using the logic of modern reason and focusing on the tradition that makes it possible for us to judge and make choices in a certain way, Bauman comes to the conclusion that there is no room for ambivalence in a modern and wellordered society. Ambivalence feels uncomfortable; it feels like disorder. The idea


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

that ambivalence is dangerous to society and to social progress is “the substance of modern politics, of modern intellect, of modern life” (Bauman 1991:7). But, as Bauman explains, ambivalence is not an alternative to order, it is part and parcel of ordering activities, endemic to the human condition: Ambivalence is what all ordering activity is sworn and set and hoped to eliminate. Ambivalence is the cause of all ordering concerns: life-business needs clarity about the situation and certainty about the choices and their consequences, and it is precisely the absence of that clarity and that certainty which rebounds as ambivalence, triggering an effort to introduce order – that is to clear the mess: to confine every object and every situation to their own category and the only category of their own – and so to make the obscure transparent and the confused straightforward. But ambivalence is also the effect of ordering bustle. The production of order has its toxic waste, a vain attempt to impose discrete classes upon non-discrete time/space. Inevitably, therefore, all classification must have its leftovers which span the sacrosanct divide between the classes; no filling is neat and complete enough to do without cross-references and a thick file labelled ‘miscellaneous’ that pokes fun at the serious business of filing; and no garden design, however shrewd, can avoid recasting some plants as weeds. There is hardly a couple as divorce-proof as that of order and ambivalence. Ambivalence is the one enemy without which order cannot live (Bauman 1995a:213-214).

Ambivalence is thereby understood as an inherent and integral part of an ordermaking process which constantly calls for ever more classifying efforts. In this respect, and as Bülent Diken (2006) explains in his lucid account on the theme, ambivalence presents itself as a stranger in its relation to the structures of a given society. As incarnations of ambivalence, then, strangers become the main victim of modernity’s will-to-order. Modernity’s efforts to keep the world free from ambivalence have, however, not disappeared in the postmodern society where the quest for order “expresses itself daily in punitive action against the residents of mean streets and no-go urban areas, vagabonds and layabouts” (Bauman 1997:16). The tension between our will-to-order and strangers, described and discussed in this chapter, might never be dissolved once and for all. Considering the pain or suffering our will-to-order has caused strangers, we would do better not to construe our lives with strangers as a problem, but as a quest for humanity. With a focus on the unfamiliar and the atypical, rather than on the familiar and the typical, Bauman’s work not only make it clear that we do not get more human by purging ambivalence, he also encourages his readers to take an active stance against social injustice and human suffering. One of Bauman’s main contributions to the sociology of the stranger is that his work draws attention to a different stranger-relation not observed in the classic and contemporary literature represented by the two different positions I outlined in the second part of this chapter. According to Bauman, our relationship to strangers is not primarily based on social conventions, but on the pristine source of our moral duty, “the essential human responsibility for the Other” (Bauman 1989a:199). We have a moral obligation for the well-being of strangers. This moral responsibility will not be spoken through social norms and values and cannot be reduced merely to a social relation. Social guidelines do not help because they might be misleading and place social conventions before my moral obligation towards the Other.

Bauman on Strangers


If society is to decide what is moral and what is immoral, it would, for example, be immoral to interfere when someone is subjected to any kind of violence as long as this violence does not diverge from social conventions (Bauman 1989a, 1993). Instead of accepting Thomas Hobbes’ proposition that humans are basically nasty or John Locke’s understanding of man as a ‘tabula rasa’, Bauman argues that the question of human nature is not relevant. We do, however, as human beings, possess a potential for being moral. Paradoxically, this moral potential, expressed in a responsibility for the well-being of the Other, which seems to occur beyond, or rather before the constitution of society, cannot appear anywhere else but in society: Moral behaviour is conceivable only in the context of coexistence, of ‘being with others’, that is, a social context; but this does not owe its appearance to the presence of supraindividual agencies of training and enforcement, that is, of a social context (Bauman 1989a:179).

By claiming that society does not produce moral behaviour, Bauman challenges the “canon of sociological wisdom”, namely that “man is a moral being only because he lives in society” (Bauman 1989a:171-172). From this argument, it follows that society produces and reproduces a certain understanding of what it means to be moral. This socializing process, which Bauman (1989a:169) describes as “the social production of immoral behaviour”, obscures rather than illuminates the moral conditions for human togetherness by stating that we have no other obligations for the well-being of other people than that which society defines. As suggested by Bauman (1993), living together does not only involve social conventions, it also expresses a moral relationship, which is required to meet many needs; presupposing them is my moral choice to meet the Other in her own right by sharing her world. Sharing the world with the Other is a relation of moral proximity in which a stranger is transformed from a pre-given social category to a moral being. Without proximity there would be no human togetherness, but it is up to me and no one else whether I approach strangers as moral beings or not. In this respect, we are not nor can we be deprived of our moral potential. If we can manage to live up to our moral responsibility for the well-being of other people is not by all means certain, since the extension of my moral potential has its obstacles. Tribes, nations, religions, ideologies and so forth are proven to be important sources for redirecting our moral responsibility for the Other, for the stranger, towards loyalty to a community. We can make other people suffer on behalf of our community. When we believe that we share a common identity with a particular community, we tend to assume that we are developing a moral responsibility towards ‘our’ people and not people outside ‘our’ community. This relationship is, however, based on social rules of conduct, and has nothing to do with our moral potential since it makes the Other morally distant even if she is physically close. The moral pathos throughout Bauman’s writings tells us that a given society cannot claim to respect humanity as long as people, due to their strangeness or otherness, are denied their rightful access to society, or when some people are allowed more rights than their fellow beings. The well-being of other people has its ultimate origins in the meeting with the Other, and the “chance of human togetherness depends on the rights of the


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

stranger, not on the question of who – the state or the tribe – is entitled to decide who the strangers are” (Bauman 1997:33). The chance of ‘human togetherness’ does not suggest that we have to surrender our collective identity. Rather, it is about a willingness to embrace a stranger as a representation of herself, instead of treating her as an unwanted peculiarity constantly out of place. This is a rather difficult endeavour, since living with strangers means living with ambivalence, but this is precisely the challenge to humanity that Bauman offer. Bibliography Bauman, Zygmunt (1968): “Marx and the Contemporary Theory of Culture”. Social Science Information, 7 (3):69-80. Bauman, Zygmunt (1972): “Praxis: The Controversial Culture-Society Paradigm”, in Teodor Shanin (ed.): Rules of the Game: Cross-Disciplinary Essays in Scholarly Thought. London: Tavistock. Bauman, Zygmunt (1973): “The Structuralist Promise”. The British Journal of Sociology, 24 (1):67-83. Bauman, Zygmunt (1982): Memories of Class: The Pre-History and After-Life of Class. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Bauman, Zygmunt (1987): Legislators and Interpreters: On Modernity, Postmodernity and Intellectuals. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1988a): “Exit Visas and Entry Tickets: Paradoxes of Jewish Assimilation”. Telos, 77:45-77. Bauman, Zygmunt (1988b): “Strangers: The Social Construction of Universality and Particularity”. Telos, 78:7-42. Bauman, Zygmunt (1989a): Modernity and the Holocaust. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1989b): “Hermeneutics and Modern Social Theory”, in David Held & John B. Thompson (eds.): Social Theory of Modern Societies: Giddens and His Critics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1991): Modernity and Ambivalence. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1992): Intimations of Postmodernity. London: Routledge. Bauman, Zygmunt (1993): Postmodern Ethics. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Bauman, Zygmunt (1995a): Life in Fragments: Essays in Postmodern Morality. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Bauman, Zygmunt (1995b): “Making and Unmaking of Strangers”. Thesis Eleven, 43:1-16. Bauman, Zygmunt (1996): “From Pilgrim to Tourist – or a Short Story of Identity”, in Stuart Hall & Paul du Gay (eds.): Questions of Cultural Identity. London: Sage Publications. Bauman, Zygmunt (1997): Postmodernity and its Discontents. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1998a): Work, Consumerism and the New Poor. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

Bauman on Strangers


Bauman, Zygmunt (1998b): Globalization: The Human Consequences. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1999a): Culture as Praxis, 2nd edition. London: Sage Publications (Originally published in 1973). Bauman, Zygmunt (1999b): “Introduction”, in Culture as Praxis, 2nd edition. London: Sage Publications. Bauman, Zygmunt (1999c): In Search of Politics. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2000): Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2001): Community: Seeking Safety in an Insecure World. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2002): Society Under Siege. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2004): Wasted Lives: Modernity and its Outcasts. Cambridge: Polity Press. Beilharz, Peter (1999): Zygmunt Bauman: Dialectic of Modernity. London: Sage Publications. Dessewffy, Tibor (1996): “Strangerhood without Boundaries: An Essay in the Sociology of Knowledge”. Poetics Today, 17 (4):599-615. Diken, Bülent (1998): Strangers, Ambivalence and Social Theory. Aldershot: Ashgate. Diken, Bülent (2006): “Ambivalens som udgangspunkt for Zygmunt Baumans sociologi”, in Michael Hviid Jacobsen & Poul Poder (eds.): Om Bauman – kritiske essays. Copenhagen: Hans Reitzels Forlag. Harman, Lesley D. (1988): The Modern Stranger: On Language and Membership. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. Hughes, Bill (2002): “Bauman’s Strangers: Impairment and the Invalidation of Disabled People in Modern and Post-Modern Cultures”. Disability and Society, 17 (5):571-584. Jacobsen, Michael Hviid (2004): Zygmunt Bauman: Den postmoderne dialektik. Copenhagen: Hans Reitzels Forlag. Marotta, Vince (2002): “Zygmunt Bauman: Order, Strangerhood and Freedom”. Thesis Eleven, 70:36-54. Månsson, Niclas (2005): Negativ socialization: Främlingen i Zygmunt Baumans författarskap. PhD dissertation, Acta Universitats Upsaliensis, Uppsala Studies in Education no. 108. Simmel, Georg (1950): “The Stranger”, in Kurt H. Wolff (ed.): The Sociology of Georg Simmel. New York: Free Press. Smith, Dennis (1999): Zygmunt Bauman: Prophet of Postmodernity. Cambridge: Polity Press. Stichweh, Rudolf (1997): “The Stranger – On the Sociology of Difference”. Thesis Eleven, 51:1-16. Tabboni, Simonetta (1995): “The Stranger and Modernity: From Equality of Rights to Recognition of Difference”. Thesis Eleven, 43:17-27. Tester, Keith (2004): The Social Thoughts of Zygmunt Bauman. London: Palgrave/ Macmillan.

This page intentionally left blank

PART 4 Politics

This page intentionally left blank

Chapter 9

Bauman on Politics – Stillborn Democracy Mikael Carleheden

Introduction The notion that we live in a society characterised by freedom and democracy is in the West an important part of the political self-understanding. A symptomatic example is the first official comment made by George W. Bush after the 9/11 terrorist attack in the United States: “Freedom itself was attacked this morning”. This kind of selfunderstanding is also often the basis for research on politics. To be sure, there is often talk about a crisis of democracy. Such talk implies, however, that until very recently we lived in a less critical condition, and that we – despite some minor needs for corrections and reforms – still find ourselves in a democratic society. It is striking the extent to which Zygmunt Bauman dissociates himself from such a political self-understanding. The rule of law and democracy is almost non-existent in his description of the functioning and historical development of modern society. Bauman is rather influenced by Michel Foucault: And although, in a formal way, the representative regime makes it possible … for the will of all to form the fundamental authority of sovereignty, the disciplines provide, at the base, a guarantee of the submission of forces and bodies (Foucault 1979:222).

Just as Foucault, Bauman considers that what happens ‘at the base’ to be of greater bearing on the conditions of human life and that this presents a considerably darker image of society than the brighter legal-political formalities ‘at the top’. Thus, the immediate connection between freedom and democracy, on the one hand, and modernity, on the other, is broken – a connection which has been prevalent in political thinking since the Enlightenment. This opens up for a research perspective which analyzes the contradictions between democracy and other types of modern institutions such as industrialism, bureaucracy and commercialism. Exploitation and subordination are not then considered to be premodern relicts persisting into the modern era, meaning instead that the ‘crisis of democracy’ needs to be understood as deeply rooted in the contradictory structure of modern society. Bauman has linked together a political focus on the informal institutions of modern society with a diagnosis of the structural transformation of this society – something that Foucault was incapable of due to the simple fact that he died too early. This diagnosis finds that modern society under the last decades of the 20th century has been transformed from a ‘solid’ to a ‘liquid’ epoch (Bauman 2000).

The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman


This thesis hardly means that we have gone from darkness to light, but rather that one kind of darkness has been replaced by another. The surveillance society of solid modernity has been transformed into a consumer society and the prospect of democracy has, if anything, been further deteriorated by this transformation. My aim in this chapter is to show that we have a lot to learn from such an epochal diagnosis, also in a political context, but also that Bauman’s version tends to lead social criticism into a dead-end due to the unnecessarily great contrast that is made between ideal and reality. In direct contrast to what Bauman himself views as ‘the paramount task’ and ‘the calling of sociology’ (Bauman 2001:13), his political sociology runs the risk of causing a sense of powerlessness and of closing rather than opening the field for political action. This is, in my opinion, due to the fact that he, like many other critical social scientists, tends to neglect that political rights at ‘the top’, at least to some extent, correspond to and interact with social and cultural processes at ‘the base’. The one-sided and dark description of society is related to a partially underdeveloped theoretical and conceptual apparatus. This critique can be formulated with help of Ulrich Beck, Boris Holzer and André Kieserling. According to them, sociology has three main tasks: the first is to theoretically elaborate on the main concepts of the discipline; the second is to methodically control theories via empirical research; and thirdly to produce a diagnosis of time (Zeitdiagnose) (Beck, Holzer & Kieserling 2001:63). Unfortunately, few sociologists are good at all these three tasks simultaneously. Usually one or two of them are accentuated at the expense of the other(s). In general, the first two are prioritized to the neglect of the third. The great advantage of Bauman’s sociology is that he gives one of the best contemporary accounts and elaborate suggestions of how this third task can be carried out. In my opinion, he, however, puts too little effort into the other two tasks and the consequence of this is that his social criticism runs the risk of leading to a dead-end. I will, however, not return to this critique until the concluding discussion of this chapter. First, I will present and analyze the political dimensions of his epochal diagnosis. Modernity The news of modernity’s passing away, even the rumours of its swan song, are grossly exaggerated: their profusion does not make the obituaries any less premature … It seems that the kind of society which has been diagnosed and put on trail … was just one of the forms that versatile and protean modern society was to take. Its waning does not augur the end of modernity. Nor does it herald the end of human misery. … The society which enters the twenty-first century is no less ‘modern’ than the society which entered the twentieth; the most one can say is that it is modern in a different way (Bauman 2000:27-28).

Bauman is very explicit on this issue today. Modernity has not vanished but been transformed. To talk about such a transformation one needs both a conception of the modern in general and more specific conceptions of different epochs of modernity. The modern in general should not be delimited from the postmodern but from the traditional. Modernity is about the disintegration of societies built upon the unquestioned or even non-questionable conceptions, institutions and habits. With the

Bauman on Politics


emergence of modernity we see the emergence of societies that have discovered that they are missing definite foundations; in other words, human existence has become disenchanted (Bauman 1992). Bauman indicates the ambivalent consequences of this revelation. Modernity amounts to both autonomy and contingency. The human being discovers that she is left on her own to create herself and her world: “Order can only be man-made” (Bauman 1992:xv). This means fundamental freedom, but also fundamental insecurity and fear of chaos and anarchy. Robert Musil talks about “a sense of possibility” (Möglichkeitssinn) and the notion that “it could probably just as well be otherwise” (Musil 1996:16) is an existentially fundamental condition that at the same time both liberates and haunts the modern human being. Thus, modernity is oriented to the future. The modern cultural pattern, unlike the pre-modern, does not obtain their models from some glorified historical epoch, nor is it oriented towards a predestined future. Bauman turns Jürgen Habermas’s discussion on modernity as an ‘uncompleted project’ on its head and claims that in precisely this uncompleted character we find a “definition of modernity as such” (Bauman & Tester 2001:72). Modernity in general is not only characterized by a lack of definite foundations, but also by its abstract nature. That in turn means that it can be realized in many different ways (Carleheden 2006b). Bauman argues that modernity so far has been implemented in two different ways in Western history – a solid and a liquid. Solid Politics Bauman’s analysis of the politics of solid modernity does not focus on the individual as a holder of rights. He considers the modern individual to be the object of the state, rather than its subject. Bauman refers to the state under this first modern epoch as a ‘gardening state’. It is a state that has developed a massive bureaucratic apparatus for control and administration of the lives of individuals (Bauman 1987:51ff, 1991:26ff). In Foucault’s terminology, it is about how “the ancient right to take life or let live was replaced by a power to foster life” (Foucault 1990:138). This state with its corresponding society originated according to Bauman during the 18th century, was realised in ‘the West’ during the 19th century and then spread increasingly over the world. Its decline does not begin until the last quarter of the 20th century in the West. ‘The gardening state’ should be understood in view of the general conditions of modernity. Its background is a ‘fear of chaos’ and its aim is to create a solid ‘man-made’ social order by overcoming the freedom, contingency, openness, insecurity and the uncertainty fundamental to modern existence. A state which is entirely oriented towards realizing rights for individuals liberated from the given social institutions and habits of the traditional society risks provoking the chaos that exists in the extension of modernity in its general meaning. Modernity, in the meaning of autonomy, can only be handled by an enlightened elite – at least according to the elite itself. This new modern elite has a very close relationship to executive political power. With the help of an instrumental and scientific reasoning this power/knowledge complex controls and administers the great mass of people’s ‘minds and bodies’ (Bauman 1987:93). Social engineering, the rule of experts and bureaucracy characterizes this cooperation. The consequence of this is that the


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

potential for freedom that comes with modernity almost changes into the opposite for most people: “Modernity was a long march to prison. It never arrived there (though in some places, like Stalin’s Russia, Hitler’s Germany or Mao’s China, it came quite close), albeit not for the lack of trying” (Bauman 1992:xvii). In contrast to social science inspired by Enlightenment philosophy, Bauman argues that these ‘some places’ in the quotation above not should be considered as Sonderwege (different paths), but rather represent solid modernity in its purest and most radical form. This is the thesis in Bauman’s most famous book Modernity and the Holocaust (Bauman 1989). The political power of solid modernity ‘cultivates’, so to speak, its population, while the external premodern power rather, to continue the metaphor, is a power that resides at the hunter and gatherer stage of civilization. The cultivating power corresponds accordingly to a ‘garden culture’ unlike ‘wild cultures’ (Bauman 1987:51); that is to say, modern society is not built upon a ‘natural’ order, but is ‘manmade’. It is also in this modern political context that we, according to both Foucault and Bauman, should understand the emergence and need for social science. While natural science gives us the ability to ‘tame’ nature, social science helps political power to ‘tame’ the population. In his first book about the transformation of modernity – Legislators and Interpreters – Bauman takes this modern ‘power/knowledge’ constellation as his starting point. It is on the one hand the close relationship between power and knowledge, and on the other hand its mutual administered character that politically characterizes solid modernity. The transition to a ‘new historical period’ (Bauman 1987:193), a period that he here names ‘postmodern’, means that both the close relationship between power and knowledge dissolves as well as that both poles change character. Thus, Bauman has formulated the fundamental features of his epochal diagnosis. Basically, his entire further writings can be seen as a development and variation of this epochal diagnosis theme. By accentuating the significance of knowledge for the origin of modern society, Bauman follows the ordinary historical writings of Enlightenment philosophy, but he does so with a typical Foucauldian turn: “‘Enlightenment’, which discovered the liberties, also invented the disciplines” (Foucault 1979:222). This sentence appears to a great extent as a policy statement for the first part of Legislators and Interpreters. This perspective emphasizes how knowledge allies itself with the political power. The first step is to point out that modern society, just as other types of societies, never can be captured only with abstract talk about people in general. The distinction between enlightened elite and the vulgar mass (‘the people’) is for the first epoch of modernity fundamental. The philosophers of the Enlightenment sometimes indeed talked about enlightening ‘the people’, but it was, according to Bauman, more about legitimating their own intellectual activities. In reality there existed a deeply rooted mixture of fear and contempt for the people that in practice excluded an enlightened communication: “Les philosophes spoke to the power holders; what they spoke

Bauman on Politics


to them about were ‘the people’” (Bauman 1987:75).1 In this way, knowledge and power allied themselves at the same time as the people turned into an object for their common efforts. Such a communication order is a foundation for the rule by experts and social engineering rather than for democracy understood as the sovereignty of the people. It also shows why instrumental reason becomes so central. Instrumental reason differs from communicative reason in the sense that it is not oriented towards another subject but rather another object. The people in the meaning of an object cannot be enlightened but can only be fostered, that is disciplined. While enlightenment addresses the intellect, this kind of fostering turns to the body (Bauman 1988:12). And unlike enlightenment, fostering presupposes access to political power. It is important to note that Bauman, like Foucault, talks of a pastoral type of power (Bauman 1987:49). In other words, it is a patriarchal power that conceives itself as good in the sense that it is not only geared towards maintaining its position of power, but also strives towards what it perceives to be in best interest of the people. This modern power is a secularised pastoral power and is thus oriented towards human happiness and welfare rather than salvation. Bauman quotes in this context the answer from Jeremy Bentham to the critics of the Panopticon model: Would happiness be most likely to be increased or diminished by this discipline? – Call them soldiers, call them monks, call them machines: so they were but happy ones, I should not care. Wars and storms are best to read of, but peace and calms are better to enjoy (Bentham in Bauman 1988:13).

Happiness, peace and tranquillity rather than freedom are the pastoral powers’ definition of ‘the best’ for the people. Freedom is the lot of the enlightened elite, not of the common people. Modern society is ‘man-made’, but ‘man’ in reality refers to the power/knowledge complex, which plans for the good society, that is the people’s happiness and welfare, and calls for that this essentially barbaric people to be cultivated, that is fostered and disciplined. It is in this context that Bauman, in the footsteps of Foucault, uses Bentham’s Panopticon as “the archmetaphor of modern power” (Bauman 2000:9). This model shows in a concrete technological form the centralised, asymmetric, intervening and individual character of the solid modern power. The Panopticon consists of a central tower surrounded by a number of individual cells. The architecture itself materializes an asymmetry between the supervisor in the tower and the interns in the cells. The supervisor can always see right into all cells without being seen, while the interns never can know whether they are being observed or not. It is therefore a matter of a materialised and institutionalised subject-object relationship that composes the foundation for fostering. Foucault (1979:200) writes about the intern: “He is seen, but he does not see, he is the object of information, never a subject in communication”. Both ‘exit’ as well as ‘voice’ 1 According to Bauman, the concept of ‘the people’ should not in the first case historically be understood in terms of popular sovereignty, but rather in relation to what Foucault calls “the problem of population” (Foucault 1991:99). ‘The people’ thus arose first as an object of the power/knowledge complex.


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

– to use Albert O. Hirschman’s well-known terms – have from the initial startingpoint been precluded (Hirschman 1970). The fundamental insecurity regarding whether or not you are being watched and supervised, together with scientifically elaborated punishment and reward systems, gives “the engineer of human behavior” in the tower the possibility of “the total reshaping of human behavioural patterns” (Bauman 1987:48). We find this political technology not only in seemingly peripheral institutions like prisons or mental hospitals. In one or another, more or less refined, form it also dominates places that – unlike the polling-station or the political public sphere – most modern people spend the largest part of their time: the schools, the Taylorist and Fordist organized factories, and within the parameters that different kinds of social and public authorities exercise their power. Bauman talks about the Panopticon as “the factory of social order” (Bauman 1988:18).2 However, he now makes a distinction, which forces us to complicate the image somewhat. He asserts that within the parameters of the first epoch of modern society there is a shift from ideological to technocratic political power. In Freedom, Bauman describes Talcott Parsons’ system theory and Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon as two competing models in understanding the modern social order. While Parsons puts an emphasis on norms, integration, consensus, socialization and legitimacy, in the Panopticon-model “the silent gaze [takes over] the place of communication; manipulation of the environment, of rewards and of sanctions makes cultural crusades and ideological pressures redundant” (Bauman 1988:21). Following both models, Bauman continues, intellectuals behave like ‘legislators’; in Parsons case as ‘symbol operators’ or ideologists and in Bentham’s as ‘expert designers’ or technologists (Bauman 1988:27). Here it appears to be the latter model rather than the former that provides a correct picture of the solid epoch of modern society, but in Legislators and Interpreters Bauman is more inclined to historicize the models: Given the precarious, untested and on the whole unreliable techniques of power, the authority of law and its underwriters, attractiveness of the political formula, and the will to obey which Weber (at the very moment when such a will began to lose its relevance for the reproduction of social order) was to call ‘legitimation’, were indispensable supports for the state (Bauman 1987:105-106).

