School of Sociology and Social Policy

The Bauman Institute

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Parallel Sessions 1

Special Session:

Rupert Beckett Lecture Theatre

Remembering Janina Bauman

Peter Beilharz, La Trobe University, Melbourne, AUSTRALIA; Bryan Cheyette, University of Reading, UK; Griselda Pollock, University of Leeds, UK; Keith Tester, University of Hull, UK (chair); and Janet Wolff, University of Manchester, UK.

Bauman has on numerous occasions testified to the importance of Janina Bauman’s life and writing to his work. Janina Baumann died in December 2009, and this session is concerned to achieve two aims: 1. Remember Janina Bauman as a person and
writer in her own right; 2. Explore the importance of Janina Bauman’s work for understanding the Holocaust and wider moral issues. The papers in the session are intended to be exploratory.

The Social Thought of Zygmunt Bauman

Chair: Mark Davis
Room 1

Pursuing ‘Quality of Life’ in Liquid Modernity

Leonard Nevarez, Vassar College, New England, USA

View full paper online in the Community pages or Download as a PDF file

From its critical, post-WWII concerns for collective well-being and the obligations of the welfare state, ‘quality of life’ the idea has come to convey the individualistic market subjectivity that characterizes liquid modernity.  This paper examines contemporary shifts in the discourse and pursuits of ‘quality of life’ in three emblematic sites.  The ‘mommy wars’ over family well-being and care giving values underscore the compulsory individualization of the Anglo-American liberal welfare regime.  Self-help literature emphasizing work as the ‘muse of quality of life’ offers a consumerist orientation toward the labour market’s risks. Residential migrations to ‘quality of life districts’ legitimate a rootless perspective, shared by the mobile and rooted alike, toward community and other bases of social commitment.  Even as such shifts further
the ascendance of the neoliberal homo economicus, ‘quality of life’ also provides its own aestheticized language of ‘resistance,’ thereby enclosing the horizons of human development and the greater good.

The liquid politics of mental health: Bauman encounters post-psychiatry

Alan F Beattie, Honorary Research Fellow, Centre for Mobilities Research, Lancaster University, UK

Bauman’s writings have unfolded a striking array of metaphors that portray contemporary individuals as a ‘relentless miasma  of multiple competing selves’, living peripatetic, shifty, fragmentary lives, perpetually on the run, acting out identities in a privatised theatre, through performances that are fleeting and constantly under erasure.  In this paper, I will examine these mobile and dramaturgic metaphors and trace ways in which they are echoed or challenged in the field of mental health. In the mental health survivors’ movement and among radical mental health professionals, metaphors of mobility are prominent as ways of capturing elusive aspects of the experience of mental disorder and/or recovery. But are mental health survivors the cartographers of a new liquid modernity or its casualties? What are the risks to those who create a fluid, ‘palimpsest’ identity, who resist the ‘forced choreography’ of modern capitalism? Are safety nets needed, if so in what form?

Consumerism and Sustainability

Chair: Terry Wassall
Room 2

Attitudes are not enough: towards a multidisciplinary understanding of Sustainable Consumption

William Young, Sustainability Research Institute, University of Leeds, UK

Many researchers (such as social psychologists) advocate that government policies aimed at stimulating long term behaviour change towards sustainable development, should focus on promoting pro-environmental attitudes at an individual level. However, this view has attracted extensive criticism for being over-simplistic and too focused on individualistic determinants of change. On the other hand, others (such as sociologists) contend that external (structural) processes dictate consumption and should be the focus of policy-makers. These tend to focus on the broader governance processes, material infrastructures and social habits, competing norms, values and ethical concerns of social groups and organizations. This paper contends that a combined multi-disciplined approach is needed for superior policy-making and suggests a model intended to promote integrative working between the social sciences on sustainable consumption. We hope to do this by pointing out the areas where specific disciplines now make a contribution, within the overall framework of practice theory.