Acquisition of legitimacy is, however, only a central problem for the state in the beginning of the first epoch of modernity: “The problem was never to be solved, either in theory or in practice. It simply lost its significance as the modern state grew in confidence as to the efficacy of the techniques of policing, surveillance, categorizing, individualizing and other methods of modern bureaucratic administration” (Bauman 1987:106). When ‘the garden culture’ has been established, normative regulation, ideology or legitimacy does not play any greater societal role any longer. Social control seems to have become merely a technocratic issue:

2 The ‘garden culture’ which represents the panoptical ‘garden state’ is populated by individuals with a puritan personality. The so-called ‘work ethic’ is a manifestation of this personality (Bauman 1998c).

Bauman on Politics


Let us note that it does not matter what the inmates feel about things they are commanded to do; it does not matter either whether they consider the commands as legitimate or whether they ‘internalize’ and make into their own the intentions of their inspectors. Panopticon is not concerned with what the inmates think – only with what they do (Bauman 1988:12).

According to Bauman, Parsons must thus be regarded as Minerva’s owl. His model of social order was in practice basically outdated already before it had taken theoretical form. Legitimacy, ideology and normative regulation should today in the words of Ulrich Beck therefore be viewed as ‘zombie categories’ (Beck & Beck-Gernsheim 2002:202ff). In the beginning of the 20th century, “social order [was] firmly and securely based in panoptic, disciplinary and bureaucratic technology” (Bauman 1987:109). This means accordingly that universal suffrage was initiated first after a de-politicized ‘garden culture’ already had been established. If we perceive the democratic procedure as an answer to the problem of legitimacy, Bauman’s reasoning means that the solution came after the problem had been dissolved in practice. This means, in turn, that democracy is neither in a functionalistic or ideological – in Karl Marx’s meaning of false consciousness – sense an important concept in order to understand politics under the epoch of solid modernity. The panoptical aspects of modernity, which are in opposition to democracy, were much more important for the common person’s living conditions during this period. In his theory of solid modernity, Bauman can lean on a number of critical social scientists, from, to name a few, Karl Marx to Max Weber and on to Theodor Adorno W. and Max Horkheimer and finally also to Jürgen Habermas and Michel Foucault. However, these examples of four generations of critical theory all miss a conception of the transformation of modernity in the sense that has been accounted for above.3 Bauman uses these earlier forms of critical theory but brings them into a transformational context. Thus, he also brings the critical social sciences into the 21st century – although, as we will ultimately see, in a partly paradoxical way. Liquid Politics? As we saw, solid modernity was characterized by a close relationship between knowledge and power. Together they form a collective actor (for example the state), which perceives the population and its welfare and happiness as the object of politics. During this historical epoch it is only the representatives of this power/knowledge complex who are free and thereby as a ‘political class’ are seen as the subject of modernization. In liquid modernity, this cooperation dissolves at the same time as the state and other collective actors are increasingly weakened. The bureaucratization of the population’s lives decreases and instead there is a rise in the commercialization of our increasingly individualised lives. The pastoral power of the political system is increasingly replaced by the anonymous power of the economic system. Social order is now created through ‘seduction’ rather than through regulation by norms and discipline and in this way also the second modern epoch avoids the chaos that modernity in its general understanding implies. Private freedom has certainly in 3 There is an embryo to such a theory in Jürgen Habermas (see Carleheden 2006a).


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

general been increased, but only in the specific terms of the freedom to consume. At the same time the autonomy of the political elite is reduced. We need, in other words, just as little a concept of democracy to understand the structural foundations for liquid modernity as we do to understand the solid. Bauman sometimes, however, formulates his perspective in a way that contradicts such a summary of his epochal diagnosis. Despite the fact that he often emphasizes that the legitimacy problems of power were already dissolved in an early stage of the first epoch of modern society in that power became panoptical, he sometimes still uses the diminishing importance of legitimacy to also explain the transition from the first to the second epoch (see Bauman 1987:140ff, 188ff, 1988:8). Bauman writes that with this transition “the systemic need for political democracy ... eroded” (Bauman 1992:110). He is completely unambiguous in his assertion that liquid modernity does not have a ‘systemic need’ for democracy. Social order is now in some sense instead created by the market. But by using such a contrast to capture liquid modernity, he at the same time indirectly undermines his radical criticism of solid modernity. A systemic need for democracy can hardly erode if it has not existed before. For the same reason one could also criticize the statement that “between the ideal of liberal democracy and its really existing version the distance is growing, rather than diminishing” (Bauman 1999:156-157). If Bauman is to be consistent, he has to speak of democracy as stillborn rather than “the collapse of the democratic illusion” (Bauman 2002:60-61). But let us disregard such recurrent contradictions and hold on to the more consistent image of solid modernity that was made above – that power in modern society was transformed from norm regulated to panoptical regulated even before universal suffrage has become a reality. If one does so, it is still possible to argue that the disintegration of the problem of legitimacy indirectly played a certain part in understanding the transition from solid to liquid. We then have to remember that Bauman’s epochal diagnosis takes its point of departure in an analysis of the transformation of the intellectuals, of knowledge. When the state no longer needed legitimacy, the intellectuals lost their political function and were marginalised. It also means that they were liberated (Bauman 1987:159).4 This liberated intellectual ‘high culture’ was then incorporated within the upcoming power – the market – which meant that this culture was commercialized and transferred to postmodern popular culture. But even if Bauman in this way partly can explain ideology’s changed conditions and the commercialization of culture, this does not explain the diminishing importance of the technologists and panoptical power. To the extent that power has liberated itself from the need for ideological legitimatization, neither does it need to allow itself to be influenced by the commercialization of ideology and culture. If Bauman is right on this point, the fate of the ideological intelligentsia can hardly any longer be an important explanatory factor. The fundamental factor that can explain the decline of panoptical power cannot be cultural. It is rather the well-known thesis of a transition from industrial to postindustrial production that can be accorded explanatory power (Bauman 1987:177, 1988:71ff, 1992:46ff, 2000:130ff). The reason for this thesis being so central is that 4 It is in this way that Bauman explains the intellectuals’ transformation from ‘legislators’ to ‘interpreters’.

Bauman on Politics


the factory must be regarded as the most important panoptical institution under the first epoch of modern society (Bauman 1998c:17). The disciplining role of the state is mainly to facilitate this institution by securing ‘the recommodification of labour’ through the institutions of the welfare state such as schools and social authorities (Bauman 1998c:52, 2000:145). When the factory and with it industrial labour diminish in significance and new ‘post-Fordist’ forms of production develop, then repressive social control cannot work effectively anymore and with that the social order is threatened (Bauman 1988:72). Modernity once again risks realizing its anarchistic potential. The thesis about a post-industrial society implies that ‘blue-collar work’ together with workingclass identity and the puritan work ethic diminishes in importance.5 The rise of postindustrially organized production is related to capital’s ongoing liberation from work. Bauman here refers to Claus Offe and his thesis that increasing productivity has resulted in the accumulation of capital successively requiring less and less a population’s labour (Bauman 1992:46f).6 This means that to a greater extent, modern man lives outside of the institution of industry. Using the thesis of a transition to post-industrialism partly implies that panoptical supervision of production is less possible, and partly that work in general is losing its central role in people’s lives. Education, leisure, unemployment and retirement constitute an ever-increasing part of most people’s lives. To the extent that the working-class movement has been successful in its struggle for better conditions, it has hardly resulted in an increased influence over production but rather shorter working hours and higher income – that is more freedom to consume (Bauman 1988:72f). In this way, what is left of our motivation to work is channelled from work ethics into an aesthetics of consumption (Bauman 1998c).7 “The weapon of legitimation has been replaced with two mutually complementary weapons: this of seduction and that of repression” (Bauman 1992:97). This catchwordish conclusion that Bauman makes of his epochal diagnosis is, as we have seen, not completely successful. First of all, the concept of legitimacy is only important 5 It is in fact contradictory that Bauman on the one hand talks about work ethic being central to solid modernity and on the other hand claims that power during this epoch already in an early stage transforms from norm regulating to discipline. 6 In this way, Bauman could take up the issue of capital’s liberation from work already well before the concept of globalization began its conquest in the arena of social sciences. With this concept in hand, Bauman has been able further to strengthen this argument. Through the global supply of labour the individual worker’s position is weakened in the early-industrialised countries. The concept thus also helps Bauman explain the diminishing importance of the state, politics and society. Capital is no longer in need of help from the state in meeting its needs for labour and therefore removes itself from the clutches of the state organized on nation-state premises and goes into a transnational ‘no-man’s-land’ (Bauman 2002:78). As economic power in this was becomes transnational and politics becomes more marginalised, more nails are hammered into the coffin of stillborn democracy. 7 For an increasing number of jobs that are post-Tayloristically organized, work has become an arena for self-fulfilment. But even these new types of jobs are caught up by the aesthetics of consumption and the logic of liquid modernity (Bauman 1998c; Boltanski & Chiapello 2005; Carleheden 2006b; Honneth 2004).


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

when it comes to understanding power and social order under the construction of the first epoch and should thereafter only be viewed as a zombie category. Second of all, repression is a form of power that should be related to the panoptical-model and consequently above all to the developed stage of the first modern epoch. During liquid modernity, normative regulation is an obstacle to effective seduction and therefore ‘dysfunctional’ (Bauman 1998c:29), while repressive power only hits those people excluded from the market.8 The ‘weapon’ that mainly characterises our time is therefore ‘seduction’. Let us take a closer look at what Bauman refers to with this concept and what consequences this form of power has. In his attempt to catch the signification of seduction, Bauman often refers to Sigmund Freud and talks about a releasing of the ‘pleasure principle’ (Bauman 1988:75f, 1992:43f). The puritan personality and work ethic was built upon a more or less permanent postponing of satisfaction (‘the reality principle’). Both the authoritarian norm regulation of mind and the repressive disciplining of the body led to a general instrumentalization of life. People adapted to outer power rather than satisfying their immediate inner desires. Today, individuals have been radically liberated from both normative and panoptical power. Bauman can for this reason claim that freedom of choice is something central to liquid modernity (Bauman 1992:192). In this sense, we are doomed to freedom. There are no hegemonic norms that tell us how to live our lives anymore (and which we can revolt against). There is no disciplinary power which forces itself upon us (and which we can storm and tear down). There are on the whole no supra-individual yardsticks to adapt to or to orientate one’s life after which lead to a radical individualization. The new power lies in the ability to manipulate or create desires for the purpose of stimulating consumption. While solid modernity in factories and bureaucracies raised a disciplined people, liquid modernity signifies a radical individualization of life where everyone has the freedom to satisfy their own desires. It is therefore understandable that Bauman in this context sometimes almost talks about the completion of modernity (Bauman 1992:187f; Bauman & Tester 2000:75). His descriptions of the second modern epoch sometimes remind us of what we above have called modernity in its general sense. But if this should be the case we would not be able to talk about liquid modernity as a specific epoch. Even in liquid modernity there are specific structuring powers that create social order and prevent the chaos of general modernity. Bauman is not always completely unambiguous on this, but if we continue to read his epochal diagnosis through the glasses of transformation that we have used so far, we have to understand commercialization as creating both freedom and order. The new order is specific and has its own specific dark sides. I will here mention three of these.9 8 Those excluded from the market comprise an ‘underclass’ characterised by a lack of class belonging. They are, so to speak, excluded from the class hierarchy (see Bauman 1987:180f, 1988:85f, 1998:63ff). 9 A fourth is the flexibility and insecurity that today not only characterises work life (Bauman 2000:148ff; Sennett 1998) but also the liquid modern living in general. Peace, quiet and happiness – which Bentham links to the Panopticon – are sacrificed in the second epoch on the altar of freedom to consumption.

Bauman on Politics


The first is the commercialization of freedom. We do not have to dwell too much on this obvious fact: “The market … is open to everybody, like the Ritz hotel” (Bauman 1987:168). The weaker you are as an actor on the market, the more you are caught by the old well-tried panoptical power strategies.10 Secondly, this norm-less freedom hardly leads to satisfaction but rather insecurity, meaninglessness and contingency (Bauman 1999:16ff). The new almost anomic condition manifests itself on a personal level in an ongoing reflection and an insatiable hunger for experiences. It then deals with a degree of personal selfreflection and self-examining which risks turning into narcissism. Consumerism is a manifestation of this condition: To increase their capacity for consumption, consumers must never be allowed to rest. They need to be kept forever awake and on the alert, constantly exposed to new temptations and so remain in a state of a never wilting excitation – and also, indeed, a state of a perpetual suspicion and steady disaffection (Bauman 1998a:83).

In the eternal searching for new experiences, kicks, adventures and stimuli the main focus is on the searching rather than on the satisfaction. A satisfied consumer does not consume. For the ideal consumer the desires are always bigger than the satisfaction: “Satisfaction is the bad luck of the desire” (Bauman 1998a:83). Consumption is to be understood literally. The object of consumption is an object that disappears as soon as it is caught and by that the wheel of consumption keeps turning. The ideal consumer does not feel desire for an object but for the desire itself: “Desire desires desire” is the magic spell of consumption (Bauman 1998a:83). What drives the consumer is not to reach satisfaction but to escape boredom, which is ultimately the extinction of desire. Thirdly – and most important of all in this context – freedom to consume means “separation of power from politics” and “the absence of an agency” (Bauman 1999:74). Liquid modernity is to be understood as – in Ulrich Beck’s striking formulation, which Bauman often uses – ‘the age of side-effects’ (Beck 1996). The transformation of modernity is not to be regarded as something planned by powerful people or groups. The transformation to a post-industrial society is rather, as we have seen, basically a side-effect of more effective methods of production and this in turn – also as a side-effect – undermines panoptical power. Any talk of economic power is primarily to be understood metaphorically. In reality, transformation generally means power lost, which indeed is of advantage for some and a disadvantage for some others, but where nobody has an all-embracing control. Bauman argues functionalistically. He speaks, as we have seen, about social order as an acute societal need and problem under modern conditions. When it comes to the first modern epoch, Bauman seems to mean that the fulfilment of this fundamental need occurred, so to speak, through the heads of the enlightened elite. This elite had the insight and the power to steer social development in a direction that fulfilled this modern need. Here we see a mixture of functional and intentional explanation. During the 10 Among other things prisons in liquid modernity are more overcrowded than ever. USA – probably the most commercialised country in the world – holds the world record for the number of prisoners per capita (Bauman 1998a:113ff).


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

second modern epoch, however, the need is met behind the back of even the most powerful actor or group. It is accordingly the classical functionalistic conception of social order as an unintentional consequence that Bauman is using here. He certainly distances himself from Talcott Parson’s ‘organismic’ concept of systems (Bauman 1992:189), but speaks nevertheless about “the systemness of postmodern society” (Bauman 1992:52f) and “the reestablishment of the essential mechanisms of systemic reproduction and social integration on entirely new grounds” (Bauman 1992:51). In the book I am referring to here – Intimations of Postmodernity – Bauman expresses himself in a way that he does not otherwise do very often. It almost seems as if he intends to develop a ‘grand theory’ to capture the overall transformation of modern society. He nevertheless gives only a few clues and does not follow up on them in any systematic way. It is however clear that his concept of systems is a concept that has liberated itself from ‘zombie categories’ such as norm-regulation and legitimacy. As we have seen, we are dealing with a radically individualised and pluralised society on the micro-level. On this level, Bauman therefore allows himself to speak of autonomy and agency. On the macro-level, however, there is on the other hand no “goal setting agency with overall managing and co-ordination capacities or ambitions” (Bauman 1992:192). This means that the individual’s autonomy promptly turns into heteronomy: “Their heteronomy, once blatant through coercion, now hides behind seduction” (Bauman 1992:194). The statement that the seemingly individual autonomy under the supremacy of side-effects turns into heteronomy should be understood in relation to the concepts of democracy and freedom that Bauman probably all the time implicitly starts out from, but not until the later years explicitly has worked out. In liquid modernity, “a widening gap [is arising] between ‘the public’ and ‘the private’, and a gradual yet relentless demise of the art of two-way translation between private problems and public issues, that life-blood of all politics” (Bauman 2002:70). Private freedom presupposes public freedom; that is democracy or common control over the macro-level that inevitably affects the micro-level. Private freedom is freedom from norms and discipline, and a freedom to follow one’s immediate desires, but not a freedom to form the collective conditions of one’s life. Almost like a mantra, Bauman quotes in The Individualized Society Ulrich Beck’s statement that “how one lives becomes the biographical solution of systemic contradictions” over and over again. A narcissistic preoccupation with the self serves as a substitute for political action. During such conditions the concept of society loses its meaning. Bauman seems almost to agree with Margaret Thatcher’s notorious analysis – “there is no such thing as society” – even if his appraisal of this societal development unsurprisingly is not the same (Bauman 2001:105). Consumption is just as desire basically something individual, unlike production and politics. Products are made together, which also goes for norms, values and laws under democratic conditions. Repressive regimes and norms are endured together. Consumption however takes place on one’s own or alongside others.11 The only bond that ties individuals together in such a condition is the means of consumption, that is to say, 11 A consumerist relation can also mean that one individual consumes the other. Prostitution is just the most obvious example of this.

Bauman on Politics


money. In liquid modernity, it seems as if the fear in classical sociology has come true; individuals are transformed into monads (Bauman 1999:66) and Gemeinschaft into Gesellschaft. Thus, all forms of politics are losing social significance in this second epoch of modernity. Bauman’s Concept of Democracy – A Critical Discussion Bauman’s epochal diagnosis implies that modern democracy should be regarded as stillborn. The panoptical or commercial life conditions ‘at the base’, rather than the democratic formalities ‘at the top’, have had decisive social importance. The increasing freedom in liquid modernity should be considered as “to a large extent illusory” (Bauman 1999:78). Under the headline ‘How Free is Freedom?’, Bauman writes: “To be an individual does not necessarily mean to be free. The form of individuality on offer in late-modern or postmodern society … – privatized individuality – means, essentially, unfreedom” (Bauman 1999:63). The radicalism of this critique is explained by Bauman’s understanding of freedom and democracy. Freedom is to him not freedom from the public but rather presupposes a democratic control of the public or common life. Bauman here represents a classical republican concept of democracy. Democracy should primarily neither be understood as negative, that is, as privatized, nor as aiming at happiness and welfare. Democracy is about positive freedom, that is to say the individuals’ “ability to influence the conditions of their own lives, to formulate the meaning of ‘common good’ and to make the institutions of society comply with that meaning” (Bauman 1999:106f). This cannot be accomplished individually. Bauman stresses that “individual liberty can be only a product of collective work” (Bauman 1999:7; original emphasis). This work has the agora as its primary place. It is the arena for ‘critical reflection’ (Bauman 1999:84), which is to say an arena for ‘interpreters’ rather than ‘legislators’. It is here that the gap should be closed which liquid modernity continuously widens, namely the gap between the public and the private. Bauman understands such bridging through critical reflection as the necessary essence of democracy. The agora is a place for meeting and thus he understands critical reflection as communicative. Such meeting presupposes both the private and the public. Bauman can thus reformulate his critical epochal diagnosis in precisely these republican terms. During modern times such meetings have been undermined in two diametrically opposite ways. During the solid epoch of modern society, more or less authoritarian attacks were carried out against the private. The liquid epoch of modern society is, on the contrary, characterized by neo-liberal attacks aimed at the public sphere. In both cases democracy is made impossible (Bauman 1999:86ff). Let me now finally elaborate the critique of Bauman’s political sociology that I indicated at the beginning of this chapter. I will shortly point out some theoretical weaknesses or contradictions in Bauman’s thinking that risk leading his critical social science into a dead-end. The critique concerns his: (1) undeveloped concept of democracy, (2) his contradictory tendency towards behaviourism, and (3) his Thatcherite societal analysis.


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

Regarding (1), there is a lot that indicates that the agora in some sense should be viewed as the essence of democracy. It is also reasonable to view such a conception of democracy as a kind of regulative ideal, which can be used as a point of departure for social criticism. Bauman’s political sociology lacks, however, a theory of how such an ideal could be realized in a modern complex society. We are not told anything about how Bauman perceives the role of representation in a modern democracy. Nor are we told how he visualizes a state being able to carry out its administrative and social tasks in a democratic way. Bauman would hardly deny that modern democracy has to be a mass democracy constituted as a social-welfare state, but then to be satisfied with analyzing the meaning of the word agora does not bring us very far. What is mainly missing is a theory of which role the agora could ideally play under modern circumstances, that is to say under conditions of social complexity. A mere contrast between the agora and surveillance or consumerism is far too simple. Such rhetoric borders on utopianism in its negative sense and leads rather to a feeling of powerlessness.12 Regarding (2), Bauman claims now and then that “humans are neither irrational nor duped” (Bauman 2001:10), but both the panoptical model and the model of seduction obviously reduce the individual to just that. People are objectified and limited to stimulus-response machines. Their actions are understood in utilitarian terms as solely driven by pleasure/displeasure (Bauman 1988:21). Bauman is clear on this when it comes to the panoptically organized society: “One may say that the ordering practice of modern society follows intuitively behaviourist methodological principles” (Bauman 1993:123). Essentially the same thing can be said about the liquid epoch. The difference is that the locus for stimuli distribution has been fragmentized and commercialised. Bauman has not explicitly developed a behaviouristic or utilitarian theory. He just presumes that modern people in general can be reduced to stimulus-response machines. With such a view one cannot explain the suffering that Bauman obviously thinks is caused by this – and thereby there is a lacking basis for social criticism and social action. It is also hard to see how such a view of the person can be associated with the ethics of proximity that Bauman elaborates in connection with Emmanuel Lévinas (Bauman 1998b, 2001). Bauman seems to claim that humans both act according to behavioralistic principles and are influenced by the moral appeal of the naked face. Both of these anthropologies can hardly be true simultaneously. In this way, Bauman seems to contradict himself. This more or less implicit behaviourism is in a political context related to Bauman’s dissociation from the concept of legitimacy. Such a concept presupposes namely that humans have a degree of ‘agency’. Max Weber connected a social order’s legitimacy with normative validity (Weber 1972:16ff). This implies that individuals in a society acknowledge 12 This weakness becomes even more obvious when Bauman speaks of the importance “to lift political institutions to the level of globality” (Bauman 2001:56). However, he says nothing about what this means in practice. Here (as in other places) Bauman mentions also the importance of a ‘basic income’. This could be seen as an answer to the question of how welfare could be redistributed in a non-panoptical way. Material welfare is, however, only an indirect prerequisite for democracy. In itself it does not provide a solution to how democracy should be realised in a modern society.

Bauman on Politics


political power as being legitimate in so far as they regard the claims of this power being valid. It is conceivable that such legitimacy could originate in different ways and that individuals can be more or less manipulated in their acknowledgement of it. The determining factor is, however, that even if the individual’s acknowledgement of the validity of political power is a result of manipulation, the legitimacy concept gives the subject’s subjectivity significance. Even if democracy today is an illusion, power has to fight to preserve this illusion. The legitimacy concept can only be perceived as a zombie category if citizens are denied all subjectivity in a political context and it allows them to be completely reduced to objects of political or economical power. Bauman thus, without discussion, founds his analysis of society on a view of the person that is completely contrary to the one he presumes in his more utopian formulations. If we together with George Herbert Mead, Emmanuel Lévinas, Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor and Axel Honneth – just to mention a few – instead anthropologically establish a limit to how far an individual can be pacified and objectified in this world, we can restore the importance of norm-regulated action and the problem of legitimacy. At the same time we have also once more rekindled the importance of critical theory in the form of the critique of ideology, that is to say as a revealer of legitimacy-creating illusions. Finally, regarding (3), Bauman’s dismissal of the legitimacy concept is in turn connected to his view that society is on its way to dissolution (Bauman 1999:66, 2001:106-108). Let me here illustrate my criticism of this view with a simple example: Not even the most dedicated neo-liberal imagines that the individualization of society could be radicalized to the extent that each individual uses her own personal currency. During the liquid epoch of modern society, our economic community has, on the contrary, grown in size and strength. Bauman does not ask himself – unlike classical sociology – which social prerequisites are necessary for such an expanding economic community. Money as the medium of communication and the market economy are ultimately based on social norms such as the right of ownership and conceptions of fair contracts. How can it be that we to a greater extent allow such economic norms to govern our common concerns? The answer, at least partly, has to do with the fact that the monetarization of social conditions today has greater legitimacy than before, let’s say 50 years ago. This legitimacy can in turn be traced back to neo-liberal ideology. Such an ideology is an expression of certain dominant and generally spread ideas on how we should act in contemporary society. Society has, in other words, not been dissolved. These three examples, in my opinion, illustrate that Bauman has not put enough effort into theoretical discussions. The undeveloped conceptual apparatus in turn influences the empirical description of society. Maybe this is a reason why Bauman radically and systematically disregards the indisputable fact that modernity – at least to some extent – also has to do with the development of political rights. The great advantage of Bauman’s epochal diagnosis is that it – in the footsteps of Foucault – focuses on political processes ‘at the base’ and that it pays attention to the dark social and cultural tracks that counteract the brighter juridical-political formalities ‘at the top’. However, its great disadvantage is that it hardly seems to accord juridical-political citizenship any importance whatsoever for what happens ‘at the


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

base’ and totally ignores the tracks on this level supporting formal rights.13 This is the kind of criticism that has been brought up by Hans Joas among others: “The search for alternative tracks of modernization … is missing in Bauman’s work in an almost spectacular way” (Joas 2000:246). A more reasonable point of view is to acknowledge the importance of different – both dark and bright – tracks on different levels in the modern development of society and that some are in contradiction with others, while others play a reinforcing role. Undoubtedly, the emphasis on the dark tracks of modernity is of great importance in light of the historical dominance of Enlightenment philosophy’s naïve optimism about social progress and its lack of self-criticism. But if critical social science does not want to draw the radical conclusion from its self-diagnosed insignificance and complete silence,14 it must then seek out connections through studying alternative tracks in modernity such as the development of human rights and the equivalent developments in terms of value and institutional change. One could, for example, ask why universal suffrage was established and why parliamentary and rule of law institutions have been developed at all? Such political reforms appear almost dysfunctional or at least unnecessary from the perspective of Bauman’s diagnosis of our epoch. One can furthermore complement Bauman’s image of the similarities between fascist and communist society on the one hand and formal democracies on the other by contrasting the differences between these social systems as well. One could reply to this criticism that our libraries are already full of volumes on this theme. However, what I call for, which is absent in both the critical political theory of Bauman’s type and most mainstream political research, is a form of inquiry that is capable of juggling both ‘dark’ and ‘light’ balls in the air at the same time, and furthermore relate the orbits of these balls to each other. It is not a matter of capturing the contradictions or coalescences between democracy and modernity, but rather the contradictions and coalescences of various tracks of development within modernity, for example between bureaucracy, commercialism, Fordism, singularization, the rule of law, individualization and citizenship of different kinds and so on. Conclusion In this chapter I have tried to show that Zygmunt Bauman has developed political sociology in two central respects in a manner which has few if any superiors. First, he has formulated a suggestion towards what we have called sociology’s third primary task, a diagnosis of the times. Too much of today’s social science – both theoretical and empirical – finds itself in the backwaters of social developments as it tends to neglect the structural transformation of modernity that is under way. Second, the type of political research and reflection that one-sidedly focuses on the formal and institutionalised side of democracy (constitutions, formal political 13 Compare, for example, value change (Inglehart 1997), old and new social movements, so-called political consumption, and the agora that exists despite everything – the very space in which Bauman himself is located when he writes and we read and comment on his writings. 14 Bauman sometimes appears to be quite content to play the role of this disengaged and politically marginalised sceptic (Bauman 1999:108, 2002:50f).

Bauman on Politics


rights and institutions, party politics, voter behaviour, etc.) almost appears petty in comparison to Bauman’s analysis. If there is anything at all to Bauman’s societal analysis, this type of research must be seen as tame in its attempt to capture the ‘crisis of democracy’.15 We can never expect that only reforms ‘at the top’ will solve this crisis, as democracy requires a form of individual and collective autonomy that structurally – panoptically or commercially – is resisted ‘at the base’. Critical research on democracy for the 21st century has to develop a consistent theory that can capture and display how politics can tame economic power without falling into the old panoptical pattern. This type of research on democracy can very well seek inspiration in the work of Bauman, but it has to move forward in accordance with the critique that has been put forward in nascent form in the latter part of this chapter. Bibliography Bauman, Zygmunt (1987): Legislators and Interpreters: On Modernity, PostModernity and Intellectuals. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1988): Freedom. Milton Keynes: Open University Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1989): Modernity and the Holocaust. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1991): Modernity and Ambivalence. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1992): Intimations of Postmodernity. London: Routledge. Bauman, Zygmunt (1993): Postmodern Ethics. Oxford: Blackwell. Bauman, Zygmunt (1998a): Globalization: The Human Consequences. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1998b): “What Prospects of Morality in Times of Uncertainty?”. Theory, Culture & Society, 15 (1):11-22. Bauman, Zygmunt (1998c): Work, Consumerism and the New Poor. Buckingham: Open University Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1999): In Search of Politics. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2000): Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2001): The Individualized Society. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2002): Society Under Siege. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt & Keith Tester (2001): Conversations with Zygmunt Bauman. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bech, Ulrich (1996): Das Zeitalter der Nebenfolgen und die Politisierung der Industrigesellschaft. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Beck, Ulrich & Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim (2002): Individualization: Institutionalized Individualism and Its Social and Political Consequences. London: Sage Publications. Beck, Ulrich, Boris Holzer & André Kieserling (2001): “Nebenfolgen als Problem soziologischer Theoriebildung”, in Ulrich Beck & Wolfgang Bonß (eds.): Die Modernisierung der Moderne. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. 15 The same thing can be said in this regard to the dominant form of so-called ‘political sociology’. This focuses to a great extent only on one type of condition for democratic influence, namely the material condition, that is to say welfare. As such, this political sociology risks becoming part of precisely the consumerist logic that Bauman criticizes.


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

Boltanski, Luc & Eve Chiapello (2005): The New Spirit of Capitalism. London: Verso. Carleheden, Mikael (2006a): “Towards Democratic Foundations: A Habermasian Perspective on the Politics of Education”. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 38 (5):521-543. Carleheden, Mikael (2006b): “The Transformation of Our Conduct of Life: One Aspect of the Three Epochs of Western Modernity”. Distinktion, 13:55-75. Foucault, Michel (1979): Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books. Foucault, Michel (1990): The History of Sexuality. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. Foucault, Michel (1991): “Governmentality”, in Colin Gordon, Peter Miller & Graham Burchell (eds.): The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf. Hirschman, Albert O. (1970): Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations and States. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Honneth, Axel (2004): “Organized Self-Realization”. European Journal of Social Theory, 7 (4):463-478. Inglehart, Ronald (1997): Modernization and Postmodernization: Cultural, Economic, and Political Change in 43 Societies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press Joas, Hans (2000): Kriege und Werte: Studien zur Gewaltgeschichte des 20. Jahrhunderts. Weilerswist: Velbrück Wissenschaft. Musil, Robert (1996): Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften. Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt. Sennett, Richard (1998): The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism. New York: W.W. Norton. Weber, Max (1972): Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft: Grundriss der verstehenden Soziologie (5th revised edition). Tübingen: Mohr.

Chapter 10

Bauman on Power – From ‘Solid’ to ‘Light’? Robert Campain

Introduction Keith Tester and Michael Hviid Jacobsen have stated that Zygmunt Bauman in a sense has always agreed with the insight that Max Weber borrowed from Leo Tolstoy; that the only important question is: “What shall we do and how shall we live?” (Tester & Jacobsen 2005:7). The question of power is central to this insight, for the way in which power is exercised – by individuals in their daily interactions with one another, and at the broader social and global level – goes to the heart of the human condition. For Bauman, a sociological imagination must always be seeking to examine the way in which power is employed and the consequences for human freedom and the exercising of moral responsibility. What I offer in this chapter is an outline of Bauman’s understanding of power from a ‘hard/solid’ modernity to a globalizing ‘soft/liquid’ modernity. In doing so, questions are raised as to the strengths and limitations of Bauman’s insights, with consideration of what Bauman passes on to us, and how we may consider his theories for further interpretation and research. In particular, there is a need to critique Bauman’s broad definitions of modernity and liquid modernity, and the extent to which they represent the complexity and variety of social arrangements. Questions of agency, particularly in relation to politics and resistance to power, need to be examined in critiquing Bauman’s ambivalence towards the capacity to address the pressing human concerns of the day. In doing so, I remain keenly aware of Bauman’s hermeneutic approach. The art of Bauman’s interpretation is to offer a perspective, one narrative among many, while inviting the reader to be a hermeneut and to be a part of the ongoing exchange of ideas. Bauman’s Marxist sympathies focus his work primarily on the material conditions of our existence, incorporating questions of power and the impact it has both on our access to resources and the securing of individual autonomy. This chapter seeks to outline Bauman’s work on power from his early English work Culture as Praxis (1973) through to recent works such as Liquid Modernity (2000) and Liquid Life (2005). While Culture as Praxis argues for the human need to create structure and order, Bauman’s ‘liquid’ texts question the way a ‘fluid’ modernity – a world of rapid ongoing change – has significant consequences for individual freedom, moral responsibility, and human togetherness. Central here are the shifts in Bauman’s work as he interprets a shifting, globalizing world in which power changes its shape, while

The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman


its effects continue to divide humanity with a devastating impact on those whom autonomy and dignity is denied. Defining Power In Thinking Sociologically, Bauman (together with Tim May) defines power as: Pursuing freely chosen ends towards which our actions are oriented and of then commanding the necessary means towards the pursuit of those ends. Power, therefore, is an enabling capacity. The more power that people have, the wider is their range of choices and the broader the scope of the outcomes that they may realistically pursue. Being less powerful, or even powerless, means that it may be necessary to moderate and even curtail the realistic hopes that are held for the outcomes of actions (Bauman & May 2001:62-63).

While this definition focuses on individuals and their actions, so too do we need to consider institutions such as governments and corporations, while we also need to take into account the tools of power such as capital, technology and knowledge. Power is therefore the capacity to pursue action, and is inherent in all aspects of human relations. As moral beings we are constantly challenged with making decisions and taking actions that impact other people. Power gives the privileged elite the opportunity to exercise choice in matters that will influence social conditions which have consequences for all concerned. Power is therefore both an ability to exercise autonomy for some and a restrictor of freedom for others: “To be free means to be allowed and to be able to keep others unfree” (Bauman 1988:45). In Bauman’s work, power and freedom are eternally linked. In Freedom, Bauman notes that to examine freedom is to also consider dependence, both of which must take into account the individual and the social: “The free individual, far from being a universal condition of humankind, is a historical and social creation” (Bauman 1988:7). Those who exercise power increase their freedom at the expense of those who are subject to the constraints of power. Freedom only makes sense in relation to another – for there to be freedom then there must be the dependence of another: “Freedom appears as the capacity to rule; as a bid for power. Freedom is power, in so far as there are others who are bound” (Bauman 1988:23). For Bauman, the global impact of the way power is manifested is both economically and politically significant, and therefore infiltrates into all aspects of social existence, impacting the responsibility we exercise in our intimate relations with one another. Power determines whether we create a world of justice, dignity and human solidarity, or whether the world remains divided between insiders and outsiders, parvenus and pariahs, the privileged and the disadvantaged, tourists and vagabonds, the successful consumers and the flawed consumers. Power, thus, structures and orders the world around us.

Bauman on Power


Order through Structure Bauman’s sociology, I would argue, is committed to the expansion of human freedom, with Culture as Praxis constituting a significant text in Bauman’s oeuvre with its focus on the problem of exclusion and marginality. Questions of freedom underlie Culture as Praxis, while the text also offers a gateway into an understanding of Bauman’s overall concern with culture and its intimate relationship with power.1 As Stefan Morawski observes in his interpretation of Bauman’s work; power and culture are central to Bauman’s scholarship and way of seeing the world and is evident from his work dating back to the 1960s. Power and culture are intertwined: power is exercised through culture, yet culture is also a counter-force that potentially denounces and attacks power (Morawski 1998:32). Ian Varcoe and Richard Kilminster note that “culture and power are indissolubly linked”, while Bauman’s treatment of power is “possibly his single most accomplished sociological analysis” (Kilminster & Varcoe 1996:216, 218). Bauman examines the phenomenon of culture and its relationship to power which introduces questions of human freedom along with inequality and exclusion. These concerns are evident in Culture as Praxis as he explores the consequences of order – the defining and drawing of boundaries which includes and excludes, dividing humans into ‘us’ and ‘them’. What lies behind Bauman’s interpretation of these human struggles and grabs for power is his theoretical understanding of culture and the human need for order and control, governed by the fear of chaos.2 What is at stake is human freedom and the ability for all humans to create and shape the conditions under which they live their lives. Culture incorporates aspects of power and freedom: “Being structured and being capable of structuring seem to be the twin-kernels of the human way of life, known as culture” (Bauman 1973:51). Bauman therefore regards structuring as an inherent part of the human condition: “The continuous and unending structuring activity constitutes the core of human praxis, the human mode of being in the world” (Bauman 1973:56). Bauman’s key concern here is with modernity which he regards as a structuring or ordering drive and which therefore must be examined for the way in which power is appropriated and used to divide the world and separate humans from one another. The central stimulant here is the structuralism of Claude Lévi-Strauss and the universal requirement of a rule: “It is above all the rule which cuts off a parcel of the natural universe and transforms it into the venue of cultural praxis” (Bauman 1973:121). However, Bauman’s focus is not to regard structuring as an achievement, 1 Peter Beilharz suggests that part of the continuing significance of Culture as Praxis can be traced to the development in cultural studies in England and the impact of the work of Stuart Hall, while the social development of multiculturalism leads Bauman to address assimilation and cultural mobility in the second edition published in 1999 (Beilharz 2000:3839). 2 These themes, however, have had their genesis in Bauman’s earlier Polish work. Keith Tester states that Culture as Praxis echoes the ideas of essays that Bauman published while living and working in Poland in the 1960s (Tester 2004:69). In Mortality, Immortality and Other Life Strategies, Bauman elaborates on the fear of chaos, outlining its roots in the knowledge of human mortality (Bauman 1992).


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

but as an ongoing human activity that ultimately generates the disorder and ambiguity that inspired the structuring activity to begin with. A major influence, who Bauman later acknowledges as such (Beilharz 2001:335), is Mary Douglas and her work on ‘purity’ and ‘danger’. Douglas’s insights into order, and ambivalence as the enemy of order, furthers Bauman’s understanding of ordering practices in the quest for a stable, ambiguity-free order that marginalise, exclude and repress those denied the right to belong. Power and culture are ‘indissolubly linked’, shaping social existence through the manipulation of things. In Thinking Sociologically, Bauman states: Culture is about making things different from what they are and otherwise would be – and about keeping them in this made-up artificial shape. Culture is about introducing and keeping an order and fighting everything that departs from it and that from the point of view of this order looks like chaos (Bauman 1990:143-144).

Culture is therefore both a creative and destructive act that shapes our social environment and needs to be examined for the way in which it contributes to order and arrangements of social power. Reflecting on Bauman, Varcoe and Kilminster note: “They [culture and power] form the primary drive to structure the world according to a rational design” (Kilminster & Varcoe 1996:223). Humans need structure to make sense of the world, and to allow a degree of surety and reliability in an existence that is essentially uncertain, no matter how much we may try to deceive ourselves in considering it otherwise. For Bauman, the imposing of structure and order has social consequences that reflect relationships of power. In creating order there are winners and losers – insiders and outsiders, we and they, the seduced and the repressed, the powerful and the marginalized. Bauman demonstrates here that to regard culture as a framework for social cohesion, such as Émile Durkheim’s understanding of the conscience collective, is to ignore the question of freedom. Culture must therefore have a political dimension and a voice of critique to expand human freedom. Culture, or human praxis, is therefore an ongoing structural activity that often benefits a minority at the expense of others in an attempt to overcome a ‘disorderly state’. Modernity and the Rise of the ‘Legislators’ Having outlined the human propensity to order and structure in Culture as Praxis, Bauman’s method in Legislators and Interpreters is to explore the distinctly modern form of structuring by developing a historical narrative in which intellectuals are the central actors of the story of modern social ordering and modern power. Modernity is understood by Bauman as a joint product of two novel developments: (1) the emergence of a distinct form of state power armed with the resources and the will necessary to shape and govern the social system according to a designed model of order, and (2) the establishment of a relatively autonomous discourse able to formulate such a model of order, complete with the practices its implementation required (Bauman 1987:2). Legislators and Interpreters explores the hypothesis that the combination of these two developments created the experience of modernity,

Bauman on Power


which encapsulates a particular view of the world along with associated intellectual strategies. Bauman argues here that modernity marks the emergence of a new form of state power with a new form of intellectual discourse based on ‘Reason’. State power means an increase in the centralization of power dispersed through bureaucracies which limit individual autonomy. Culture becomes increasingly homogenized so that the divisions between ‘us’ and ‘them’ become intensified. Power here is divisive for Bauman and under modernity becomes a tool of racism and extermination. With Bauman’s focus on domination and control through ‘disciplinary power’ or ‘surveillance’, Michel Foucault is the thinker whose work infuses Legislators and Interpreters the most. Foucault distinguished between two overall historical developments in the modern West: (1) an increasing centralization of political power in the state, and (2) a corresponding emergence of technologies and techniques of power oriented towards the individual. Foucault outlines the need to go beyond state and class power, and to examine the everyday exercise of power in ordinary, mundane practices (van Krieken et al. 2000:133). Bauman invokes these ideas, maintaining the distinction between the legislators wielding the disciplinary power and the masses subject to the curtailing of their freedom. Modernity was marked by rapid social change in which the accepted traditions and ways of life could no longer be taken for granted. The fears that drove the feverish legislative ambitions arose from the increase in masterless men – the strangers on the cusp of the modern era who symbolized the instability of the modern world. As the old networks of dense social relations began to dissolve, the public space became filled with beggars and vagabonds who in a changing world seemed to exemplify the growing fear of uncertainty. Those in power – the elites and the legislators – were driven by the threat of chaos as the old traditional patterns of social reproduction and control were undermined by the rise in masterless men (Bauman 1987:38-40). Knowledge now became a tool of power with the modern intellectual assuming the role of a ‘legislator’. As Peter Beilharz notes, it is Foucault’s critique of the ‘pastoral’ and the power/knowledge nexus that is significant here, rather than Karl Marx with his focus on economy, which leads to a concentration on exploitation rather than domination (Beilharz 2000:77).3 Marx’s theory of exploitation, through the monolithic power possession of the bourgeois, recedes here in Bauman’s work as domination becomes central to his understanding of modernity. Throughout modernity, knowledge is equated with power, yet it is a specific form of knowledge – the knowledge of the educators. For those subject to education, knowledge was equated with discipline and the rejection of localized knowledge and the capacity to exercise individual moral authority.4 Bauman therefore regards knowledge and 3 The view of progress and the superiority of modernity as ‘the kingdom of Reason and rationality’ was supported by Karl Marx, who was a modernist obsessed with changing the world rather than merely interpreting it. This legacy, Peter Beilharz argues, places Marx within the tradition of thinking that Bauman here is rejecting: “At this point in Bauman’s own project, however, Marx begins to appear at least as much as the problem than as the resource for its interpretative solution” (Beilharz 2000:79). Bauman now exhibits a degree of ambivalence towards Marx. 4 See, for example, Postmodern Ethics for an outline of modern legislators’ attempts to design a coherent code of moral rules, and Bauman’s postmodern perspective that argues for


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

education as a tool through which power is exercised in defining boundaries and dividing the world according to the definitions of a powerful, educated elite. Rather than setting individuals free, education and knowledge become tools of power that serve a minority while enforcing conformity and obedience amongst others: “Knowledge is required on how to transform the people in question from subjects of their own action into objects of intervention or manipulation” (Bauman & May 2001:169). Bauman’s evaluation of the Enlightenment practice is a radical interpretation of an era thought of as liberating individuals from ignorance and superstition, bringing light to where there was previously darkness. Yet, Bauman claims that “under closer scrutiny, the substance of enlightened radicalism is revealed as the drive to legislate, organize and regulate, rather than disseminate knowledge” (Bauman 1987:74).5 From the very start, les philosophes designed a social order reliant on the pastoral power of knowledgeable elites over the individual. The power/knowledge syndrome – a most prominent attribute of modernity – had been proclaimed in this period. Modern state power, seeking to regulate the totality of life processes, adopts the techniques and procedures of surveillance aided by rational scientific knowledge. Foucault’s emphasis on control through surveillance is significant in Bauman’s understanding and critique of modernity and the ways in which modern power is exercized – a style of power as much as specific sites of power. As Bauman states, there was nothing new with the idea of surveillance as a method of social control and reproduction of order. However, what was perhaps most significant in the new institutions, best symbolically represented by Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, was the end to the reciprocity of surveillance associated with Gemeinschaft communities. In Gemeinschaft type societies, both the powerful and the everyday members of the community were subject to constant surveillance that was more matter-of-fact and therefore not regarded as particularly oppressive. Now, Bauman argues, at the threshold of solid modernity, the groups were divided into two: the watchers and the watched (Bauman 1987:45-47). Communities resort to tabooing rituals eager to guard their boundaries against intruders who seek to transgress the borders. As Bauman outlines in Culture as Praxis, boundaries are maintained through such measures as ritual initiations into the in-group, the cultivation of ethnocentrism or racism, the erection of legal barriers, the positing of territory, and the use of cleansing ceremonies to reintroduce an in-group member back into society after an absence. All of this demonstrates the group’s tendency to

a return of moral responsibility to the individual (Bauman 1993). 5 Bauman admits that it is contentious to suggest a coherent, non-contradictory Enlightenment attitude to popular education; however, he claims that les philosophes viewed education for ‘the people’ as instruction in discipline and conformity while enlightenment and independent thinking was to be the privilege of a ruling elite (Bauman 1987:78-80). Peter Beilharz suggests that this representation of the Enlightenment may be limited, yet for all the advantages the Enlightenment has brought us (Beilharz uses the example of modern democracy), there is no doubt that we have inherited the civilizing project in its ‘dirtiest sense’. As Beilharz notes, Bauman makes us aware that to civilize is to cultivate (Beilharz 2000:78).

Bauman on Power


divide the world neatly and clearly into two parts in an effort to remove and ignore any uncertainty or ambiguity (Bauman 1973:133). The consequences of the thrust towards order and perfection through surveillance, discipline and control, aided through the discourse of scientific rationality and modern institutions of bureaucracy, is evident in the inhumane consequences of modernist ambitions: the Holocaust. Bauman’s work on the Holocaust was first explored in Modernity and the Holocaust (Bauman 1989), while it significantly informs Modernity and Ambivalence (Bauman 1991). It was the power to define, through the totalitarian regime of Nazi Germany, which led to the most horrendous atrocities under modern total ordering ambitions. Bauman summarizes three major factors to account for the Holocaust: “The design or vision gives the modern Holocaust the legitimation; state bureaucracy gives it the vehicle; and the paralysis of society gives it the ‘road clear’ sign” (Bauman 1989:114). The spirit of Max Weber is evident here, as Bauman notes that bureaucracy, the division of labour, science, rationality and social engineering, and the displacement of moral by instrumental and adiaphorized action, were all attributes of modernity, supplying both the means and the purpose for genocide. As John Scott in his examination of power observes: “The exercize of command in a modern state depends on structures of impersonal, rationally regulated, bureaucratic administration” (Scott 2001:35). Like Weber, Bauman observes the dark side of modernity with little or none of Weber’s appreciation for the technical advantages of bureaucracy. There is little evidence in Bauman’s work that bureaucracies can benefit social organization, with whatever benefits they may provide being outweighed by their destructive potential. Bauman’s focus is solely on bureaucracies as a central feature of modern civilization with their rational and technical capacity that removes moral considerations. Beilharz notes that Bauman’s concern is that “civilization does not replace violence; it both institutionalizes and represses it” (Beilharz 2000:96). The Postmodern Hope The four key texts engaged thus far – Culture as Praxis, Freedom, Legislators and Interpreters and Modernity and the Holocaust – were all written in the shadow of Nazi and Communist totalitarian regimes whose practices exposed the inhumane potential of modernity. Bauman’s hope in the 1980’s lay with postmodernity – a chance to redeem modern ambitions by providing a perspective that could scrutinize the consequences of modernity. Bauman equates the postmodern with an intellectual perspective in which intellectuals increasingly become interpreters – they are no longer required by the state and are left to compete with all other cultural products in the marketplace. This signals a significant shift in Bauman’s understanding of power. The change in intellectual activity reflects the retreat of the state from active social engagement throughout the West. This is a mixed blessing, with Bauman no longer able to detect a socialist utopian horizon as a potential social reality. Socialism, for which Bauman (1976) still held hope in Socialism: The Active Utopia, is now treated more circumspectly as a project of social engineering. The present state of the world


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

offers no alternative to its market driven logic and removes ideas of the just society from consideration (Bauman 1991:270-274). The new intellectual view – one that ushers in the intellectual as interpreter – consists of a plurality of models of order. Power is less likely to be engaged with the task of social engineering. What Bauman argues here is that a culture that no longer seeks to engineer the one perfect order – through the elimination of all that does not fit the measured design – may lead to competing pluralities. Power is therefore no longer concentrated and bound by one cultural form. Plurality of power avoids the abuses of totalitarianism and modernity’s severe classificatory divisions. This is the possibility postmodernity offers: It seems that the sole factor truly capable of counterbalancing and eventually offsetting the genocidal potential dormant in the instrumental capacities of modernity and its instrumental-rational mentality is pluralism of power, and hence the pluralism of authoritative opinion. Only pluralism returns moral responsibility for action to its natural bearer: the acting individual (Bauman 1991:51).