The dead end street of liquid involvement: why green consumerism won’t save us

Dirk Holemans, Director of OIKOS and Policy advisor for the Greens in the Flemish Parliament, BELGIUM

In search of a sustainable future, we know we have to engage ourselves to consume less. But just as this change is vital, chances have shrunk. This is explained by the evolution of the consumption society. Consumer ethos, with narcissism replacing distinction as organizing principle, has invaded every part of our lives. Involvement is now part of the experience economy, embedded in fun society and connected to hip and green consumption. We now believe we can party for a better in the world. This situation is saturated with paradoxes. Involvement has to be related to the personal sphere but should not question our personal life style. And while our belief in progress is replaced by the satisfaction of material wishes we need to dematerialize our economy… Liquid involvement is a dead end street. Only if we can envision new forms of identity away from consumption, a sustainable future is possible.

Renewing Politics and Civil Society

Chair: Austin Harrington
Room 3

Security, Design and the Privatization of Utopia

Mark Lacy, Lancaster University, UK

According to Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity is a ‘condition of compulsive, and addictive, designing.’ Bauman uses the idea of ‘design’ in a number of places in his work to refer to the way states conceptualise the territories they govern (‘order by design’ or the  ‘gardening state’).  But I want to use this paper to think about Bauman’s work and the obsession with consumerism and the design of products to protect citizens from liquid fear. Societies obsessed with terrorism and consumerism are developing new approaches for ‘designing out insecurity’ – both in terms of ‘products and places,’ to use the language used by policymakers in the UK. However, while there is a considerable literature on architecture and war, there has been less reflection on questions of design and what Paul Virilio describes as the ‘consumption of protection.’ The paper focuses on two exhibitions – Cold War Modern and 5 Codes – arguing that a number of points raised in Bauman’s work enable prompt us to ask difficult questions about security and design in a condition of liquid fear.

‘Society under siege’- and beyond

John Schwarzmantel, POLIS, University of Leeds, UK

This paper analyses the concept of ‘society under siege’ as developed by Zygmunt Bauman in his book of that title, and seeks to develop the political and social implications of the condition of radical insecurity presented in that book. While recognising the force of Bauman’s analysis of violence and insecurity, and the weakness of structures and institutions (such as those of the nation-state) which formerly offered a degree of protection against violence and political fragmentation, this paper seeks to criticise that analysis, and to suggest possible responses to the challenges to democratic politics implied in Bauman’s analysis. This paper draws on my forthcoming book ‘Democracy and the challenge of violence’ to present a strategy of institutional reform and political transformation which could represent a way forward out of the deeply pessimistic picture presented in ‘Society under Siege’.

Globalization, Risk and Uncertainty

Chair: Nick Ellison
Room 4

Risk, Nichtwissen and Agency: Keeping the Self Solid in Liquid Times?

Gabe Mythen, University of Liverpool, UK

In Western cultures, advances in science, medicine and technology have facilitated the identification of a greater range of social risks than possible in previous epochs. Further, the proliferation of tools and technologies of risk assessment have enabled threats to the self, environment and society to be identified at earlier stages of gestation. Insofar as risk and uncertainty may have become routine features of everyday experience in liquid modernity, the prevalence of conditions of ‘not-knowing’, in which the scale and the extent of risk are highly indeterminate, raises interesting challenges both for the agency of actors and the structural cohesion of social institutions. In situations of nichtwissen, the pressures to intervene early to prevent future harm materialising have become marked in many domains, including health, crime control and national security. In this paper we consider both the conceptual quality and the sociocultural effects of nichtwissen. Set against a context in which institutions are increasingly deploying modes of anticipatory risk in
order to assess safety and security, we examine the possible consequences of ‘not-knowing’ for the maintenance of ontological security, identity formation and notions of citizenship.

Beck’s Risk Society and the Distribution of Bads: Possible Implications for Market-Based Models of Political Economy

Dean Curran, Queen’s University, CANADA

From Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations to the Keynesian welfare state, the justification of the market as the dominant allocative mechanism in society has been based upon its ability to facilitate the production of wealth; ensuring that all participated in this growth in wealth achieved a market-based “economics of the common good.”  This paper argues that this model of economic practice is based on a first modernity conception of the distribution of goods and is not adequate to govern a second modernity where the distribution of globally produced bads gains greater importance.  Insofar as states must manage the distribution of bads, an antagonism of interests arises in which market-based inequalities cannot be adequately compensated.  To the extent that individuals must outbid each other to avoid certain outcomes, it will be individuals’ relative lack of wealth vis-à-vis others’ that leads some to bear the full brunt of our new social-economic order.

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