Pluralist power theory claims that different interest groups prevail in different issueareas, there is no overall ‘ruling elite’ and power is distributed pluralistically (Lukes 2005:4). However, for Bauman there remains a division between elites and masses even if the elite no longer exercise power in the centralized manner of modernity and the nation-state. There remains an elite who exercises power by accessing the benefits of a global market. Such power is less directly authoritarian, but is equally pervasive in its effects. What Bauman opposes is authorities and institutions that remove individual autonomy – if power is exercised in an authoritarian, totalitarian manner that limits the actions of individuals, then the capacity for humans to exercise their own moral judgement is limited and under such conditions moral responsibility is less likely to thrive. Bauman’s faith lies with the ethical judgement of individuals, free to engage with the humanity of fellow humans that unites rather than divides. However, for Bauman, solidarity can be both good and bad as social solidarities can be constructed for different reasons – as Bauman’s work on community demonstrates they can be inclusive and exclusive, offering security while limiting freedom. Hence Bauman turns to morality, and the empowering of the individual with the ethical capacity and responsibility toward the Other, rather than a unity based on shared beliefs and values. Postmodernity is a “prospect of a greater awareness of the moral character of our choices; of our facing our choices more consciously and seeing their moral contents more clearly” (Bauman 1995:7). Freedom to Shop: The Power of the Market Culture strives towards unambiguous borders and boundaries, but as early as in Culture as Praxis, Bauman noted a movement towards relaxing the struggle to impose fixed borders and boundaries (Bauman 1973:156). Increasingly, Bauman’s postmodern perspective became more ambivalent itself, as the dissolving of order and rise of neo-liberalism and economic rationalism soured the postmodern dream.

Bauman on Power


Bauman notes that in the market there is no one centre of power (Bauman 1987:167). It is the market itself that exerts power over postmodern lives: Thus, every item of culture becomes a commodity and become subordinated to the logic of the market either through a direct, economic mechanism or an indirect, psychological one. All perceptions and expectations, as well as life-rhythm, qualities of memory, attention, motivational and topical relevances are trained and moulded inside the new ‘foundational’ institution – that of the market (Bauman 1987:166).

The political economy of postmodernity is a consumerist one arising from the industrial pattern of control. Power resides in the market rather than in culture, with power deployed through the seduction of consumer goods that means repression for those who fail to meet consumer expectations – a failure cast as an individual one rather than a systemic failure (Bauman 1987:169). Bauman retains the Foucauldian emphasis on surveillance, but now the surveillance can be lifted from parts of the population. In effect, Bauman retains the contrast between the elites and the masses of his modernity work, with new techniques of surveillance to monitor and contain the working-poor and unemployed (the ‘flawed’ consumers) of consumer society. Yet, the old constraints of the power relationship are lost with the state losing its role, while the seduced consumer gains a limited form of liberation through the power of the market and the freedom of consumption. Postmodern freedom means the dependency is now however on the market. The consumer is aided by experts in the postmodern task of identity creation – no longer a premodern/modern assigned identity – which is sustained and approved by others in a consumer culture. The reproduction of the conditions of social life has now largely been privatized (what Bauman terms ‘DIY efforts at self-formation’) and removed from the realm of state politics and public decision-making. Failure to acquire the shape and form one wished to acquire, while failing to stay flexible and on the move to assume new shapes at will, rebounds as the “pain of inadequacy” (Bauman 1995:113). Enter the experts to aid in the construction of identity and the negotiating of the uncertain terrain. John Scott, in his work on power, states that expertise “occurs when cognitive symbols are structured into organized bodies of knowledge in terms of which some people are regarded as experts and others defer to their superior knowledge and skills” (Scott 2001:22-23). Expertise relies on trust – the trusting of the expert and their body of knowledge to inform and guide the ignorant. The legislators of modernity have now been replaced by ‘life-skills experts’ whose power is not so much imposed but sought after. Bauman sees little to recommend in individuals accessing expertise in aiding their autonomy, for it merely reinforces the solitude and anxiety for which the experts are sought in the first place. John Scott notes the argument that development of information and communications technology, and the general expansion of education, have reduced the knowledge gap between experts and lay people: “Diversification of knowledge has been enhanced, and the willingness of lay people to trust any particular group of individuals has been weakened” (Scott 2001:107). The monopolization of knowledge is now less marked. Bauman however is less enthusiastic about the development of technology and spread of diverse forms of knowledge. He notes for example that


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

“cyberspace is territorially un-anchored … Any ‘order’ that may conceivably appear in cyberspace is emergent, not contrived; and even so it could but be a momentary order, an ‘until further notice’ order, and an order which in no way binds the shape of future orders nor determines their occurrence” (Bauman 1999b:xxvi). The point is that any enhancing of individual knowledge rather than ushering in genuine freedom, merely adds to the growing individualization of our culture. Technology increasingly leads to instantaneity which means “to pursue gratification while avoiding the consequences” (Bauman 2000:128; original emphasis). Liquid Modernity: The Threat to Solidarity In 2000, Bauman adopted the metaphor of ‘liquidity’ to describe and explain the idealtype characteristics of the contemporary world. In doing so, ‘liquidity’ describes the dominant power mode of ‘light’ capitalism: Capital has become exterritorial, light, unencumbered and disembedded to an unprecedented extent, and its already achieved level of spatial mobility is in most cases quite sufficient to blackmail territory-bound political agencies into submission to its demand … Paradoxically, governments can hope to keep capital in place only by convincing it beyond reasonable doubt that it is free to move away – at short notice or without notice (Bauman 2000:149-150).

Bauman’s critique of today’s ‘liquid modernity’ is informed by the critical spirit of Karl Marx, with Bauman locating the cause of contemporary inequality with the global flow of capital and the increasing shift to deregulated markets. The conflicts of solid modernity have, as Bauman outlines through the ideas of Claus Offe, gradually been dissolved through deregulation, flexibility of the workforce and unbridling of financial markets; or to use Richard Sennett’s understanding of power techniques as incorporating ‘speed, escape, passivity’, leading to disengagement (Bauman 2000:5). Marx noted the capitalist logic to expand globally in seeking new markets; Bauman notes the defining role of the contemporary global economy as the dominant source of global power in shaping human life conditions. Power is diffuse, detached, and increasingly remote from social institutions that can control it for the task of creating a just and decent society. Now we live in a post-panoptical era where power – which Bauman here equates with capital – is no longer bound by space, moving now with the virtually instantaneous speed of an electronic signal. The prime technique of power is avoidance with no responsibility – grab what you can then run (Bauman 2000:11). Panopticon control is now used only for the homeless and shifty ‘underclass’, with the settled majority now ruled by the nomadic and exterritorial elite. Bauman has little regard for the contemporary global elite who he states are shaped after the pattern of old style ‘absentee landlords’ – they travel light and rule without responsibility and commitments that are binding (Bauman 2000:13). The suggestion in Bauman’s generalization is that those who are mobile and autonomous act with no regard for others. There is no consideration in Bauman’s work for the way elites may work to improve the lot of those worse off. His assumption appears to be that to have power

Bauman on Power


is to act against the interest of those who are subject to such power (or for power to merely bypass any engagement with the other so that they do not even come into moral consideration). Steven Lukes in his work Power: A Radical View (2005) raises the consideration that to assess power is to also deliberate the way power may not threaten but advance the interests of others, perhaps even benefit all, albeit unequally. This can only be determined on a case by case basis (Lukes 2005:83). Speed and technology are not evidence of human progress for Bauman who is rather concerned with the impact it has on human solidarity and moral commitment. Those who move and act faster now rule over those who remain tied to space. Power and domination – now a matter of mobility – lies with those who move quickly, though without the burden of physical closeness to those who their action effects. Capital has fled the ‘iron-cage’ while labour remains trapped, though with little of the security that was more predominant during ‘solid’ modernity’s era of engagement (Bauman 2000:120). Bauman notes the increasing insecurity faced by today’s labour force. Downsizing and merging offers capital the financial power and space to move quickly. In effect, the possibility of a ‘class-for-itself’ cannot be in a ‘liquid modernity’. Capital is now disengaged from labour – there is no longer mutual dependency, with struggle and conflict increasingly replaced by individual strategies to ensure one’s own survival in a fragmented world. A Redemptive Politics: The Return of the Agora? It is not a cheerful story Bauman tells. He does, however, offer us a redemptive possibility; our greatest chance to control our social environment, while ensuring the freedom to create and engage in our moral responsibility, lies with an increase in the space and capacity for politics. Bauman regards politics as the domain in which humans can best exercise their creative potential to take control of both individual and group existence through collective action. However, Bauman regards that our central problem today is a lack of political will with which to shape an autonomous society in which individuals can shape their social existence. He calls for a reinvigoration of politics in which citizens take centre stage and – to borrow from C. Wright Mills – in which ‘private troubles’ become ‘public issues’. The problem however, as Bauman observes, is that two strongly held contemporary beliefs are at contradiction with one another – while we believe we have freedom, we also believe there is little we can do to change the world (Bauman 1999a:1). The influence of Cornelius Castoriadis is evident throughout Bauman’s In Search of Politics; the two thinkers sharing a kindred spirit over the issue of individual and social autonomy. Bauman frequently quotes Castoriadis’ observation that ‘society no longer questions itself’. The agora – the space where private problems are translated into the language of the public and where public solutions are sought, negotiated and agreed upon – is used by Bauman as the form with which to inspire a return to a republican model and spirit of government and citizenship. Yet, Bauman argues that today the agora is more or less empty. On the few occasions when it is populated, individual anxieties and fears become the topics of public debate, though with no social recourse with which to aid in solving them. The key question for Bauman remains: “Is anybody


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

capable of doing whatever needs to be done?” (Bauman 1999a:98). The argument that we believe there is little we can do to change the world or that there is little political will, needs to be examined further. John Scott considers the question of pressure and resistance to power noting that “pressure is counteraction by those groups that have a recognized place in the political systems that surround states and other sovereign organizations. The key means of pressure is persuasive influence through lobbying, negotiation, and discussion” (Scott 2001:51). The question to be considered is the degree to which groups have access to the public forum and what sorts of pressure they can bring to bear on governments (who, for Bauman, are virtually impotent to fundamentally provide an alternative and solution to today’s concerns over our insecurity). Where they do negotiate access to the public forum, Bauman regards today’s political activity as conducted by a variety of groups who are more likely to be engaged in solitary one-off issues, as opposed to ongoing political engagements that constantly seek to address the issue of the ‘just society’. Alliance-building among the core powers leads to the formation of extensive transnational political networks and new transnational agencies with varying powers of command. As Manuel Castells notes: “The post-Cold War period is characterized by increasing multilateral interdependence between nation-states” (Castells 1997:262). Such alliances include proactive movements aimed at transforming human relationships (which in Bauman’s terms would need to further ‘autonomy’) and reactive movements that build trenches of resistance – two opposing trends that call the nation-state into question (Castells 1997:2). Using Bauman’s theories of ‘liquidity’, there is the need for, and possibility of, further analysis of these multilateral networks to determine the level of control nation-states have in providing citizenship that enables control over major issues challenging humankind. The issue of global governance in a ‘liquid’ world needs to be empirically scrutinized in order to determine the extent to which agency continues to be exercised (how and to what effect?) in relation to capital, technology and knowledge. Critics claim that global bodies, such as the World Bank and World Trade Organization, have contributed to world poverty and the widening gap between the rich and poor. The question remains as to whether globalization is a good or bad thing, whether globalization as such is responsible for poverty and inequality, and whether globalization can become as much a solution as the problem (in an economic and sociocultural sense). Despite his scepticism towards globalization, Bauman sees some glimpse of hope: For the first time in human history everybody’s self-interest and ethical principles of mutual respect and care point in the same direction and demand the same strategy. From a curse, globalization may yet turn into a blessing: ‘humanity’ never had a better chance! Whether this happens, whether the chance is indeed taken before it is lost, remains however an open question. The answer depends on us (Bauman 2004:88).

There is a need to examine in greater ongoing detail the work of transnational corporate and political organizations. Importantly, it needs to be further determined whether Bauman’s ‘liquid’ analysis fully accounts for the Realpolitik of such organizations,

Bauman on Power


with empirical investigation as to how they operate globally and the way in which their power constrains and enhances citizenship. Bauman is emphatic that global problems require global solutions: “There are no local solutions to globally generated troubles. Global problems can only be resolved, if at all, by global action” (Bauman 2004:88). Looking Back, Looking Forward From his early writings in Poland, to his first texts in English, and onto his recent work examining our ‘liquid modernity’, Zygmunt Bauman has always sought to expose power and the powerful, illuminating the ways in which power serves some at the expense of others. His focus is on large-scale structures of power, though mindful of the ways in which the impact of the global power arrangements are central to the ways in which we conduct our intimate daily relationships and the ability to engage responsibly with one another.6 Bauman, like Michel Foucault, acknowledges that power is primary with respect to social formations and is a basic constituent of every social relationship. Face to face encounters are examined by Bauman in a moral sense rather than the power relationship through personal traits and capacities, while gendered divisions of power and patriarchy remain virtually unacknowledged in Bauman’s work.7 The question of order is central to Bauman’s work on power, even as he ranges over a variety of themes. The advent of modernity was an attempt by humans to construct the perfect order in an attempt to control the uncertainty and fears that rapid social upheaval generated. Bauman’s interpretation of modernity regards structuring and ordering practices as a quest for certainty, limiting creativity and closing down human possibility. Douglas Kellner is critical of Bauman’s theorizing of modernity which he argues is a “rather uniform conception of modernity”. He notes that Bauman fails to theorize stages of modernity or of different modern mindsets which make modernity a contested terrain, neglecting its socioeconomic, institutional, structural and material determinants (Kellner 1998:76). Kellner further argues that there is little acknowledgement from Bauman on the positive gains of modernity – “democratic participation, rights, associations and socio-political contestation” (Kellner 1998:77). Yet, as Kellner acknowledges, Bauman provides an ‘ideal-type’ analysis that serves to illuminate many of the key defining features of modernity, highlighting some of the paradigms central to the organization and activities of society and culture. The strength in Bauman’s analysis of modernity comes from the defining features of his interpretation of modernity 6 See, for example, Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds (Bauman 2003). 7 A minor exception appears in Thinking Sociologically. Bauman and Tim May here note that women have been oppressed in patriarchal societies. Power relations favor men with women excluded from the social contract (Bauman & May 2001:69): “In male-dominated societies women are blamed for their oppressed state, leaving their confinement to what are assumed to be less prestigious and desirable functions to be explained by an ‘inborn’ inferiority manifested in excessive emotionality and a lack of competitive spirit” (Bauman & May 2001:71).


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

that enable confrontation and critical analysis of the shifts and changes which lead us to the uniqueness of the present age. What Bauman achieves is to outline the human consequences of this quest for the realizable perfect order. Bauman’s concern here is not with the possible gains of modernity, but to highlight the ways in which modern order-building was to close down creative possibilities, as boundaries and rules were established that sought to control and limit human freedom and creativity. By providing a critique of modern power in its ‘ideal-type’ form, Bauman gives us a broad overview that enables a comparison with the contemporary and provides a foundation for a further nuanced understanding. Bauman’s postmodern/liquid modern work is ambivalent; full of hope and possibility, but equally he is aware of the dangers inherent in a world in which the foundations are dissolving and humans become more detached from one another. While Bauman may overstate the ‘liquid’ metaphor and the formless shape of the contemporary world, the metaphor symbolizes an ‘ideal-type’ that effectively captures the overall tendencies and effects of the movement of global capital seeking ever new and profitable markets. This constant global movement, which increasingly transcends the boundaries and authority of nation-states, leads to a decreasing lack of order and the dissolution of forces which could keep the question of order and system on the political agenda. Hence his understanding of power as post-panoptical and post-ideological marks fertile theoretical points for considering the uniqueness of our globalizing world. His adoption of these perspectives provides insight into the movement and speed of capital, knowledge, and people as significant aspects of contemporary power. Yet, in a world of plurality and diffuse power, the panoptical style of surveillance remains for some, the poor and the outcast, while the ideology of consumerism grows in strength. To counter, Bauman retains a belief in the moral capacity of the individual. Here too is the exercising of power which is shaped by the social environment. There is evidence to suggest that despite inequalities and human suffering evident in the world, human moral capacity continues to flourish and this arguably is demonstrated through social movements that seek to challenge the ideology of neo-liberalism and the power of the market. Bauman’s work, in attempting to provoke and stimulate his readers to consider the central political and moral questions of the day, tends toward a sense of overdetermination – that the role of agency appears limited. There is no class actor to bring about change, while the intellectuals have abandoned the underclass, no longer seen as an active agent of change. Bauman’s work on politics considers the question: “Is anybody capable of doing whatever needs to be done?” (Bauman 1999a:98). This opens up the possibility of further research into this question, guided by Bauman’s arguments on ‘fluidity’ and ‘individualization’ and the dissolving of ‘solid’ modernity. This requires further analysis of counter-action, protest and collective mobilization. Studies of pressure and resistance need to be conducted examining actual decisions in relation to particular issues, particularly over who is involved, who is excluded, and what the consequences are for those whose wishes prevail. Bauman’s work introduces these ideas which he supports through empirical observations gathered and woven together from a variety of sources. However, more detailed and nuanced analysis would serve to develop and explore Bauman’s theories further. The task for future scholars and other thinkers engaged in social and human understanding, is

Bauman on Power


to engage Bauman’s broad insights into the way in which power is today exercised in our global environment. In this way, his critical and creative insights can inform empirical work so that the local is interpreted and understood in a global context. Moreover, empirical investigations of concrete configurations of power need to focus on the ways in which institutions act and – in relation to state power – examine the extent to which states shape and control global forces and their relationship to transnational bodies. Again this is evident in Bauman’s work, though it is somewhat sketchy, and more detailed research could further Bauman’s insights into the relative impotence of politics and consider the ways in which politics may be reinvigorated. To what extent are there signs of this happening with various anti-global movements? Is there resistance to the shaping of citizens as consumers? What are the prospects and evidence for a new form of dialogue that shapes a new form of consciousness and global awareness? Such studies need to engage ecological theory, information theory and the ways in which globalization is a force for positive change – the very hope and possibility that Bauman has expressed. While this involves substantive areas of decision-making, as John Scott notes, “pressure groups become involved in building a climate of opinion and a framework of decision-making rather than in securing favourable outcomes on specific issues” (Scott 2001:61). Such a ‘climate of opinion’ needs to be considered as part of the dialogue that Bauman calls for as an engagement both of citizenship in creating the good society, and for individual moral responsibility. What Zygmunt Bauman hands on to us is a series of concepts and ideas related to power. These enable considerations as to the uniqueness of our times and to analyze the precise relationships of power, and how they lead to specific acts that both include and exclude. His ideal-types of ‘solid’ and ‘liquid’ modernity enable us to question to what extent power has changed in its shape and the way in which it works. Such examinations need to be considered in the light of political institutions and major international bodies – including corporations – so that the relationship between the globalization of capital and government bodies can further be determined and understood, especially given the rapid ongoing global change. Such examinations enable the question of power to be reconsidered from the global spectrum through to everyday intimate relationships. This will create the possibility of positive human freedom – that underpins all of Bauman’s work – to remain at the forefront of human dialogue and action. Bibliography Bauman, Zygmunt (1973): Culture as Praxis. London: Routledge & Kegan. Bauman, Zygmunt (1976): Socialism: The Active Utopia. London: Allen & Unwin. Bauman, Zygmunt (1987): Legislators and Interpreters: On Modernity, PostModernity and Intellectuals. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1988): Freedom. Milton Keynes: Open University Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1989): Modernity and the Holocaust. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1990): Thinking Sociologically. Oxford: Blackwell. Bauman, Zygmunt (1991): Modernity and Ambivalence. Cambridge: Polity Press.


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

Bauman, Zygmunt (1992): Mortality, Immortality and Other Life Strategies. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1993): Postmodern Ethics. Oxford: Blackwell. Bauman, Zygmunt (1995): Life in Fragments: Essays in Postmodern Morality. Oxford: Blackwell. Bauman, Zygmunt (1999a): In Search of Politics. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1999b): Culture as Praxis (new edition). London: Sage Publications. Bauman, Zygmunt (2000): Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2001): Community: Seeking Safety in an Insecure World. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2003): Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2004): Identity: Conversations with Benedetto Vecchi. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2005): Liquid Life. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt & Tim May (2001): Thinking Sociologically. Oxford: Blackwell. Beilharz, Peter (2000): Zygmunt Bauman: Dialectic of Modernity. London: Sage Publications. Beilharz, Peter (ed.)(2001): The Bauman Reader. Oxford: Blackwell. Castells, Manuel (1997): The Power of Identity. Oxford: Blackwell. Kellner, Douglas (1998): “Zygmunt Bauman’s Postmodern Turn”. Theory, Culture & Society, 15 (1):73-86. Kilminster, Richard & Ian Varcoe (1996): “Addendum: Culture and Power in the Writings of Zygmunt Bauman”, in Culture, Modernity and Revolution: Essays in Honour of Zygmunt Bauman. London: Routledge. Lukes, Steven (2005): Power: A Radical View. London: Macmillan. Morawski, Stefan (1998): “Bauman’s Ways of Seeing the World”. Theory, Culture & Society, 15 (1):9-38. Scott, John (2001): Power. Cambridge: Polity Press. Tester, Keith (2004): The Social Thought of Zygmunt Bauman. London: Palgrave/ Macmillan. Tester, Keith & Michael Hviid Jacobsen (2005): Bauman Before Postmodernity: Invitation, Conversations and Annotated Bibliography. Aalborg: Aalborg University Press. van Krieken, Robert et al. (2000): Sociology: Themes and Perspectives. Sydney: Pearson Education Australia.

Chapter 11

Bauman on Utopia – Welcome to the Hunting Zone Michael Hviid Jacobsen

“Men climb successive hills only to discover from their tops virgin territories which their never-appeased spirit of transcendence urges them to explore. Beyond each successive hill they hope to find peacefully the end. What they do find is the excitement of the beginning” – Zygmunt Bauman: Socialism: The Active Utopia “Keep faith with the beginning, whose genesis is still to come” – Ernst Bloch: Man On His Own

Introduction Ever since antique Greek philosophy, and probably even earlier than that, utopia (semantically meaning equally ‘nowhere’ and ‘a good place’) and its accompanying utopianism has remained a continuously and conspicuous yet always ambivalent presence in social and political thought. It has been praised and castigated, valorized and condemned, worshipped and ridiculed, and yet it has – in some form or other – survived and continued to inspire thinking, dreaming and action throughout most parts of human history. In the work of Zygmunt Bauman, utopia and utopianism has also – with varying intensity – been a continuous presence. Sometimes a towering theme touched upon explicitly, at other times hiding in the dark or between the lines, utopia has always been there as part and parcel of his whole understanding of the development of society as well as an integral part of his critical social thought. Bauman’s analysis of utopia cannot be dissociated from his understanding of a variety of other and closely related topics and themes: ethics, the Holocaust, globalization, consumerism, the transformation of modernity, individualization, community, fear, identity, death, strangers, ambivalence, and freedom – all of these themes are infused with utopian or dystopian potential. Despite being often overlooked in delineations or interpretations of Bauman’s work, utopia thus remains a hallmark of his perspective and utopia constitutes, as it were, a ubiquitous metaphenomenon in his sociology, permeating every nook and cranny of his writings. Bauman’s work is notoriously difficult to classify or categorize. When excavating his texts, one will surely find relics of Marxist thinking, structuralist remnants, critical theoretical overtones, existential


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

echoes, hermeneutic cavities, socialist sympathies, deconstructivist ambitions, postmodern protrusions and humanistic hollows. Bauman’s work, however, may, perhaps, best be characterized as ‘utopian’ (Jacobsen 2004). In general, utopia constitutes a vast and fertile area for social thought and especially social criticism. Utopia, however, is a complex phenomenon containing many self-contradictory aspects and internally diverging connotations. Joe Bailey commented how “utopias are variously seen as dreams and fantasies, as parodies and pressure releasing satires, as systematic analyses of human nature, as mystic revelations and as hopeful blueprints for social reconstruction”, yet “all utopias are commentaries upon the present and its social problems” (Bailey 1988:55-61). Bailey sought to simplify the complexity and diversity of such ‘commentaries upon the present and its social problems’ by summarising three main functions of most conventional utopian thinking. First, it is provocative in that it seeks the active transformation of the contemporary state of affairs by critically proposing viable or visionary alternatives. Second, it is evaluative because it advances ideals and normative standards against which the success of any instigated social change may be ultimately assessed and measured. And finally, it is future-oriented in that utopia is always located somewhere/sometime in the future. It is never about how things are in the here and now, but about how things could be, thus always remaining not yet (Bailey 1988:60-62). Bauman’s utopianism, as I shall seek to illustrate below, in varying degrees displays and contains all these three characteristics. However, his utopia is, as a starting-point, less substantial and actual than corpuscular and imaginative, more ephemeral and indicative than solid and grounded. Keith Tester aptly captured the content or intention of Bauman’s utopianism by stating that it “signifies the praxis of possibility that seeks critically to open up the world against the ossification of actuality by common sense, alienation and brute power” (Tester 2004:147). He went on to propose that “within his sociology, Bauman tries to show that the world does not have to be the way it is and that there is an alternative to what presently seems to be so natural, so obvious, so inevitable” (Tester in Bauman & Tester 2001:9). It is precisely this utopian mentality of Bauman’s work stressing possibility and potentiality against naturalness, inevitability or probability that will be described and discussed below. In this chapter I will initially accompany the reader into Zygmunt Bauman’s utopian universe first by way of an introduction into his early English-language writings dealing substantially with utopianism in the mid-1970s. Subsequently, I will take this early interest in utopia up to the present by way of presenting his more recent analysis of utopian transformations. It is already here important to recognize that Bauman’s work both represents a utopian mentality and presents an interrelated historiographic delineation of the development of utopia. Finally, I will locate Bauman’s utopianism in the landscape of utopian thought and discuss the potentials and shortcomings of his ubiquitous utopianism. Before commencing with Bauman’s own perspective, let us briefly take a look at the state of utopia and utopianism as described in contemporary social theory.

Bauman on Utopia


Utopia Undermined Several years ago Ruth Levitas (1982) proclaimed the decline or gradual disappearance of utopia and linked it to the ‘death’ of the idea of progress in contemporary society. With the gradually fading of future-oriented optimism, utopianism withered, Levitas dramatically proposed. In a society no longer believing in progress or the future, utopia indeed stands a poor chance because utopia has always constituted the horizon towards which our dreams and aspirations for the present and the future moved. Levitas, however, was far from the only scholar having observed this undermining of utopianism in contemporary society. In a strikingly similar vein, for example, Eleonora Masini and Bart van Steenbergen (1983:4) explained how “our current alternatives have a feeling of stasis” about them. Also Chad Walsh, in his From Utopia to Nightmare, mourned the ‘waning of utopia’ in the 20th century and the subsequent rise of dystopianism in its place (Walsh 1962), and Judith N. Shklar in After Utopia: The Decline of Political Faith described how the ‘last vestiges of utopian faith’ seemed to have vanished (Shklar 1957). Towards the end of the 1960s, also Herbert Marcuse (1970) – in a lecture given at the Freie Universität in Berlin – announced the ‘death of utopia’ and pointed to the apparent redundancy of the term. He claimed that capitalist society now seemed capable of mobilizing opposition against utopian projects and since everything today appeared to be possible from a technological or scientific point of view, there would no longer be any, or at least only in extreme or extraordinary circumstances, need for utopias. Marcuse was far from the first, nor for that matter the last, scholar to declare the demise of utopianism. One of the most vociferous and most recent proponents of the demise of utopia thesis is Russell Jacoby who in The End of Utopia asserted how “we have entered the era of acquiescence, in which we build our lives, families and careers with little expectation the future will diverge from the present. To put this another way: the utopian spirit – a sense that the future could transcend the present – has vanished” (Jacoby 1999:xi). Even more recently, Jacoby observed how “the anti-utopian ethos has swept all intellectual quarters. Utopia has lost its ties with alluring visions of harmony and turned into a threat” (Jacoby 2004:136). Equally recently, Henry Giroux offered the following gloomy diagnosis: The impoverishment of intellectuals, with their increasing irrelevance, if not growing refusal, to speak of addressing, if not ending, human suffering is now matched by the poverty of social order that cannot conceive of any alternative to itself … Neoliberalism strips utopianism of its possibilities for social critique and democratic engagement … Moreover, anti-utopianism of both right and left can be found in those views that reduce utopian thinking to state terrorism and progressive visionaries to unrealistic, if not dangerous, ideologues (Giroux 2003:99).

According to Giroux and Jacoby, utopia is today primarily associated with either fundamentalism or state-interventionism, with terror or coercion, with bloodletting or irrelevancies, in either case as something either dangerous or undesirable. It seems as if neoliberalism in recent years has been successful in dismantling utopianism or transforming it into a liability. However, Wim Dierckxsens (2004) prognosticated that the imminent collapse of neoliberalism would once again offer a fertile soil from


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

which a new utopia could ultimately flourish. We are, however, still waiting for this imminent collapse. As is evident, many social thinkers throughout the 20th century have mourned the apparent demise of utopia – most prominently perhaps Karl Mannheim (1936/1976) and Frederick L. Polak (1973) – and the mourning choir has not diminished in recent years. On the contrary, throughout the last quarter of the 20th century an intensification of the protests and criticisms of the devastating decline of utopia and utopianism became the order of the day in sociology and related disciplines as some sort of fin de siecle social criticism now also carried into the new millennium. However, the types of utopia being mourned are utterly different. Whereas some seem to mourn the disappearance or dismantling of very concrete and tangible expressions of utopia – such as the welfare state, exotic experimental communes or particular political ideologies – others rather seem to mourn the overall lack of alternative visions of ‘the good society’ or social reality ‘as we know it’ but remain unconvinced that the proposed evaporation of the utopian mentality to engage critically with contemporary society is the final word in this matter. Zygmunt Bauman, as we shall see, belongs to this latter group.1 Not all social thinkers, however, have mourned the disappearance of utopia. Several among them, and equally prominent names indeed, have actually applauded the apparent demise of utopia, for example Immanuel Wallerstein stating that “the last thing we really need is more utopian visions” (Wallerstein 1999:1) and Isaiah Berlin (1991) anticipating the decline of utopian ideas in the West. Others, such as Jürgen Habermas, have not been convinced that utopianism has actually completely dried out. He believed it to be a premature and incorrect observation when proclaiming as a critique of the so-called ‘postmodernists’: “The thesis of the onset of the postmodern period is unfounded. Neither the structure of the Zeitgeist nor the mode of debating future life possibilities has changed; utopian energies as such are not withdrawing from historical consciousness. Rather, what has come to an end is a particular utopia that in the past crystallized around the potential of a society based on social labour” (Habermas 1989:52). As is evident, there are many diverging and contrasting evaluations of the state of utopia and utopianism in contemporary social theory, one side is mourning the disappearance of utopia, while the other is

1 Despite this declared disappearance of utopianism in sociology, several scholars and thinkers still operate within the so-called field or subfield of ‘utopian studies’. One of the scholars who have attempted to categorize different traditions of utopian past and present thought is Darko Suvin who differentiated between three main strands in his classification of utopian thought. First, he believed the major group to be constituted by what he termed ‘empirical or sociological utopians’. This group generally consists of geographers, urban planners, politicians and scholars working within the fields of applied social science. Second, we find the so-called ‘fictional or literary utopians’ often working within literary theory, women’s studies, ecological perspectives and science fiction genres. Finally, the intermediary position placed between this so-called ‘two-headed monster’ is occupied by ‘utopian philosophy’ (Suvin 1997:124-26). It is here, in this third category, I suggest we locate the work of Zygmunt Bauman who, although he is a sociologist, does not fit well into the first category which otherwise normally constitutes the natural environment for sociologists.

Bauman on Utopia


welcoming it. In either way, utopia, it seems, has fallen into disrepute and no one in their right mind would dream of rehabilitating it. Enter Zygmunt Bauman. Instead of explicitly either mourning or celebrating the apparent demise of utopia, Bauman’s analysis is rather preoccupied with describing the transformation of utopia and the causes and consequences of this transformation. He outlines how utopia and utopianism have undergone transformation several times throughout the last couple of centuries from the idle dreams of a better world in the tomorrow beyond the today, via the very concrete and tangible materialization of such a dream in modernist politics and architecture, through the apparent disappearance from the social landscape and mindscape, to the recent return of utopia, however a new and heretofore unseen type of utopia. Bauman admits that utopia and utopianism of a specific historical variant in recent times has been extinguished and the three following statements – taken from Socialism: The Active Utopia (1976), Legislators and Interpreters (1987) and Society Under Siege (2002) – all capture the way Bauman, in his somewhat sombre diagnosis of modern society, apparently, though only apparently, buried utopia: One can only suppose that the disrepute into which utopian thinking has fallen is that shared by magic, religion, and alchemy – all those slushy paths of the errant human mind which modern science set about eliminating once and for all from the map of human action (Bauman 1976:9). All old and prospective blueprints for a ‘good society’ seem embarrassingly unreal and naïve. The result is what has been described as the ‘loss of nerve’ or the loss of the ‘capacity for forward dreaming’. Ours is, decisively, not an age of utopias. The age of utopias is an age when utopias seem practical and realistic; ours is an age when the programmes intended as practical seem utopian (Bauman 1987:194). ‘Utopia’ – in its original meaning of a place that does not exist – has become, within the logic of the globalized world, a contradiction in terms. The ‘nowhere’ (the ‘forever nowhere’, the ‘thus-far nowhere’ and the ‘nowhere-as-yet’ alike) is no longer a place. The ‘U’ of ‘Utopia’ bereaved by the topos, is left homeless and floating, no longer hoping to strike roots, to ‘re-embed’ … The utopian model of a ‘better future’ is out of the question (Bauman 2002:236-239).

The aforementioned changing historical fate of a multitude of different utopian forms of expressions made Bauman ambivalent towards utopia or at least towards some variants of utopianism. While he remains critical of certain concrete versions and visions of utopia, and welcomes their withering, he simultaneously stays supportive of the overall spirit of utopianism. Utopia as such, in his view, is an eradicable constant in the human way of being-in-the-world (Bauman & Tester 2001:50), and, accordingly, utopia and utopianism therefore has not disappeared although its fates and fortunes have fluctuated violently throughout time. Utopian ideas may be either exhausted or misguided but they cannot disappear. To him, a society without utopia is utterly impossible to imagine.


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

A Utopia of the Underdog Bauman’s utopia has always categorically been a utopia aimed at improving the plight of the poor, the indolent, the downtrodden and the marginalized, whether in the industrial factories or concentration camps of solid modernity or in the refugee camps and social housing arrangements in liquid modernity. In conversation, he therefore declared his continuous and undying support of socialism: Like the phoenix, socialism is reborn from every pile of ashes left day in, day out, by burned-out human dreams and charred hopes. It will keep on being resurrected as long as the dreams are burnt and the hopes are charred, as long as human life remains short of the dignity it deserves and the nobility it would be able, given a chance, to muster. And if it were the case, I hope I’d die a socialist (Bauman in Bauman & Tester 2001:155).

Bauman’s utopia is, and has continuously and consistently remained, a socialist utopia. Reaching back to Culture as Praxis, in which Bauman analysed culture as human praxis aimed at retrieving the possible from the deadly domains of the natural, the real and the inevitable (Bauman 1973), he later stated: “I think social life cannot in fact be understood unless due attention is paid to the immense role played by utopia. Utopias share with the totality of culture the quality … of a knife with the edge pressed against the future” (Bauman 1976:12). Bauman’s book Socialism: The Active Utopia is an early attempt to point out how utopia may still serve a human purpose as a ‘living utopia’, an ‘active utopia’, a ‘utopia of the underdog’. The four dimensions of this utopia may be summarized as follows: 1. “Utopias relativize the present” (the transformative dimension). 2. “Utopias are those aspects of culture … in which the possible extrapolations of the present are explored” (the cultural/creative dimension). 3. “Utopias split the shared reality into a series of competing project-assessments” (the critical dimension). 4. “Utopias exert enormous influence on the actual course of historical events” (the practical dimension) (Bauman 1976:13-16). All dimensions above are mutually related and cannot be isolated from one another. As a whole they constitute the core of socialism as an active utopia. Without any references whatsoever to the work of Karl Mannheim, Bauman’s description of the active utopia bears close resemblance to Mannheim’s classic definition of utopia in his Ideology and Utopia as “all situationally transcendent ideas … which in any way have a transforming effect upon the existing historical-social order”, which are “incongruent with the state of reality” within which they occur, and which “when they pass over into conduct, tend to shatter, partially or wholly, the order of things at the prevailing time” (Mannheim 1936/1976:171-173). As is evident, Bauman’s utopia, like Mannheim’s, is concerned with critically and creatively transforming the present through praxis, with constituting a counter-culture. Socialist pioneer Karl Kautsky once remarked how ‘with utopia modern socialism begins’. Paradoxically, however, utopia has ever since the conception of socialism been a thorn deeply buried in its flesh, a blemish in its pedigree; flourishing in many

Bauman on Utopia


especially early and exotic variants of Marxism, yet relentlessly condemned by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in The Communist Manifesto in their critique of the utopian socialists’ futilitarian and unscientific predilection for the anticipated future instead of preoccupation with the urgency of the present situation. Apart from being a constructive comment on the continued relevance of the socialist utopia, Socialism: The Active Utopia therefore also reads as a devastating critique of socialism’s ultimate betrayal of utopia. Socialism as the counter-culture of capitalism, and later also as the counter-culture of the project of modernity, originally performed the role as a substitute for the bourgeois society’s way of dealing with the issues and problems confronting modern society – as a more active and energetic substitute eager to eliminate the multiple sources of unfreedom, stratification, injustice and social disintegration. Whereas the capitalist or bourgeois utopia awarded an undisputed top position in its hierarchy of values to freedom, socialism – ‘the utopia of the underdog’ – instead awarded that position to equality. In socialism however, freedom was not altogether abandoned or annihilated as a value but was arranged at a lower level of the hierarchy. It was not until later – in state-administered Stalinist socialism – that freedom was sacrificed along with community and human creativity. In their place, the values of State, Party, Equality and Historical Necessity were invoked as the true doctrine (Bauman 1976:49ff). In Socialism: The Active Utopia Bauman shows how scientific socialism in the shape of ‘actually existing socialism’ sold out on utopia. It is difficult historically to determine exactly when the socialist utopia turned into a Stalinist dystopia because the analytical demarcation line between utopia and dystopia is notoriously blurred. Take as an illustration of such blurring or indeterminacy Sir Thomas More’s original text Utopia which simultaneously depicts a land of extended welfare benefits such as free education, food supplies and clothing as well as short working-days and an island-state of constant surveillance and enforced human conformity. Therefore, it also contains clear dystopian elements as when More describes life in Utopia: “Everyone has his eye on you, so you’re practically forced to get on with your job, and make some proper use of your spare time” (More 1965:84). Little wonder this ‘ideal’ island-state equally inspired isolated and experimental Communist communes around the world as well as stood as the towering forerunner to George Orwell’s 1984 and his famous notion of ‘Big Brother is watching you’ as a critique of totalitarianism. According to Bauman, when socialism materialized and matured into a ‘project’, into an artificially created Frankenstein’s monster turning against its own creator, into ‘actually existing socialism’, it lost its nerve, its critical edge and its utopian impulse. Eventually, when the popular revolt in the late 1980s crushed the enforced utopia of the Eastern European Communist regimes, it became, in the memorable phrase of Noberto Bobbio (1989), an ‘upturned utopia’, or, as Arch Puddington (1988) suggested, a ‘failed utopia’. The aim of the socialist utopia can be described as “that of finding a credible language and imagery to represent the idea of a more radically democratic future; a horizon of expectations for different people to live by and act upon, with some measure and promise of real gratification” (Ross 1991:170). This ‘real gratification’ is perhaps what ultimately counts, but to Bauman the critical counter-cultural

The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman


dimension of the socialist utopia – to any existing social arrangement, capitalist, modernist or socialist for that matter – is equally important: As a cultural alternative, [socialism] must be expected to react to those parameters of the social system which the current experience renders particularly obtrusive and painfully felt. One of the most important features of socialism is its intrinsic criticism of the present, inseparable from its future-orientation … The role of socialism as a constantly critical leaven within the texture of present society has never changed. The desire for a just society, coupled with the renunciation of the present one as unjust, is the most constant feature of socialism, as well as the key to the understanding of its historical role in modern society … The utopian function of the socialist project can be retained, in the circumstances, only on condition that its critical edge is directed against all reality (Bauman 1976:50-51, 130).

As a logical consequence, this also means that socialism as an active utopia must continuously confront, remain dissatisfied with and critical of itself, of its own version of reality, and persistently turn against its own inner demons in order to understand its continuously unfulfilled promises and potentials as an active counterculture. In the book, Bauman therefore defines the ‘genuine’ socialist utopia as an ‘activating presence’ with close resemblance to what fellow-Polish thinker and exile Leszek Kołakowski (1981) later described as an ‘imaginative incentive’ or what David Bleich (1984) denoted a ‘motivating fantasy’; in each case something guiding human creative and critical activity, and something defying reason, logic, probability and prediction. In this early book, Bauman clearly invoked a utopian terminology with proactive and provocative connotations compared to the orthodoxy or common sense of the day. In this way, Bauman was, in the words of Pierre Bourdieu, a ‘consecrated heretic’ not merely within Marxist theory but equally within sociology, a heretic with critical prophesies who opposed the orthodoxy and who countered conventional understandings: “Whereas heresy … and all kinds of critical prophesy tend to open up the future, orthodoxy … works … in a sense to stop time, or history, by closing down the range of possibilities so as to try to induce the belief that ‘the chips are down’ for ever” (Bourdieu 2000:235). This heretic and simultaneously utopian stance – refusing that ‘the chips are down for ever’ – has remained a trademark of Bauman’s work from the early utopian socialist convictions which carried with him when, later in life, venturing into new territory. Ubiquitous Utopia Having looked at Bauman’s utopian mentality, let us now turn to his utopian historiography. Because Bauman believes utopia and utopianism to be a constant – although fluctuating – presence in human life, utopia never disappears entirely as a form but its content changes with the changing outlook of reality. Utopias of some sort are thus part and parcel of most known societies. As an exemplification of Bauman’s poetics – his continuous merging of and creative oscillation between social scientific analysis and literary-poetic exposition – he metaphorically describes

Bauman on Utopia


the transformation of modernity from a premodern gamekeeping utopia through a modern gardening utopia to a liquid modern hunting utopia (Jacobsen & Marshman 2007). Premodern Gamekeeping Utopias Although utopia, according to most interpretations, is a particularly modern invention, even primitive and premodern man, the gatherers and the hunters, according to Paul Radin (1971) strove towards utopia understood as a wish for the eventual return of the erstwhile Golden Age sometimes in the future. Here utopianism is cyclical or nostalgic – a hope of the resurrection of the past in the future and not, as with later utopias, the future in the present. Bauman labels this the ‘gamekeeping utopia’ (Bauman 2007b). In Legislators and Interpreters Bauman proposed a distinction between ‘gamekeepers’ and ‘gardeners’. He noted how gamekeepers do not feed the vegetation and the animals which inhabit the territory entrusted to their care; neither do they have any intention to transform the state of the territory to bring it closer to that of a contrived ‘ideal state’. Rather, they try to assure that the plants and the animals self-produce undisturbed (Bauman 1987:52).

To the gamekeepers, contrary to their gardening successors, “it does not occur … that a state of affairs different from the one sustained by such habits could be contemplated as a realistic alternative” (Bauman 1987:52). The gamekeepers, Bauman observes, are religions people believing in the great chain of being beyond their control or comprehension and so they leave the workings of the world to God’s design. Bauman’s perspective is that the gamekeeping utopia is perhaps not really a utopia at all because utopia, in his view, requires some sort of human activity aimed at transforming the present: The gamekeeper’s services rest on the belief that things are at their best when they are not tinkered with; in premodern times they rested on the belief that the world was a divine chain of being in which every creature had its rightful and useful place, even if human mental abilities were too limited to comprehend the wisdom, harmony and orderliness of God’s design (Bauman 2007b:99).

Utopia is born with the advent of the modern mentality, with the shift in human self-understanding from God to human beings as the creators of the grand design of the world. The turn from premodern ‘wild cultures’ to modern ‘garden cultures’ ushers in the coming of a new and more comprehensive type of utopia. Therefore, “it is the gardeners who tend to be the most keen and expert (one is tempted to say, professional) utopia-makers” (Bauman 2007b:99). Solid Modern Gardening Utopias Utopias, as we have come to know them, are primarily products of the modern mind, a product of the human will to change the world, of humans turning gardeners and leaving their gamekeeping past behind, humans replacing God as the Great Arbiter.


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

As gardeners, humans seek to arrange, order, perfect and cultivate the flowerbeds known as societies and, if necessary, to exterminate those weeds deemed dangerous or undesirable to healthy human living. This shift from gamekeeping to gardening utopia, from premodernity to modernity, constitutes the great transformation ‘Mark One’ of modernity. Transformation ‘Mark Two’ occurs with the shift from gardening utopia to hunting utopia or from solid modernity to liquid modernity, as we shall see later. The core of the transformation ‘Mark Two’ was described metaphorically by Bauman in Modernity and the Holocaust when stating: “There are many tasks human rulers may and should perform. Devising the perfect world order is not, however, one of them. The great world-garden has split into innumerable little plots with their own little orders. In a world densely populated with knowledgeable and mobile gardeners, no room seems to be left for the Gardener Supreme, the gardener of gardeners” (Bauman 1989:219). But for a substantial period of time, the gardening mentality and modern gardening utopias ruled supreme. Most prominent in this transformation ‘Mark One’ was the rise of the ‘legislators’ – people, such as politicians, bureaucrats, planners and intellectuals, “making authoritative statements which arbitrate in controversies of opinions and which select those opinions which, having been selected, become correct and binding” (Bauman 1987:4). Moreover, legislators are people who have the power, the desire and the ability to see that their statements are put into action. Solid modern utopia is an archetypal example of how “the vision of visionaries joined hands with the practice of practitioners: the intellectual model of an orderly universe blended with the ordering bustle of the politicians” (Bauman 1994:103). Joe Bailey summarized these activist underpinnings of modern gardening utopias which set them apart from the ‘counterfactual’ utopias conjured up by the premodern minds: Utopias are not just counterfactuals – idealized alternatives or reversals of existing arrangements. Modern utopias are extensions into time of some desired or feared characteristics already apparent in societies and as such functions as expectancies with all the political and ideological potency of such motivating visions … The modern utopia is a manifesto of man’s ability to engage in deliberate social change. It is secular, a critique of existing conditions and an implicit reform of, or complaint about, social organization (Bailey 1988:57). According to Bauman, two preconditions – mental as much as material – needed to be met for such solid modern gardening utopias to flourish. As he explains: To be born as prodromal symptoms of approaching modernity, utopian dreams needed two conditions. First, the overwhelming (even if diffuse and inarticulate) feeling that the world was not functioning properly and had to be attended to and overhauled to set it right. Second, the confidence in human potency to rise to the task, the belief that ‘we, human, can do it’ – being armed as we are with enough reason to spy out what is wrong with the world and find out with what to replace its diseased parts, and with enough strength to graft such designs on human reality; in short, the potency to force the world into a shape better fit to the satisfaction of human needs – whatever those needs already are or yet may become (Bauman in Jacobsen & Tester 2007:316-317).

Bauman on Utopia


As a consequence, characteristics of solid modern gardening utopias were their finality and their territoriality: they were tied to territorial claims (e.g. in the Nazi credo of Blut und Boden) and they were conceived as coming true – at least potentially – in this world (Bauman 2002:225-226). All notions of Kingdom Come or happiness in some ethereal afterlife were nothing but flights of fancy. Heaven was to be pulled down to earth and only humans could do it. As Richard Gerber rightly observed in his Utopian Fantasy: “The utopian imagination cannot remain content with far-off bliss and perfection. It is characterized by an insatiable desire to pull heaven down to earth by a violent effort” (Gerber 1955:45). Despite numerous (and quite often murderous) attempts to create heaven (or hell) on earth, utopia remained in solid modernity, however, always not yet – it was constantly chased after and craved for: “Progress was a chase after utopias rather than their realization. Utopia played the role of a dummy rabbit – ferociously pursued but never caught by racing dogs” (Bauman 2007b:96). Utopia waited somewhere in the wings to be welcomed through either incremental social improvements of the present or radical and revolutionary praxis: Drafters of utopia took it for granted that the long series of improvements on social reality, whether scattered over a long stretch of time or condensed revolutionary-style, must at some point reach its natural conclusion: not just a better society, but the best society conceivable, the perfect society, society in which any further change could be only a change for the worse (Bauman 2002:228).

Therefore, as Bauman testifies, “modern utopias were never mere prophecies, let alone idle dreams: openly or covertly, they were both declarations of intent and expressions of faith that what was desired could be done and will be done” (Bauman 2000:131). Sometimes ‘what was desired’ culminated in social improvements such as the welfare state or technological advances. Often, however, the urge to transcend the stubbornly present ended in human misery such as the Holocaust (Bauman 1989). As a consequence, the deep-seated latency for dystopian totalitarianism and authoritarianism, also recorded by Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer (1972) in their critique of the Enlightenment mentality with its instrumental reason going berserk, also lies at the heart of Bauman’s critique of modern gardening utopias when stating that “the urge to transcend is the most stubbornly present, nearest to universal, and arguably the least destructible attribute of human existence. This cannot be said, however, of its articulation into ‘projects’” (Bauman 2002:222223). As such ‘projects’, utopia spanned the entire era of solid modernity. As such ‘projects’, however, utopia ultimately ran out of steam. The existence of one specific type of utopia, Bauman insists, will ultimately provoke the coming of another: New utopias rarely wait until their predecessors exhaust their creative power, much less until they materialize and leave the realm of utopia forever; one utopia treads on the heels of the other, thus forcing it into redeploying its arms and opening a second battle-line. It is only for a few brief moments that a utopia may enjoy the luxury of an unchallenged status and focus all its guns on the unique enemy, the condemned reality (Bauman 1976:140).


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

Liquid Modern Hunting Utopias No utopia lasts forever – this was also the case with the solid modern gardening utopias. If living in God’s grace constituted the credo of premodern men and women, and if sacrificing oneself for State, Party and Fatherland was the obligation of the inhabitants of solid modernity, consuming life becomes the life choice of the denizens of contemporary liquid modernity. Today the gardening ambition has been definitively rejected and replaced, at all social levels, with a new utopian mentality, with hunting aspirations. Consequently, Bauman labels this liquid modern utopia a ‘hunting utopia’ (Bauman 2007b). Several decades ago, Robert Musil in his wonderful The Man Without Qualities observed how “we have gained in terms of reality and lost in terms of the dream. We no longer lie under a tree, gazing up at the sky between our big toe and second toe; we are too busy getting on with the job. And it is no good being lost in dreams and going hungry, if one wants to be efficient; one must eat steak and get a move on” (Musil 1995:40). Indeed a poignant description of the turn of fortune for utopia in liquid modern times. Unlike previously, utopia today is not postponed – rather, according to Bauman, it is lived through. We want to have our steak and eat it, now. We have moved from a solid modern era in which utopia dazzled dreamlike somewhere in the horizon to the liquid modern era in which utopia in the shape of commodities – artefacts and humans alike – is consumed daily by the insatiable homo consumens (Bauman 2007a). The instant gratification mentality has now caught up also with utopia and any delay of gratification is deemed intolerable, insane and out of the question. Contrary to the collective and long-term focus of the utopias of solid modernity, hunting utopias are hyper-individualized and thoroughly short-termed; grand designs or lofty ideals appear as anachronisms in the deregulated atmosphere of liquid modernity. Individuals are socialized and interpellated first and foremost as hunters and act accordingly – constantly looking for prey and for that extra supply of sensation or stimulus to saturate, however unsuccessfully or short-lived, their insatiable appetite for ever more: If a life of continuing and continuous hunting is another utopia, it is – contrary to the utopias of the past – a utopia of no end. A bizarre utopia indeed, if measured by orthodox standards … Strange, unorthodox utopia it is – but utopia all the same, as it promises the same unattainable prize all utopias brandished, namely the ultimate and radical solution to human problems past, present and future, and the ultimate and radical cure for the sorrows and pains of human condition. It is unorthodox mainly for having moved the land of solutions and cures from the ‘far away’ into the ‘here and now’. Instead of living towards the utopia, hunters are offered a living inside the utopia (Bauman 2007b:108-109).

Whereas everything else has now been liquefied – work life, identity, love, fear and so on – utopia, it seems, on the contrary, has solidified into reality. Living inside instead of living towards utopia signals the irreversible end to utopian designs and the paradoxical withdrawal of planners, politicians, bureaucrats and intellectuals to manipulate or tinker with the workings of the world. The grandiose dreams have gone and with them also the means with which to make them materialize. In In Search of Politics Bauman observes how “the utopias of yore stand condemned in the new

Bauman on Utopia


global elite’s Weltanschauung and life philosophy. Their two most crucial attributes – territoriality and finality – disqualify past utopias and bar in advance all future attempts to re-enter the line of thinking they once followed” (Bauman 2002:236). Regarding the territoriality of utopia, ‘light capitalism’, the capitalism of lap-top computers and stock-exchange transactions, is replacing the ‘heavy capitalism’ of monumental (or monstrous) factory structures and massive labour forces. Whereas solid modernity was the utopia of production and social labour, and thus a utopia of place, liquid modernity is the utopia of consumption and the constant stimulation of individual dreams and desires: “If early modern utopia envisaged a point in which time will come to a stop … There is no such point in the hunter’s life, no moment where one would say in clear conscience that the job has been completed, the mission accomplished” (Bauman 2005:310). Hunting utopia is a utopia of time coupled with a utopia of speed – of time as an episodic and endless series of consumer sensations with no conceivable or coveted end-point in which the only thing that counts is the speed with which to obtain, live through and consume these sensations. Apart from being dissociated from finality and de-territorialized, utopia has also been decollectivized or privatized. Bauman insists that “we live through a period of the privatization of utopia and of the models of the good (with the models of the ‘good life’ elbowing out, and cut off from, the model of the ‘good society’)” (Bauman 1999:7), and “unlike the utopian model of the good life, happiness is thought of as an aim to be pursued individually, and as a series of happy moments succeeding each other – not as a steady state” (Bauman 2002:240). In hunting utopia, most times people thus hunt alone, but sometimes hunting in packs appears more rewarding and assuring, as when groups desire identical consumer goods and create short-lived and shallow ‘imagined communities’ in order exclusively to claim and obtain them (Bauman 1992:xix). But hunting – and bowling – alone is now the name of the game. The overall consequence of the transformation from solid to liquid modern utopia is that any desire or ambition to change the way things are stands doomed. The ‘there is no such thing as society’ or ‘no more salvation by society’ credos have come true because “hunters could not care less about the overall ‘balance of things’ … The sole task they pursue is another ‘kill’, large enough to fill their game-bags to capacity. Most certainly, they would not consider it their task to make sure that the supply of game roaming in the forest is replenished after being decimated in the course of the hunt” (Bauman 2005:306). A related consequence is the liquefaction of utopia when compared to its solid modern predecessor. The classic solid modern Enlightenment idea of utopia as something practically within reach, waiting behind the next mountain ridge, merely awaiting active human intervention, has, according to George Steiner – and in line with Bauman – today fallen entirely into irreparable disrepute and become diluted: “The eternal ‘tomorrow’ of utopian political vision became, as it were, Monday morning” (Steiner 1971:20). We witness a trivialization of utopia and it seems as if our liquid modern society has moved, in the words of Peter Thielst (2001), from the ‘grand utopias’ of the late 19th and early 20th century to the ‘small visions’ of the early 21st century, from macro to micro utopias, from utopias of the political sphere to utopias of the market. Once upon a time marking the outer limits of human imagination and craving, utopia nowadays has turned into


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

‘just another Monday morning’. Not surprisingly, according to Joe Bailey (1988), the favourite utopias of today – and although his book was written in 1988, his analysis still holds – are respectively the utopia of ‘the new right’ and the utopia of ‘post-industrialism’ or ‘technologism’. These utopias, both variants of the hunting utopia, have replaced the classic solid modern utopia and filled the gap left by the decline of social, collective or public utopias. They promise salvation only to those few and fortunate who are able to participate in the consumer race, who can hold on to a job, earn a living, speculate on the stock-exchange, purchase private property and who may surf unworried on the internet searching for infinite opportunities and possibilities in partnership and pecuniary respects. The plight of the rest is of little or no interest. The new liquid modern hunting utopia chimes in with the TINA Syndrome stating that ‘there is no alternative’. Both are immune to critique, both are immune to questioning, both are immune to testing but neither comes without a cost. As Bauman reveals: Utopia brought from the misty ‘far away’ into the tangible ‘here and now’, utopia lived rather than being lived towards, is immune to tests; for all practical intents and purposes, and it is immortal. But its immortality has been achieved at the price of frailty and vulnerability of all and each one of those enchanted and seduced to live it (Bauman in Jacobsen & Tester 2007:320).

Not surprisingly, the liquid modern hunting utopia as described by Bauman brings sinister associations to dystopia. In Liquid Modernity Bauman revealed how liquid modern living “seems to be a dystopia made to the measure of liquid modernity – one fit to replace the fears recorded in Orwellian and Huxleyan-style nightmares” (Bauman 2000:15). Liquid modern living simultaneously shows utopia lived through, the end of utopia and the road to dystopia. Critical Utopianism: Ambivalence, Immanence and Transcendence As we have seen above, in recent years a resurgence and resurfacing of utopianism has permeated Bauman’s work. He revealed in recent conversation his belief that between his early book on the socialist active utopia and his current rediscovery of the term in the shape of the critique of the liquid modern hunting utopia, the topic was always very much present: The first book [Socialism: The Active Utopia] explored the signs of utopia’s demise or terminal convulsions (incorrectly deciphered, as it afterwards transpired); most recently, an examination of its newest avatar … Utopia was very much present in my writings, though in a somewhat perverse fashion – ‘hiding in the light’. Utopia was then ‘the Great Absentee’, conspicuous in a roundabout way, by the fatal impact of its disappearance: if anything, utopia’s significance was enhanced as it became evident, once the orientation point whose role it served through a large part of modernity was missing from the landscape, that it was precisely an orientation point that made a bagful of sights into a landscape (Bauman in Jacobsen, Marshman & Tester 2007:151).

Bauman on Utopia


It is important to stress that utopia in the work of Bauman has remained exactly such an ‘orientation point’, not a physical destination ever to be arrived at, and here he sides with the insightful Robert Musil who in The Man Without Qualities insisted that “utopia … is not a goal but an orientation” (Musil in Suvin 1997:131). Although disappearing from time to time, or ‘hiding in the light’, as it were, this utopian orientation point has remained a lighthouse in Bauman’s sociological analyses and interpretations throughout more than thirty years. Throughout his work, Bauman fully recognizes the chimerical character of utopia as on the one hand something very tangible, material and real, and, on the other hand, a fanciful and highly improbably figment of the imagination. He, however, sits astride the perpetual discussion of the reality versus the unreality of utopia and proposes utopia to be a constant in human life and activity. Bauman’s utopianism thus remains ambivalent: when turned into reality – solid or liquid modern – utopia becomes downright dangerous, but as a critical counter-culture of the presently real and the really present, utopia is of paramount importance. Despite Bauman’s somewhat sombre diagnosis of late in depicting the liquid modern hunting utopia, he never, however, surrendered into becoming a dystopian of despair. It would be much more accurate to describe him as a ‘utopian of hope’ (Tester & Jacobsen 2005:33). His belief in the human ability to conjure up and create a humane and just society, despite many historical convolutions and setbacks, is inextinguishable. Therefore, the silent presence of the obscure and messianic Marxism of Ernst Bloch is evident throughout Bauman’s own writings, although Bloch’s specific utopian terminology – ‘upright gait’, ‘the novum’, ‘little daydreams’, ‘not-yet’, ‘anticipatory consciousness’, ‘tendency’, ‘wishful images in the mirror’, ‘outline of a better society’, ‘latency’ and ‘the fulfilled moment’ – mostly remains absent. Like Bloch, Bauman is such an archetypal utopian of hope, but unlike Bloch, Bauman is less concerned with apparently idle daydreams and mere anticipatory consciousness (although Bloch actually more than anything aspired to create a socalled ‘concrete utopia).2 To Bauman there is a real world out there urgently needing remedial intervention. Utopia is ‘transcending without transcendence’, as Ernst Bloch remarked; to Bauman it is a matter of utilizing the present condition, with all its inherent problems but also its immanent possibilities, as a transcending take-off to control the present and anticipate the future without turning into totalitarianism. He often quotes Pierre Bourdieu’s statement that we need to ‘control the present in order to be able to shape the future’. ‘The present is pregnant with the future’, as Leibniz once famously remarked; the world is ‘a vast container full of future’, as Bloch less famously but equally crucially stated. Bauman would agree with both, although the future is not seen as predetermined by the present – it is always open to possibility, many different possibilities, actively needing exploration: “Each moment of human 2 Ernst Bloch was far from blind to the importance of actually existing reality. However, he pointed to the ubiquity of utopia by stating: “So far does utopia extend, so vigorously does this raw material spread to all human activities, so essentially must every anthropology and science of the world contain it. There is no realism worthy of the name if it abstracts from this strongest element in reality, as an unfinished reality” (Bloch 1986:624). Bauman would in all likelihood add that this reality is not merely unfinished but utterly unfinishable.


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

history is, to a greater or a lesser degree, an open-ended situation; a situation which is not entirely determined by the structure of its own past, and from which more than one string of events may follow” (Bauman 1976:10). The present marks the gateway to the future and the corridor to an improved future. Thus, immanence and transcendence equally characterizes Bauman’s utopianism which entails the understanding that the present is open to and fertile with the future that can only be potentially forestalled aided and abetted by active human intervention. Can we come any closer to defining and narrowing down such somewhat elusive trademarks of Bauman’s utopianism? Lewis Mumford (1968), in a relatively similar fashion to Bloch’s (1970) distinction between ‘utopistic’ and ‘utopian’, once differentiated between ‘utopias of escape’ and ‘utopias of reconstruction’. Whereas the former are concerned with momentarily relieving those indulging in cerebral escapism from their present plight by way, for example, of science fiction dreamworlds or by building ‘impossible castles in the air’ thereby leaving the external world as it is, the latter are concerned with radically changing existing reality, for example by transforming the physical appearance of that reality through architectural and social planning. Bauman’s utopianism clearly belongs to neither idealtypical camps. He presents utopia not as escapism, as so many literary writers, but as activism. Moreover, he is utterly unconcerned with concrete architectural designs or social engineering as expressions of the ‘good society’ – to him they take us further away from what the good society may possibly be. Also Raymond Williams, in his classic prophetic book Towards 2000, differentiated between two types of utopianism – utopia depicted as ‘systematic’, meaning that all-encompassing idea of the ideally planned society or an equally all-encompassing critique of or alternative to existing contemporary society on the one hand, and utopia as ‘heuristic’, meaning an ‘imaginative encouragement’ to feel, relate and act differently on the other (Williams 1983:12-15). There is little doubt that Bauman’s utopianism primarily belongs to this latter category in its insistence on encouraging imaginative and active involvement without proposing a nostrum for curing all the illnesses of society. Thus, Bauman’s utopia, not as a specific physical place but as cultural imagination, as immanence and transcendence, has a lot in common with Italo Calvino’s wonderful description of the ‘utopia of fine dust’: Certainly, in recent times, my need to come up with some tangible representation of future society has declined. This is not because of some vitalistic assertion of the unforeseeable, or because I am resigned to the worst, or because I have realized that philosophical abstraction is a better indication of what may be hoped for, but maybe simply because the best that I can still look for is something else, which must be sought in the folds, in the shadowy places, in the countless involuntary effects that the most calculated system creates without being aware that perhaps the truth lies right there. The utopia I am looking for today is less solid than gaseous: it is a utopia of fine dust, corpuscular, and in suspension (Calvino 1986:254-255).

Despite his lack of interest in concrete utopias and support of ‘gaseous, corpuscular and suspended utopia’, Bauman is concerned with contemporary social and political arrangements and his work contains certain elements of the systematic utopia because he, at least in In Search of Politics, comes up with some suggestions, however

Bauman on Utopia


embryonic, on how to improve current social reality such as a basic income and how to inspire a revitalization of the public sphere, the agora. Williams moreover claimed that there “is an obvious relation between this revival [of utopianism] and the recurrent disappointments and despairs of orthodox politics” (Williams 1983:12). Such disappointments and despairs are mirrored in Bauman’s position and are probably the main reasons behind the recent resurgence of utopianism in his work. He echoes Paul Ricoeur’s (1986) insistence that utopia must become our culture’s main warning against invisible systems taking over the human world and as a weapon against cultural, political and intellectual closure. Although his work signals an unconditional support for utopia as critical countercultural imagination, Bauman remains ambivalent about utopia – an ambivalence equally reflected in the uneasiness of the surrounding academic culture regarding the usefulness of utopianism, as I illustrated above. Tom Moylan captured this inner tension or ambivalence by coining the term ‘critical utopias’ and stating that “a central concern in the critical utopia is the awareness of the limitations of the utopian tradition, so that these texts reject utopia as a blueprint while preserving it as a dream” (Moylan 1986:10). This is an apt characterization of the work of Bauman who is simultaneously critical and yet supportive of certain aspects of utopianism. Often utopians have been suspiciously stigmatized as futile nostalgics or day-dreamers, romantics or futurists, either way as idle idealists whose suggestions for a better present or future merely shrugged the shoulders of authorities as well as ordinary people. Other utopians have been criticized on the grounds of their feverish urge to turn idle dreams into flesh and their obsessive search for ordering or modelling the real world after some obscure blueprint or master plan. George Steiner once claimed that the main reason for our culture’s suspicion of and ambivalence towards utopians stem from the fact that what they say is so evidently true but often so offensively and annoyingly true because it always remains immediately out of reach: “We hate most those who hold out to us a goal, an ideal, a visionary promise, which, even though we have stretched our muscles to the utmost, we cannot reach, which slips, again and again, just out of range of our racked fingers – yet, and this is crucial, which remains profoundly desirable, which we cannot reject because we fully acknowledge its supreme value” (Steiner 1971:41). Moreover, Steiner claims that especially the Jews, the continuous ‘bad conscience of Western history’, have performed this specific role of critical and idealist utopians holding out goals, ideals and visions immediately out of reach. Bauman has, as the outsider, the Jewish intellectual in exile, throughout the years embraced this role with uncompromising consistency. Another and related reason for our culture’s contempt for utopias and utopians is their often far-fetched ideals or fanciful descriptions and therefore “criticisms for ‘unreality’ are the price that must be paid” (Bailey 1988:63). According to one of utopias’ staunchest critics, Karl Popper, one of the main reasons why utopianism must be countered and castigated is because it exclusively focuses on ‘ends’ instead of on ‘means’. We cannot, according to Popper, be rational about ends, the main concern of Wertrationalität, and therefore utopianism must be deemed utterly irrational (Popper 1945). Bauman, however, rejects such critique by stating that “there is no method which allows us to establish in advance the ‘truth’ or ‘untruth’ of utopia, for the simple reason that the fate of utopia … is not determined in advance … The


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

‘realism’ or ‘practicality’ of a utopia may be discovered (or, more appropriately, secured) only in the course of action” (Bauman 1976:17). Also Agnes Heller and Ferenc Fehér refuted this line of criticism when observing that “so many institutions which we now take for granted were once utopian, such that the association of utopia with unfeasibility is completely unjustifiable” (Heller & Fehér 1988:35). And Leszek Kołakowski eloquently, yet cryptically, recapitulated his perspective by stating that “it may well be that the impossible at a given moment can become possible only by being stated at a time when it is impossible” (Kołakowski 1969:92). Utopia, in Bauman’s understanding, belongs neither to the Aristotelian realm of techne nor to the sphere of episteme susceptible to testing or experimentation. Rather, it would need to be classified among those topics belonging to the realm of phronesis – the Wertrational concern with values and evaluations, with prospects and perspectives that according to Bent Flyvbjerg asks the following pertinent questions: ‘Where are we going?’, ‘Is this desirable?’, and ‘What should be done?’ (Flyvbjerg 2001:60). Assessing utopianism from a Zweckrational position is to miss and misinterpret the cultural relevancy and social necessity of such all-important and clearly value-guided questions. In his defence of utopia, Andrew Hacker half a century ago thus claimed that “utopia is a full-blooded animal. It is not at all subject to the current sociological contention of whether or not to introduce (or admit of possessing) values. It is all values” (Hacker 1955:135). Utopia Unearthed Throughout his work, Zygmunt Bauman challenges our understanding and appreciation of utopia while criticizing much that passes for utopianism in social theory and society alike. His own continued ambivalence towards utopia consists in utopia for him constituting both something made tangible as well as immanence and transcendence, both a sitting target as well as a receding horizon never within reach. It constitutes the target in his critique of the solid modern obsession with order, planning and control and the liquid modern abolition of the selfsame ambitions but it also constitutes the receding horizon of dignity, liberty, humanity and hope. Possibility rather than probability, self-constitution rather than necessity, self-sacrifice rather than mere survival, being-for-the-Other rather than being-with-the-Other, autonomy rather than heteronomy, becoming rather than being, potentiality rather than reality, utopia rather than dystopia. This is the core of Bauman’s ubiquitous utopian perspective. To him, utopia marks the beginning, not the end of an argument, dialogue or relationship. It is neither a project to be completed, finished or realized, nor an idea awaiting materialization or an expectation craving fulfilment. Therefore, liquid modern hunting utopia, utopia lived through, utopia solidified, in his view equals dystopia. Utopia, for Bauman, is and always remains not yet, always not-yetbecoming, always unrealized and unrealizable. Utopia is always still ahead. As Peter Beilharz poignantly observed: “If Bauman after all these years is unable to escape from utopia, then perhaps utopia remains behind us as well as ahead; that, or else it is our carapace, as moderns, our shell against all historical possibilities on either side of us. We can never be behind what is always ahead of us” (Beilharz 2000:160).

Bauman on Utopia


Therefore, Bauman’s feat consists in expanding and salvaging our understanding of utopia: I suspect that in our social-scientific usage all too often we unduly narrow down the concept of ‘utopia’ to the early modern blueprints of the good society, understood as a kind of totality which pre-empts its members’ choices and determines in advance their goodness, however understood … I am now inclined to accept that utopia is an undetachable part of the human condition … I now believe that utopia is one of humanity’s constituents, a ‘constant’ in the human way of being-in-the-world. This does not mean that all utopias are equally good. Utopias may lead to a better life as much as they may mislead and turn away from what a better life would require to be done (Bauman in Bauman & Tester 2001:48-50).

Such a statement echoes Ernst Bloch who in his utopian magnum opus The Principle of Hope stated that to limit the utopian to the Thomas More variety, or simply to orientate it in that direction would be like trying to reduce electricity to the amber from which it gets its Greek name and in which it was first noticed. Indeed, the utopian coincides so little with the novel of the ideal state that the whole totality of philosophy becomes necessary … to do justice to the content of that designated by utopia (Bloch 1986:15).

The statement, however, also illustrates Bauman’s own inner ambivalence towards utopia – utopia can equally be positive, if it does not materialize, and disastrous, if forced into being.3 Zygmunt Bauman’s work is notorious for offering no nostrum, no wonder-cure and no social elixir against the problems confronting contemporary society. His apparent critical pessimism must rather be seen as a wake-up call to the world. He offers no neutral perspective on the world but a critical, counter-cultural, valueoriented and normative utopian vantage point. And this is desperately needed – also within sociology. As Frank and Fritzie Manuel, two lifelong proponents of utopia, once stated – something as true today as when first formulated – society cannot survive without utopia: “Western civilization may not be able to survive long without utopian fantasies any more than individuals can exist without dreaming … To cultivate wisely the ancient art of wishing as an antidote to the present saturation with the pseudoscience of prediction and the busyness of the masters of applied utopistics may be a paramount moral need of the age” (Manuel & Manuel 1979:814). In his work, Bauman continues to nurture this need and fertilize this hope. So lets us end this exposition of Bauman’s utopianism with the wonderful words of Walter 3 A similar perspective is also found in Kingsley Widmer’s Counterings in which he stated: “I have often been treating utopianizing as the concern with ‘alternative societies’. That is fairly commonplace, and, of course, not a little misleading. For the concern is not neutral, not the mere speculative engagement in variety, but the passionate desire for a quite different and considerably better society … Passionate desires, as we all know too well, are dangerous conditions. The passion for a different society draws on mixed motives. There are some good as well as many bad reasons that ‘utopian’ is often a pejorative term” (Widmer 1988:152).


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

Benjamin: “It is only for the sake of those without hope that hope is given to us” (Benjamin in Marcuse 1964:257). Bibliography Adorno, Theodor W. & Max Horkheimer (1972): Dialectics of Enlightenment. New York: Herder & Herder. Bailey, Joe (1988): Pessimism. London: Routledge. Bauman, Zygmunt (1973): Culture as Praxis. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Bauman, Zygmunt (1976): Socialism: The Active Utopia. London: Allen & Unwin. Bauman, Zygmunt (1987): Legislators and Interpreters. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1989): Modernity and the Holocaust. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1992): Intimations of Postmodernity. London: Routledge. Bauman, Zygmunt (1994): “Narrating Modernity”, in James Burnheim (ed.): The Social Philosophy of Agnes Heller. Rodopi: Amsterdam. Bauman, Zygmunt (1999): In Search of Politics. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2000): Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2002): Society Under Siege. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2005): “Education in Liquid Modernity”. The Review of Education, Pedagogy and Cultural Studies, 27:303-317. Bauman, Zygmunt (2007a): Consuming Life. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (2007b): Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bauman, Zygmunt & Keith Tester (2001): Conversations with Zygmunt Bauman. Cambridge: Polity Press. Beilharz, Peter (2000): Zygmunt Bauman: Dialectic of Modernity. London: Sage Publications. Berlin, Isaiah (1991): “The Decline of Utopian Ideas in the West”, in The Crooked Timber of Humanity. London: Fontana Press. Bleich, David (1984): Utopia – The Psychology of a Cultural Fantasy. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Research Press. Bloch, Ernst (1970): A Philosophy of the Future. New York: Herder & Herder. Bloch, Ernst (1986): The Principle of Hope. Oxford: Blackwell. Bobbio, Noberto (1989): “The Upturned Utopia”. New Left Review, 177:37-39. Bourdieu, Pierre (2000): Pascalian Meditations. Cambridge: Polity Press. Calvino, Italo (1986): The Uses of Literature. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Dierckxsens, Wim (2004): “The End of Neo-Liberalism, Unsustainable Capital, and the Need for a New Utopia”. Concilium, 5:15-26. Flyvbjerg, Bent (2001): Making Social Science Matter: Why Social Inquiry Fails and How It Can Succeed Again. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Gerber, Richard (1955): Utopian Fantasy. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Giroux, Henry A. (2003): “Utopian Thinking Under the Sign of Neoliberalism: Towards a Critical Pedagogy of Educated Hope”. Democracy & Nature, 9 (1):91105.

Bauman on Utopia


Habermas, Jürgen (1989): “The New Obscurity: The Crisis of the Welfare State and the Exhaustion of Utopian Energies”, in The New Conservatism: Cultural Criticism and the Historians’ Debate. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Hacker, Andrew (1955): “In Defense of Utopia”. Ethics, 65 (2):135-138. Heller, Agnes & Ferenc Fehér (1988): The Postmodern Political Condition. Cambridge: Polity Press. Jacobsen, Michael Hviid (2004): “From Solid Modern Utopia to Liquid Modern Anti-Utopia? Tracing the Utopian Strand in the Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman”. Utopian Studies, 15 (1):63-87. Jacobsen, Michael Hviid & Sophia Marshman (2007): “The Metaphorical Imagination – Zygmunt Bauman’s Poetics of the Transformation of Modernity”. Sosiologisk Årbok, 20 (1-2):103-144. Jacobsen, Michael Hviid & Keith Tester (2007): “Sociology, Nostalgia, Utopia and Mortality: A Conversation with Zygmunt Bauman”. European Journal of Social Theory, 10 (2):305-325. Jacobsen, Michael Hviid, Sophia Marshman & Keith Tester (2007): Bauman Beyond Postmodernity: Critical Appraisals, Conversations and Annotated Bibliography 1989-2005. Aalborg: Aalborg University Press. Jacoby, Russell (1999): The End of Utopia. New York: Basic Books. Jacoby, Russell (2004): “On Anti-Utopianism, More or Less”. Telos, 129:97-137. Kołakowski, Leszek (1969): Marxism and Beyond: On Historical Understanding and Individual Responsibility. London: Pall Mall Press. Kołakowski, Leszek (1981): “A Conversation with Leszek Kołakowski by George Urban: The Devil in History”. Encounter, 56 (1):9-26. Levitas, Ruth (1982): “Dystopian Times? The Impact of the Death of Progress on Utopian Thinking”. Theory, Culture & Society, 1:53-64. Mannheim, Karl (1936/1976): Ideology and Utopia. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Manuel, Frank E. & Fritzie P. Manuel (1979): Utopian Thought in the Western World. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press. Marcuse, Herbert (1964): One-Dimensional Man. London: Routledge. Marcuse, Herbert (1970): “The End of Utopia”, in Five Lectures: Psychoanalysis, Politics, and Utopia. Boston: Beacon Press. Masini, Eleonora & Bart van Steenbergen (1983): “Introduction”, in Eleonora Masini (ed.): Visions of Desirable Societies. New York: Pergamon Press. More, Thomas (1965): Utopia. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. Moylan, Tom (1986): Demand the Impossible: Science Fiction and the Utopian Imagination. New York: Methuen. Mumford, Lewis (1968): The Story of Utopias. New York: Viking Books. Musil, Robert (1995): The Man Without Qualities, Volume I: 1930-1942. London: Minerva. Polak, Frederick L. (1973): Images of the Future. Amsterdam: Elsevier. Popper, Karl (1945): The Open Society and Its Enemies. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Puddington, Arch (1988): Failed Utopias: Methods of Coercion in Communist Regimes. San Francisco, CA: Institute for Contemporary Studies Press.


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

Radin, Paul (1971): The World of Primitive Man. New York: E. P. Dutton. Ricoeur, Paul (1986): Lectures on Ideology and Utopia. New York: Columbia University Press. Ross, Andrew (1991): Strange Weather: Culture, Science and Technology in the Age of Limits. London: Verso. Shklar, Judith N. (1957): After Utopia: The Decline of Political Faith. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Steiner, George (1971): In Bluebeard’s Castle: Some Notes Towards the Re-definition of Culture. London: Faber. Suvin, Darko (1997): “Locus, Horizon, and Orientation: The Concept of Possible Worlds as a Key to Utopian Studies”, in Jamie O. Daniel & Tom Moylan (eds.): Not Yet: Reconsidering Ernst Bloch. London: Verso. Tester, Keith (2004): The Social Thought of Zygmunt Bauman. London: Palgrave/ Macmillan. Tester, Keith & Michael Hviid Jacobsen (2005): Bauman Before Postmodernity: Invitation, Conversations and Annotated Bibliography 1953-1989. Aalborg: Aalborg University Press. Thielst, Peter (2001): Den bedste af alle verdener – de store utopier og de små visioner. Copenhagen: Tiderne Skifter. Wallerstein, Immanuel (1999): Utopistics, Or Historical Choices of the Twenty-First Century. New York: The New Press. Walsh, Chad (1962): From Utopia to Nightmare. New York: Harper & Row. Widmer, Kingsley (1988): Counterings – Utopian Dialectics in Contemporary Contexts. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Research Press. Williams, Raymond (1983): Towards 2000. London: Chatto and Windus.


Bauman on Bauman – Pro Domo Sua1 Zygmunt Bauman

Over the fifty years of my academic life I shunned and resisted the numerous pulls and pushes, prodding and jostling repeated ever more often as the years went by, to compose a comprehensive and cohesive story of my sociological itinerary, to make explicit its purpose and reveal the logic, if any, behind its twists and turns. There were a number of reasons to resist the pressure; fortunately, certain biographical peculiarities made the resistance easier. To start with, I suspected (and still do) most such ‘autobiographical’ exercises to fall into either a self-promotion or a self-apology category, none of which commanded much sympathy. As a sociologist, I could understand why they kept being written and why some of them happened to be avidly read – but to understand a habit does not necessarily mean to forgive it, let alone to indulge in following it. But then I never had to climb a barricade to defend that conviction. Unlike most of my colleagues I was, luckily, never forced by the harsh reality of academic career to betray it. As it happened, in all my life only once I had to write a job application: in 1953, for an assistantship to a philosophy professor at Warsaw University. And so I was never drilled to ‘sell myself’ and ingratiate to prospective buyers with expediently composed story of my genuine or putative attainments and noble intentions. I failed to acquire the skills to invent/write such a story – but not knowing how to do it helped to abstain from doing what I had no appetite to do in the first place. Academic career, if any, is now safely behind me and so there is neither a purpose in, nor an expectation of, self-promotion. As to the self-apology – what was done or failed to be done has been, and it is too late now for repentance, let alone redemption. No reason left to go on resisting, therefore. But the lack of know-how remains. Instead of the harmonious and elegant system which my young, learned and brilliant friends Michael Hviid Jacobsen and Poul Poder surely hoped for, I can offer but a handful of scattered, unconnected or poorly connected reflections; more on what I remember to believe in (my credo), than on what I did or did not manage to accomplish. 1 This piece was originally written for and published in a Danish version in the anthology Om Bauman – kritiske essays (On Bauman – Critical Essays), edited by Michael Hviid Jacobsen and Poul Poder and released by Hans Reitzels Forlag, Copenhagen in 2006. Due to the importance of Bauman’s reflections in this piece, we are grateful for the opportunity to reprint it in an English translation in this current volume.


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

There is a silver lining to this cloud, though: at least no retrospective logic will be insinuated into a string of contingencies that has been patched together into a single human life. And so we would, Michael Hviid Jacobsen, Poul Poder, myself and our readers, steer clear of the fallacy which Hume warned us long ago, though in vain, to avoid: that post hoc means always and everywhere, and necessarily, propter hoc. *** I read Albert Camus’s The Rebel in the late 1950s. I have not read it again since, though to many other books that made me think or set my thought on course I returned many times, even regularly, to quote and check the quotes, to recover the exact wording. The Rebel was different from other books I read. Not that it engraved itself on memory more effortlessly than other books did; the grooves it carved on my mind were neither deeper nor exceptionally resistant to erasing and polishing; and they did not beat other furrows on quantity or density. I guess that what made Camus’s book different was the moment of our meeting. Mother’s milk brings the baby to the point when it grasps the difference between arms and legs, stands upright and begins walking, and once that happened the baby never tries it again, forgets its taste but needs not to refresh its memory because the task from then on is to keep straight and watch one’s steps – and there is, in every move, the trace, the legacy, the gift of the milk whose flavour the child and the adult who grow from the baby no more remember. Camus’s rebel is a human who says ‘no’. Also a human who says ‘yes’. And a human who says each of those words in a way that leaves room for the other one. The rebel refuses to accept what is, yet also abstains from rejecting it. He would not condone human condition, unfinished, unfinishable and shot through as it is by the inhuman (haunted by its Professor Moriarty, its anti-Christ, its alter ago, its inner demon, its nightmares come true), for being no match to what human condition could be, what the humans deserve and what humans can divine. But he neither shrugs off nor disdains that condition; even less he holds in contempt the humans cast into it. His motto is hic Rhodos, hic salta. He is always ‘on his mark, set, ready to go’ – but for the leap into humanity there is no other catapult except the ‘really existing’ human condition complete with its inhumanities. That motto defines Camus’s rebel. It also sets him apart from the ‘metaphysical’ and ‘historical’ rebels, his close relatives but not companions in arms; perhaps even his sworn enemies and most treacherous adversaries. The metaphysical rebel rejects human condition, charging it as unjust, duplicitous, abject and absurd. He denies it the right to exist and the right to recognition. That condition needs to be cast out of mind it pollutes and out of the way it bars. Metaphysical rebel is intolerant. He would not forgive, let alone absolve, the sin of non-resistance. He hates sin, but hates the sinners even more. He hates the world’s inhumanity; but he hates more, since he also despises and spurns, its slaves, victims, and collateral casualties. Metaphysical rebel would say that the most heinous crime of the ‘really existing’ human condition is its conspiracy against rebellion. And yet no criminals are to him more repellent than the non-rebelling humans.

Bauman on Bauman


The errors of historical rebel are yet more awesome, or so they appear – since it was against the historical rebel that Camus’s rebel had to assert his own kind of rebellion. At the time Camus wrote the metaphysical rebel seemed to have been already toppled and dethroned by his ‘historical’ cousin – and the dynastic change seemed irreversible and altogether final. It was also clear by then that though the historical rebel waged his rebellion against the metaphysical variety of slavery – he did so but in the name of slavery new and improved. He rebelled against facing the fact of human loneliness and of the responsibility that comes with it. He could not stand the condition of moral subject any more than the absurdity of human impotence and insignificance that divine guardianship or equanimity of Nature revealed or insinuated. Serfdom, says Camus, was the true passion of the twentieth century. Orphaned by own choice and own act and frightened by the orphan’s powerlessness, historical rebel ran for shelter – desperately seeking a new authority that would accept his surrender and a new conformity to which to conform. He found them in the laws of history. Laws of history relieve the pained shoulders of the burden of responsible choice. They also absolve of the most harrowing of duties – the duty of subjectivity: that care for the Other in which the Self, the subject standing alone yet not lonely, self-guided yet not abandoned, is born. Finally, they offer a most effective escape from the guilt of cruelty by stamping the historical inevitability of progress over the distinction between good and evil. I cannot be sure, after the years, that Camus said all that and put his thoughts in the same or similar words, but this is nevertheless what I learned reading The Rebel. I guess the lesson was in one sense ineradicable: it called for no recalling or rehashing – indeed for no explicit articulation. It just sunk and settled there – where such thoughts reside with which all other thoughts are thought but which themselves are hardly ever thought about… Well, they have been thought now, about a half century later, and Michael Hviid Jacobsen and Poul Poder were the midwives of their resurrection… Here seem to lie, so to speak, the non-sociological sources (frames, foundations) of my sociology. And as I look backward towards the beginning from the end of the road where I am now, I also see Antonio Gramsci, trying hard in his prison years (in his own expression) ‘to draw blood from turnip’, in conversation with Camus whom he never met, nudging me towards sociology which he never chose to be his home. I suppose it was from Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks which I read a year or two after absorbing Camus’s cogito ‘I rebel, therefore I am’, that I learned how to rebel armed with sociological tools and how to make sociological vocation into a life of rebellion. Gramsci translated to me Camus’s philosophy of human condition into a philosophy of human practice; though, I guess, Camus never left Gramsci study (that study which I visited, that is) and vigilantly watched every step of his translating efforts shouting ‘foul!’ and switching on alarm lights whenever the text veered dangerously close to the ‘historical’ variety of rebellion of whose morbid fallout Gramsci stayed, in his prison cell, blissfully unaware but Camus, who survived him, had enough time to witness and survey. Forty years ago, in a short study of Gramsci, I quoted from the Prison Notebooks: “When one avers that some reality would exist even if man did not – one either treats such proposition as a trope or one falls into some kind of mysticism. We


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

know of reality solely in its link with man, and if man is ‘historically becoming’, then also the cognition and reality are becoming, objectivity is becoming, and so on”. And I commented that “objectivity of social knowledge, dynamically and historically understood, would not be an outcome of perfecting the tools of cognition that allegedly consists in the elimination from cognitive action, one by one, the successive elements of social practice. It is rather a function of universalization of human practice that leads to the elimination of particularistic ideologies tied to particularistic practices … Only through the overcoming of the group conflicts that tear apart human society objectivity is feasible. Objectivity of cognition can be but the universality of its subjectivity and may only emerge out of historical practice”. I also noted that the humans transform themselves to the extent to which they manage to transform the totality of their relations; the true individuality is always a combination of such relations, to create a personality means to became aware of it, and to change one’s personality means to change the combination. I also quoted the programmatic declaration of Antonio Labriola, Gramsci’s Marxist teacher, in which he sketched the aim of the ‘difficult art’ of ‘materialist’ social science: “To understand the tangle of events in its totality, plaited as it is out of inner links as well as their outer manifestations; to descend from the surface events into that depth and then to emerge once more to the surface in order to decompose the passions and the cravings into their motives, starting with the nearest and up to the most remote” – and then to explore the social arrangements that prompt, aid and abet the commonality of such motives. I guess that there was a fairly straight line of thought that led me from all those early insights to the later crystallization of the concept of sociological analysis as a ‘sociological hermeneutics’: an interpretation of ‘social facts’ (of human conduct as well as of human beliefs, values and attitudes) as the end-products, side-products, or waste of the actors’ interpretations of their life experience, and of their search for rational, ‘sense making’ responses to it. *** I devoured Camus and Gramsci at a time unkind to their quiet digestion. To preserve the treasures intact one had to navigate between the Scylla of ‘iron laws of historical inevitability’ of Marxist academic canon and the Charybdis of abstract empiricism, its declared and self-declared adversary. On neither side there was much room for self-asserting and self-assertive humans. Their war of attrition notwithstanding, the combatants were united in their shared aversion to the contingency and ambivalence that humans daily confronted. As I saw it, there was not much to choose between them. They seemed to be but two varieties of the same ‘science of unfreedom’; two alternative attempts to do the same – to codify the commonsensical experience of a society of alienation. The offer to repair the blunders and inanities of ossified Marxism with thoughtless routines of trivial ‘empirical studies’ en vogue was to me not unlike the suggestion to heal the burns with permafrost. I guess that the navigation, danger-fraught as it was throughout, proved in the end successful. I suppose I owe that success to an early inoculation: the vaccine was in listening to Stanislaw Ossowski Peculiarities of Social Sciences lecture course

Bauman on Bauman


and reading through C. Wright Mills’ The Sociological Imagination. Mills warned, loudly and convincingly, against the trap of confusing exactitude with truth and the sin (mortal for sociologists loyal to their vocation) of selecting methods according to the precision of their findings rather than their importance and adequacy to human experience; whereas Ossowski told us, his students, of the dangers lurking in the intoxication with mathematically guaranteed accuracy and called us to resist the temptations of easy life promised by the ease with which ‘results’ can be obtained from a simple expedient of calculating correlations between numbers. Accuracy of social analysis, he kept repeating, requires wide and profound humanistic culture and a stubbornly critical attitude of the researchers – boldness of critique aimed also against their own interpretations. ‘Electronic calculator would not replace intellectual flexibility’. *** “The more unsystematic” a thinker is, remarks Siegfried Kracauer in his essay on Georg Simmel – “the less his accomplishments are rooted in convictions that tolerate the full light of conceptual clarity”. I guess that my works justify my filing among the least systematic thinkers on record, since in their descriptions the merit of ‘conceptual clarity’ can be conspicuous solely through its absence. Like most young adepts of social analysis, joyfully unaware of the complexity of their task, I flirted once with the idea of an all-embracing, all-accounting-for and allexplaining system of knowledge, composed as a series of points and sub-points and narrated in a compact story with the clear beginning and even clearer end – but the dream of ever building such a system did not last long, the conviction that its merits justify the effort dried up even faster, and the enthusiasm for the project gave way to outright resentment. I came to understand my task as an on-going conversation with human life experience, and the last thing I soon began to expect in that experience was the kind of systemness, cohesion, comprehensiveness, iron-clad logic and elegance one sought, and occasionally found, in philosophical argument. I became wary of imputing to human condition more logic that it contained and could conceivably ingest and absorb – lest the sociological portrayals of that condition shall miss that most crucial, even if infuriatingly elusive, attribute that makes it human. I came to believe that the non-sequiturs, ambiguities, contradictions, incompatibilities, inconsistencies and sheer contingencies for which human thoughts and deeds are notorious should not be viewed as temporary deficiencies not-yet-fullyextinct or not-yet-completely-exterminated on-the-road-to-perfection – nor trigger the streamlining/systematizing/ordering zeal of philosophical mind. They are rather the crucial, constitutive features of the human modality of being in the world, and for a genuine dialogue between that modality and sociological reflection to emerge and continue sociological analysis needs to attune itself to their ubiquitous and perpetuate presence. They need to be given full recognition (the residence permit they neither need not would ask for) and treated with respect, instead of being devalued, derided and condemned. I came to believe that the stories sociologists tell, those secondary, derivative interpretations of the experience of life-in-common which the sociologists share


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

with the ‘lay’, ‘non-professional’ story tellers, are bound to be and to forever remain stages of the on-going communication unlikely ever to grind to a halt; successive links in an unfinished and unfinishable string of exchanges. Each story is a response and a new opening; each one ends, explicitly or tacitly, with the ‘to be continued’ formula; each one is a standing invitation to comment, to argue, to modify, to contradict or to oppose. That dialogue neither knows of nor admits a division into blunderers and people-in-the-know, ignoramuses and experts, learners and teachers. Both sides enter the conversation poorer than they will in its course become and it is on their mutual respect and the seriousness with which they treat each other’s voices that the volume of riches they would eventually collect and store depends. For that reason each successive response should be aware of being a gambit, an introduction and an overture – not an Endspiel, conclusion and final verdict. Maurice Blanchot said once that the answer is the bad luck of the question. I would say that consensus is the bad luck of the voyage to mutual understanding… That mutual understanding is as permanently and incurably noch nicht geworden as is its subject-matter, and as are the humans/sociologists and humans/laymen who struggle for understanding, for being understood and for that self-understanding which they can gain solely in and through that struggle. Knowledge of such (fortunate, blissful) limitation would give the sociological story-tellers the humility they need to respect their partners-in-conversation and be respected by them. That knowledge would prompt the sociologist to beware of pontificating and sermonizing, and particularly of the cruelty of teaching fish to bite or the arrogance of instructing iron in the art of swimming… However, respect does not imply staying politely a step or two behind to give way. Bystanders do not stand by and mind their words and their acts out of respect – but out of indifference and unconcern. Respect is anything but disinterest or neutrality; it assumes engagement and commitment – and care. If all interpretation, the world that is being interpreted and men and women who build that world while being built into it, are all noch nicht geworden (underdetermined, under-defined, unfinished, incomplete) – what follows is that a long and arduous job still lies ahead and so it would be foolish as well as utterly irresponsible to assume that it does not matter what kind of job will be done and how. Being-on-the-road entails choice – and choice is the body whose mind or soul (make your choice…) is responsibility. I believe that the propulsion to sociologize, to tell stories the sociological way – to compose the specifically sociological stories – is born from responsibility and driven by responsibility; it signals the assumption of responsibility for human choices and their consequences for the shape of humanity. I believe that to be a sociologist means to make one’s vocation out of that responsibility. Sociology that shakes off such responsibility or denies its relation to its own labour is not, of course, inconceivable (there is plenty of it around, showing no symptom of decay) – but it is an oxymoron. No story of human condition told while that condition is in-the making (as it always is) is not nor can be neutral, and doing sociology means, whether by design or by default, taking sides. And whoever takes sides bears responsibility for the consequences. The sole problem is to assume or reject one’s responsibility for that responsibility – and then to act accordingly.

Bauman on Bauman


*** Unlike philosophy, of which Ludwig Wittgenstein famously complained that “it leaves the world as it was”, sociology makes a difference in the world – both the world ‘out there’ and the Lebenswelt, the world of Erlebnisse. When it comes to its link with human condition, the role of sociology is therefore akin to that of the engineering. Affinity is as we know a Wahl-Verwandshaft (kinship by choice), but the choice in question is inevitably made (knowingly or not) the moment one decides to become a sociologist. From that moment on the kinship becomes insoluble; even the death would not separate the partners – they may only die together, just as together they lived. The ‘engineering’ in which sociology is engaged (let me repeat: deliberately or unwillingly, in the way of ‘main purpose’ or ‘side effect’) can be however of two kinds, and it makes a lot of difference which of the two is exercised. Already in the late 1950s I coined the terms ‘engineering through manipulation’ and ‘engineering through rationalization’ to distinguish the two – and to make clear to myself from which kind I should and would keep away (from the first) and which one I should and would make my own (the second). The first, exceedingly popular in my student times (in fact the main ‘selling point’ at the time of the ‘war of recognition’, when sociology strove to ingratiate itself with the powers-that-be), was an offer addressed to the corridors of power: we will help you to achieve whatever kind of order you decide to establish in the society or a part of society under your sovereign rule which we do not question, by supplying you the information you need about the conditions under which men and women are inclined to tone down their usual obstinacy and waywardness and are unlikely to rebel or go their own ways… What would be left to you, the power-holders, will be then to legislate such conditions into reality so that you obtain and receive the obedience and discipline you need. The most influential sociological book of that time was Talcott Parsons’ The Structure of Social Action; its declared purpose was to crack the secrets of the ‘patterning’ of human behaviour and of making it predictable despite the fact that human acts were voluntary; in other words, the possibility of ‘neutralizing’ the potentially disruptive effects of human innate freedom of choice – harmful and abominable from the point of view of the order-builders and orderguardians. That sociology promised to be a science of un-freedom serving the technology of un-freedom… Something in line with the quite recent statement of William Kristol in support of the American rulers’ intention to reshape social order, this time on the planetary scale: “Well, what is wrong with dominance, in the service of sound principles and high ideals?”. I heard such words many times before, and shuddered then as I still do now. I guess I was attracted to sociology for reasons exactly opposite to those brandished and lauded by the practitioners and salesmen of the ‘engineering through manipulation’… I suspect I was seduced by the hope to enhance the scope and the potential of the actors’ freedom through offering them a better insight into the social setting in which they perform their life tasks and which they (mostly unwittingly) co-produce. I believed from the start and go on believing that if sociological vocation has any use for humans it is in the service it renders or may render to the struggle


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

waged by the humans to comprehend, ‘to make sense of’, their life experience. On the horizon of ‘sociological enlightenment’ there is also the noble task of helping people to have a modicum of control of their life-pursuits. It is with this in mind that I moved from one area of ‘human condition’ to another, prodded by the continuous, sometimes quite profound even if surreptitious changes in the condition itself, that is in the social setting in which humans had to pursue their life-aims modifying them on the way - trying to fill the blank spots and to map the yet-unexplored or the wrongly mapped. By doing its job – re-presenting human condition as the product of human actions – sociology was and is to me a critique of extant social reality. Sociology is meant to expose the relativity of what is, to open the possibility of alternative social arrangements and ways of life, to militate against the TINA (‘There Is No Alternative’) ideologies and life philosophies. As an interpretation of human experience laying bare its invisible, hidden or coveredup links, the mission of sociology, as I understood it all along, was to keep other options alive. I guess I would rejoice if it could ever be said of me what Kracauer said of Simmel: “It is always man – considered as bearer of culture and as a mature spiritual/intellectual being, acting and evaluating in full control of the powers of his soul and linked to his fellow men in collective action and feeling – who stands at the centre of Simmel’s field of vision”. I hope I did try, in my own modest way and with at best mixed success, to rise to that task. *** I guess I have suggested so far more continuity and cohesion in my half-century long dabbling with sociology than a critical eye would spot. There were quite a few changes of vocabulary, approaches, writing-up styles, emphases, ports of call – perhaps too many to list them all. It would be a daunting task to decide which turns followed the logic of a once for all selected purpose, and which could be explained by the changing shape of social reality in which that purpose was pursued. In most cases, I presume, there was a mixture of both factors. Like, for instance, in my recent, and so still vivid in my mind, decision to eliminate the concept of ‘postmodernity’ from setting and reporting my inquiry. One of the reasons to do so was that despite all my efforts I found it impossible to overcome a common semantic confusion – mixing up ‘postmodernism’ with ‘postmodernity’, which I vainly tried, Sisyphus-like, to separate in all my writings – but which kept being merged back in the responses of my supporters and critics alike... In my semantics, ‘postmodernity’ stood for a kind of society (or, more to the point, a kind of human condition); while ‘postmodernism’ stood for a worldviewcum-cognitive strategy that may (but need not) arise from the ‘postmodern condition’ (much like in the case of another conceptual couple: ‘modernity’ and ‘modernism’). I have been dealing all along with the first object: a curious and in many ways mysterious kind of society emerging around us, a society which I tried to grasp as a condition that is still eminently modern in its ambitions and modus operandi (that is, in its compulsive, addictive, obsessive effort of continuous modernization), but

Bauman on Bauman


already bereft of the modernity’s earlier illusions of the end of the road waiting to be reached round the next or one after the next corner. The emphasis in my intended use was evenly split between both parts of the word: ‘post’ and ‘modernity’. What I tried to convey through that composite term was the interlacing of continuity and discontinuity. Of a society that is still thoroughly modern in that it remains, as it was before, a compulsively ‘transgressing’, ‘transcending’, and obsessively ‘ordering’ society, opening new blind spots while filling the old, fighting and producing opacity, contingency and ambivalence. But a society that is also post-modern in that it no more counts on the end to transcendence, on a finishing line ahead, on the perfect state that won’t any more call for change; nor does it count on an ultimately transparent world, swept clean of contingency and ambivalence. On the individual, ‘life-politics’ level, we remain modern just like our immediate ancestors were in that we have to construe our social identities which are no more ‘given’ to us or ‘ascribed’. But we are post-modern in that the odds are set against any identity gained or assumed at any time to remain ‘final’ and last to the end of our lives, that the assortment of socially recognized identities on offer changes its volume and its contents over time, and that in consequence the major concern in the identity-building is not so much how to ‘see the life-project through to the end’, as how to keep as many projects as possible on option. Flexibility rather than solidity is the mark of a ‘well constructed’ identity. The list of features typical of the postmodern condition explains, I hope, why I suggest that ‘liquid modernity’ is a fitting term to describe it. It suggests that like all liquids our kind of condition cannot keep its shape for long; that application of force is needed to keep the shape, the speed, the trajectory of things – not to change them. It therefore focuses attention on the otherwise diffuse and elusive features that render the presently emergent society discontinuous with the earlier – with the Sturm und Drang phase of modernity where solids were not melted for the sake of making reality more fluid, but in order to replace them with better designed and truly ‘melting-proof’ solids. I used the now abandoned term to develop a sociology of postmodernity. It was to be in my intention sharply different from the postmodern sociology, which was itself a part of the complex mental attitude called ‘postmodernism’: a kind of sociology that represented human realities of postmodern society through mimicry rather than critical analysis and interpretation. ‘Postmodern sociology’, in my view, committed the grave error of taking the topic (that is, what is to be explained) for the explanation. It also sorely underestimated our own persistent modernity. It took, so to speak, the emergent reality ‘on its word’ and suggested (following the postmodernist Weltanschauung) that autonomous, self-assertive individual is an already accomplished reality and that all deterministic chains have been broken and dismantled (that is, if their presence has not been an illusion all along). It was this kind of world-view that fit (or, rather, copied) the mood (the ideology!) of the upand-coming global, mobile and extraterritorial power elite and chimed in unison with its neo-liberal illusions. It is that cyber-space elite which made a virtue out of the genuine or putative necessity, and a consciously embraced vocation out of the competitive market pressures which ‘sociology of postmodernity’ would, on the contrary, debunk and


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

expose as an outgrowth of a specific, and in many ways faulty, social arrangement. Globally-thinking and globally-acting managers speak of their own strategies using metaphors of ‘dancing’ or ‘surfing’, they praise the condition of under-determination, fluidity and, indeed, ‘chaos’, value the willingness and readiness to change over consistency, value freedom to move over engagement and commitment and, on the whole, seek as the ultimate merit the ability to finish quickly whatever has been undertaken for the sake of a new beginning. ‘Postmodernism’, I am inclined to say, is a gloss over such mode of life and such life strategies. For some sectors of mankind, it may be a true reflection. For a great majority of mankind, it is a gross distortion of truth. The point is that it may be true for some only because of being a gross distortion for many others… *** Among skills I never managed to learn in the course of a half-century of study and writing, is how to finish a book… With the benefit of hindsight I can see that all my books were sent to the publishers unfinished. Even quicker than it took to set the manuscript in print it became clear to me as a rule that what looked to me a short while before as ‘the end’ was in fact a beginning with an as yet unknown, but sorely needed sequel. From behind every answer, new questions were blinking. More, much more remained to be explored and comprehended than had been, and how much was revealed by the apparent ‘successful completion’ of past explorations. The most intriguing and provocative questions emerged after the answers. Over the years, I came to appreciate Adorno’s complaint that linear script fails to convey the logic of thought, which moves in circles and is invariably forced into perpetual returns by its sheer progress. Human experience, I believe, is richer than any of its interpretations. No interpretation, however ingenious and ‘comprehensive’, would exhaust it; none could, since the unceasing and unstoppable labour of Wiederholung (recapitulation, in Heidegger’s terms) or iteration (in Derrida’s terms) is the prime factor of the enrichment. Those who embark on the life of conversation with human experience, better abandon all dreams of the restful end to their journey. This journey has no happy end – all its happiness is in the travel. I presume these few notes I have jotted down in response to the editors’ nudging are in this respect like all the texts I scribbled before; a successive illustration of the ‘skill of completing the job’ manifest through its absence – or perhaps revealed in its impossibility.


aesthetic 30, 68, 105, 123, 140 aesthetic of consumption 105, 183 adiaphorization 2, 24, 66, 68, 76, 79, 80, 88, 90-92 Adorno, T.W. 48, 59, 64, 75, 109, 117, 123, 129, 160, 181, 219, 240 agency 10, 12, 33, 62, 97, 107, 108, 109, 150, 185, 186, 188, 193, 204, 206 agora 73, 187, 188, 190, 203, 225 ambivalence 2, 3, 8, 9, 11, 20, 37, 41-52, 82-83, 103, 104, 110, 118, 123-124, 130, 133, 137, 156, 157, 162-163, 167-168, 170, 193, 196, 199, 222, 225, 226, 227, 234, 239 anti-Semitism 6, 76, 79, 82-83, 85-86, 92 Arendt, H. 22, 73, 75, 87, 89, 122, 133 Aristotle 19, 62 Auschwitz 63, 77, 78, 82, 83, 87 Austin, J. 131 autonomy 5, 42, 62, 65, 73, 97, 99, 111, 129, 177, 182, 186, 191, 193, 194, 197, 200, 201, 203, 204, 226 Bailey, J. 210, 218, 222, 225 Barbalet, J. 108, 109 Barthes, R. 118 Beck, U. 42, 49, 97, 138, 176, 181, 185, 186 Beilharz, P. 1, 13, 19, 79, 83, 87, 91, 132, 139, 155, 195, 196, 197, 198, 199, 226 Benjamin, W. 123, 228 Bentham, J. 179, 180, 184, 198 Berlin, I. 212 Berman, M. 26 Blackshaw, T. 1, 3, 10, 19, 20, 34, 35, 97, 102, 109, 110, 111, 117, 120, 129 Blanchot, M. 236 Bleich, D. 216 Bloch, E. 37, 209, 223, 224, 227, Bobbio, N. 215 Bourdieu, P. 2, 4, 97, 119, 216, 223 Buber, M. 49, 83

bureaucracy 12, 24, 34, 63-65, 77, 81, 85, 86, 88, 105, 175, 177,190, 199, Calvino, I. 224 Campain, R. 12, 99, 193 Camus, A. 13, 122, 126, 232-233, 234 capitalism 24, 101, 109, 112, 122, 124, 125, 130-131, 147, 161, 212, 215, 221 Carleheden, M. 11, 12, 112, 175, 177, 181, 183, Castells, M. 140, 204 Castoriadis, C. 73, 140, 203 citizenship 26, 68, 150, 189, 190, 203, 204205, 207 classification 9, 13, 47, 50, 52, 75, 76-78, 88-89, 91-92, 137, 168, 212 Collins, R. 97, 109 commitment 19, 23, 27, 30, 92, 128,132, 202, 203, 236, 240 community 3, 50, 88, 103, 105, 108, 120, 122, 128, 143, 149, 159, 164, 165, 189, 198, 200, 209, 215 Conrad, P. 125 consumerism 10, 102, 109, 110-112, 117119, 121-133, 155, 185, 188, 206, 209 consumption 25, 44, 51, 68, 103, 105, 106, 109, 112, 113, 117, 122, 125, 126, 127, 128, 129, 130, 132, 183, 184, 185, 186, 190, 201, 221 contingency 104, 130, 133, 177, 185, 234, 239 critical theory 48, 181, 189 Crone, M. 9, 59 Davis, M. 11, 97, 103, 109, 110, 111, 137, 142, 151 death 3, 5, 25, 27, 28-29, 77-78, 88, 123, 129, 209, 211, 237 defamiliarization 3-4, 23 democracy 11, 12, 63, 84, 112, 121, 175176, 179, 181-183, 186-191, 198


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

Denham, A. 36, 37 de-regulation 103, 108, 110 Derrida, J. 149, 164, 166, 240 dialogue 2, 22, 27, 73, 130, 207, 226, 235, 236 Dierckxsens, W. 211 Diken, B. 156, 157, 168, Douglas, M. 50, 196, Durkheim, E. 41, 44, 59, 60, 62-63, 65, 66, 67, 69, 73, 100, 196 dystopia 209, 211, 215, 219, 222-223, 226 Elias, N. 21 Elliott, A. 1, 13 emotion 108-109, 113, 130, 205 Engels, F. 215 enlightenment 48, 52, 64, 160, 167, 175, 178-179, 190, 198, 219, 221, 238 episode 34, 78, 139 episodic 106, 122, 221 ethics 3, 8-9, 32, 34, 43-45, 48, 51-52, 5973, 183, 188, 197, 209 Etzioni, A. 42 exclusion 10, 22, 25, 29-30, 44,47, 50-51, 83, 88, 149, 150, 155, 156, 163, 165, 167, 195 extraterritorial 141, 143, 239 fear 13, 29, 42, 50, 79, 105, 106, 122, 138, 140, 146-149, 150, 158, 161-162, 177, 178, 187, 195, 203, feeling 47, 65, 83, 86, 118, 139, 140, 143145, 149, 188, 211, 218, 238 Fehér, F. 226 Feingold, H. 77, 87 flawed consumers 3, 25, 26, 30, 35, 89, 102, 110, 113, 126, 142, 144, 151, 163, 194, 201 flexibility 184, 202, 235, 239 Flyvbjerg, B. 226 Foucault, M. 128, 161, 175, 177-179, 181, 189, 197, 198, 205 Frankfurt School 59, 109, 117, 123, 124 free consumers 142, 144 freedom 2-4, 10-12, 27, 33, 42, 44, 46, 79, 97-113, 118, 120, 123-124, 132-133, 138, 142, 143, 145, 147, 149, 163, 175, 177-182, 184, 185-187, 193,

193-197, 199-203, 206, 207, 209, 215, 234, 237, 240 freedom of choice 27, 102-104, 110-112, 184, 237 Freud, S. 184 Fromm, E. 121 gamblers 24 gamekeeping 24, 217-218 gardening 24, 37, 79-80, 104, 177, 217-220 gardeners 24, 217-218 Gehlen, A. 46 Gellner, E. 122 genocide 9, 75-79, 82, 85-92, 165, 199 Gerber, R. 219 Giddens, A. 2, 49, 52, 112, 126, 138 Giroux, H. 211 Globalization 2, 3, 10-11, 23, 26, 35, 41, 44, 49, 68, 69, 71-72, 89, 137-148, 149152, 155, 163, 183, 204, 207, 209 glocalization 138 Goldhagen, D. 76, 85-86 Gouldner, A.W. 21 Gramsci, A. 13, 155, 233-234 Habermas, J. 2, 59, 60, 69, 71, 112, 141, 177, 181, 181, 189, 212, Hacker, A. 226 Harvey, D. 138, 140 Heidegger, M. 87, 88, 240 Heller, A. 226, Heteronomy 5, 7, 21, 62, 63, 72, 99, 147, 186, 226 Hilberg, R. 24, 77 Hinton, A. 90 Hirschman, A.O. 180 Hobbes, T. 46, 62, 70, 78, 100, 169 Hochschild, A.R. 97 holocaust 9, 23, 24, 34, 47, 52, 60, 63, 64, 66, 72, 75-93, 178, 199, 209, 218, 219, Honneth, A. 183, 189 Horkheimer, M. 48, 64, 109, 117, 123, 160, 181, 219 humanistic sociology 21 Hume, D. 59, 232 hunting 12, 24 124, 209, 217-218, 220-223, 226

Index identity 155, 159, 160, 162, 165, 167, 169, 170, 183, 201, 209, 220, 239 immobility 143 insecurity 11, 30, 31, 45, 49, 105-108, 113, 129, 138, 144- 147, 149-151, 177, 180, 184-185, 203-204 integration 8, 9, 10, 26, 41, 42, 50, 95, 97-98, 100, 102, 105-106, 109, 113, 164, 176, 180, 182, 186, 215 intellectuals 3, 7, 25, 180, 182, 196, 199, 206, 211, 218, 220 interpreters 37, 53, 86, 117, 131, 139, 178, 180, 182, 187, 196, 197, 199, 213, 217 irrationality 51 Jacobsen, M.H. 1, 3, 4, 5, 8, 12, 13, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24, 27, 49, 71, 76, 145, 155, 193, 209, 210, 217, 218, 222, 223, 231-233 Jacoby, R. 211 Jaukkuri, M. 19 Joas, H. 190 Junge, M. 8, 41, 43, 48, 63, 67 justice 4, 8-9, 27, 70-72, 131, 168, 194, 215, 227 Kant, I. 48, 59, 62-63, 64, 72 Kautsky, K. 214 Kellner, D. 205 Kilminster, R. 1, 195, 196 Kracauer, S. 235, 238 Kundera, M. 19, 120 Labriola, A. 234 Langerbein, H. 81 Lanzmann, C. 77-78 Layder, D. 109 legislators 3, 53, 62, 63, 65, 72, 73, 131, 178, 180, 182, 187, 196-197, 199, 201, 213, 217-218 Lenski, G. 43 Levene, M. 90 Levi, P. 77 Lévi-Strauss, C. 155, 165, 195 legitimacy 68, 112, 131, 146, 180, 181-182, 183, 186, 188-189 Lévinas, E. 33, 80, 91 Levitas, R. 211


liberalism 84 life-politics 107, 239 liquid modernity 2, 8, 11-13, 24-26, 28-29, 30-31, 44, 45, 49-53, 88-89, 101102, 105, 106, 112, 119, 120, 121, 122, 124-126, 130-131, 133, 137, 139, 141-143, 145, 148-151, 155, 181-185, 186, 187, 193, 202, 203, 205, 207, 214, 218, 220, 221, 222, 239 literature 11, 19-23, 27, 35, 140,168 localization 41, 44, 142 Locke, J. 46, 169 love 3, 21, 37, 50, 104, 148, 205, 220 Luhmann, N. 2, 73 Lukes, S. 200, 203 Lyotard, J.-F. 37, 49, 118-119, 131-132 MacIntyre, A. 60 Mannheim, K. 212, 214 Marcuse, H. 211, 228 market-mediated mode of life 10, 110, 117122, 130-132 Marshman, S. 8-9, 19-20, 24, 27, 49, 75-76, 217, 222 Marx, K. 51, 181, 197, 202, 215 Masini, E. 211 Mauss, M. 64 Mead, G.H. 189 metaphor 2, 8, 13, 19-39, 49-50, 76, 108, 118, 130, 161, 179, 185, 202, 205, 216-218, 240 methodology 3, 8, 19-23, 28, 41, 52, 137, 235 Milchman, A. 87 Miles, S. 117 Milgram, S. 80-81, 85 Mills, C.W. 4, 21, 203, 235 mismeeting 83, 90, 165 Mizinska, J. 91 mobility 25, 27, 43, 142-145, 163, 195, 202-203 Morawski, S. 195 More, T. 215, 227 Moylan, T. 225 Mumford, L. 224 Musil, R. 37-38, 148, 177, 220, 223 Münch, R. 42 Månsson, N. 11, 156, 157, 161


The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

neo-liberalism 112, 187, 189, 200, 206, 239 Nietzsche, N. 66 Nijhoff, P. 20, 35 norm 22, 27, 60-64, 66-67, 73, 83-84, 110111, 160-161, 168, 180-186, 189 normative 46-47, 97, 102, 110, 113, 147, 180-181, 184, 181, 210, 227 Nozick, R. 71 Offe, C. 183, 202 Orwell, G. 215, 222 Ossowski, S. 234-235 Other 9, 21-22, 24-25, 30, 32-35, 37, 45, 48-49, 64-66, 70-72, 75, 78-80, 83, 91-92, 147, 157, 161-163, 168-169, 200, 203, 226, 233 Panopticon 12, 100-101, 110, 113, 125, 161, 179-191, 198, 202, 206 Park, R.E. 156 Parsons, T. 43, 46, 180-181, 237 pleasure principle 106, 125, 184 Poder, P. 10, 109, 112, 231-233 Polak, F. 212 political economy of insecurity 146 Popper, K. 59, 225 postmodernity 2, 9, 13, 24, 43-45, 49, 53, 60-73, 131, 139-143, 155, 158, 162-169, 176, 178, 181, 186-187, 199-202, 210, 212, 238-240 poverty 25, 29, 91, 145, 157, 204, 211 power 2, 11-12, 31-34, 37, 62, 79, 84-85, 89, 92, 98-113, 120, 123-125, 128, 132, 141-142, 145-147, 150, 156, 159-162, 176-191, 193-207, 210, 218-219, 233, 237-239 proximity 9, 33, 64, 69, 80, 159-160, 169, 188 Puddington, A. 215 Putnam, H. 37 rationality 9, 31-32, 37, 62, 85, 87, 132, 197, 199 Rawls, J. 71 reality principle 106, 125, 184 redistribution 71, 73 regulation 34-35, 102-103, 107-110, 112113, 148, 180-186, 202 relativism 20, 33, 60-63, 130, 138, 214

repression 45, 109-113, 125, 183-186, 201 reproduction 103-112, 159-161, 180, 186, 197-198, 201 responsibility 9, 12, 21-25, 30-36, 49, 60, 64-72, 78-82, 84-85, 89-93, 105, 132-133, 140-141, 160, 166-169, 193-194, 198, 200-203, 207, 233, 236 Ricoeur, P. 225 Robin, C. 122, 133 Rose, N. 100 Rosenberg, A. 87 Rousseau. J.-J. 46-47 Scheler, M. 28 Schroer, M. 44 Schutz, A. 118, 156 Scott, J. 199-207 seduction 4, 33-34, 51, 125-126, 181, 183188, 201 self-constitution 226 Sennett, R. 108, 140, 184, 202 sensation gathers 26, 35 sexuality 3, 66, 121, 131, 148 Shklar, J. 211 Simmel, G. 41, 43, 83, 156-158, 165, 235, 238 Smith, D. 1, 5, 13, 19, 155 socialism 2, 5-7, 199, 209-210, 213-216, 222 sociological imagination 3-4, 8, 12, 19, 21, 37, 129-130, 193, 235 solid modernity 11-12, 24-28, 34, 37, 49, 76, 79, 88-89, 92, 101, 104, 120, 122-125, 129, 161, 176-184, 193, 198, 202-203, 206, 214, 217-226 Sontag, S. 35 Steenbergen, van B. 211 Steiner, G. 221, 225 Stonequist, E. 156 strangeness 2, 157-159, 165, 169 stranger 3, 10-11, 47, 68, 83, 91, 155-170, 197, 209 structuration 52 suffering 3, 4, 6, 21-22, 25-26, 30, 34, 80, 86, 146, 150, 155, 168-169, 188, 206, 211 surveillance 101-102, 125, 147-148, 176, 180, 188, 197-201, 206, 215



Suvin, D. 212, 223 Synopticon 101, 125

utopia 2-3, 11-12, 22-27, 37, 70, 79, 144145, 188-189, 199, 209-228

Taylor, C. 60, 71, 189 technology 11, 65, 69-70, 79, 81, 87, 90-91, 104, 111, 131, 138, 179-182, 194, 197, 201-204, 211, 219, 222, 237 Tester, K. 1, 4-5, 13, 19, 20, 22, 26, 28, 83, 85, 87, 139, 155, 177, 184, 193, 195, 210, 213, 214, 218, 222-223, 227 Thielst, P. 221 TINA (There Is No Alternative) 22, 124, 200, 222, 238 Tönnies, F. 41 totalitarianism 5-7, 11, 79, 86, 89, 93, 110, 122, 199-200, 215, 219, 223 tourists 8, 11, 24-27, 31, 33, 35, 71, 103, 142-146, 150-151, 155, 157, 194

vagabond 103, 142-147, 150-151, 157, 162, 164, 168, 194, 197 Varcoe, I. 1, 84-85, 129, 195-196 Vester, M. 44 Vetlesen, A. 76, 85-87

Unwertes Leben 27, 88 Urry, J. 41, 43

Wallerstein, I. 212 Walsh, C. 211 Warde, A. 117, 126-128 Weber, M. 41, 46, 59-60, 160, 180-181, 188, 193, 199 Widmer, K. 227 Williams, R. 224-225 Wittgenstein, L. 237 Woods, M.M. 156 work ethic 113, 125, 161, 180, 183-184 Wrong, D. 46