School of Sociology and Social Policy

The Bauman Institute

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Parallel Sessions 4

The Social Thought of Zygmunt Bauman

Chair: Keith Tester
Room 1

Ironies of Solidity and Liquidity: From Georg Simmel’s “Philosophy of Money” to Zygmunt Bauman’s “Liquid Modernity”

Austin Harrington, Universität Erfurt, GERMANY/University of Leeds, UK

Read in the light of Bauman’s motif of “liquid modernity”, the central irony of the global financial crisis of 2008 seems to have been that the banks and other financial institutions driving that process of accelerated liquefaction of regulations and restraints of existing capitalist economies known as “neo-liberalism” suffered not from a situation of too much but rather of too little “liquidity”.  Unable to lend money to each other, the very dynamic of liquefaction subtending the banks’ hegemonic financialization of late capitalist economies – the melting of “all that is solid into air” – now found itself confronted with blockage and petrification.  How is this curious dialectical reversal to be theorized in its more general significance for an appraisal of late capitalist modernity and “ambivalence”?  My paper reviews Bauman’s recent thematic through the prism of metaphors of solidity and liquidity in modern social theory – from Georg Simmel’s Philosophy of Money to Hans Blumenberg’s “metaphorological” cultural theory. 

The question of a sociological poetics: metaphors, models and theory

Janet Wolff, University of Manchester, UK

Zygmunt Bauman’s work operates through the use of striking metaphors – legislator/interpreter, gamekeeper/gardener/hunter, tourist/vagabond, solid/liquid modernity – which are designed to encapsulate the characteristics of contemporary society.   His account of ‘liquid modernity’ has been challenged by some scholars on the basis of empirical evidence.  But metaphors, and conceptual schemes more generally, do not make empirical claims.  Rather, they work by illuminating tendencies in social life, more or less usefully. Inevitably they highlight some aspects while ignoring others.  This essay considers the role of poetics (and poetry) in sociological theory by going back to an earlier approach to capturing the social world:  the work of the poet Charles Madge and of his Mass-Observation project.   In the current context, in which dissatisfaction with social and cultural theory has led many to turn from analytic, objectivist accounts to phenomenology, theories of affect and more literary approaches to academic writing, there is new interest in M-O.  From this point of view, we can consider both the fundamentally poetic nature of sociological theory and the limits of any poetics.  Engagement with Bauman’s literary sociology must be on its own terms; by the same token, its critique is invited when it seems to claim an objectivity beyond metaphor.

Bauman in the wilderness: sociology in the dry state of modernity

Kieran Flanagan, University of Bristol, UK
View full paper online in the Community pages or Download as a PDF file

This paper responds to the metaphor of the desert (wilderness) which Bauman uses to assess the quality of life in postmodernity. In a prophetic way, in chapter 3 of Life in Fragments, Bauman anticipates the emergence of post-secularity, the questing for meaning based on a curiosity as to what lies beyond the mere social. The wilderness or desert is a site of danger, not only in terms of the absence of compass points, but also over fears generated in response to those sojourners who return from their time out.

Interest in this aspect of Bauman work derives from a concern with ruins that forms a chapter in a forthcoming study: Utterances in the Wilderness: Sociology at Prayer. The unsettlements emerging from efforts to fuse the absolute claims of reason with the soul of modernity, which Bauman has so assiduously chronicled, have facilitated the emergence of a particular style of theology, one concerned with the apophatic, the absence of God. Following on from the contribution to Bauman’s Challenge, it is argued that his long interrogation of modernity leads to a fascinating sociological
prospect of the rehabilitation of some enduring theological themes, not least those marked by concerns with good and evil.

Consumerism and Sustainability

Chair: Radosław Filip Muniak
Room 2

New Media: A postmodern catalyst for sociopolitical branding

Andreea Chifu, COGNOSIS – Federation of Psychology and Educational Sciences, ROMANIA

The present study aims to offer a theoretical analysis from a psychological perspective on the subject of new media in the context of postmodern virtual realities and its growing influence on sociopolitical processess. I’ve also pointed out certain unique advantages specific to new media communications that derive from their capacity of getting a message through directly to segmented audiences. Such a tendency allows for better molding to target audiences needs and requirements, thus ensuring the message is perceived on a deeper level and that certain desired effects are obtained. This study’s relevance is mainly due to these immense cummulated effects in social contexts, which have been insufficiently focused upon previously. There’s growing need for in-depth studies, especially emipirical, concerning these effects. This particular analysis, deals with two types of effects: those on political audiences, subjected to new sources of influence, and effects on politicians from new increasing sources of pressure.

Can the Yes Men really fix the world? Bauman’s critique of consumerism and radical social art.

Radosław Filip Muniak, Warsaw School of Social Psychology, POLAND

In my presentation I would like to focus on radical social art as presented through the happenings of activist group The Yes Men and how such critique of consumerism and globalization fits into the social thought of Zygmunt Bauman. Is such practice anarchy or a new level/form of reflection on what is happening in the world? Can such a radical approach be accepted as an extension of Bauman’s philosophy or antithesis? I aim to juxtapose Bauman’s theories with the actions and theories of The Yes Men in hope of finding points of similarity and consensus as well as underlining the differences and weaknesses of both approaches. 

The Authority of Numbers: Music Consumption, Identity and Piracy

Sam de Boise, School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds, UK

This paper aims to address how the mass, music market developed in response to economic change during the 18th and 19th centuries. It demonstrates how music tastes have been mediated through a consumerist framework and how patterns of consumption, are reinforced in relation to Bauman’s conception of the authority of ‘experts’ and ‘numbers’

The growth however of the illegal music download ‘market’, coupled with the inability to regulate music piracy and the decline in some music ‘products’ as tangible commodities, questions whether a challenge to notions of consumerism as wholly constrictive, can be mounted. In light of technocratic innovation and resistance, specifically in relation to the authority of numbers, this paper will address how the paradox created by current patterns music consumption, runs parallel to those apparent in Bauman’s consumerist critique.

From respect to prestige – about the contemporary career

Michał Bogdan, Warsaw School of Social Psychology, POLAND

In this paper, I am comparing observations concerning „life path” – as described in Bauman’s „Career” book, which was published in 1965 – with the author’s view on liquid modernity. In a nutshell, I am trying to investigate whether the observations made nearly half a century ago are still relevant in the context of liquid modernity. I am also trying to contrast the way the notion of „career” – as it used to be perceived back in the days – with the way it is seen now. By doing so I would like to understand how this shift affects our actions. As subtle as difference it might seem it looks like a notable change has occurred: the notion of prestige seems to be increasingly expanding over all sorts of phenomena (such that eventually everything ends up being described as “prestigious”) and, as a result of this process, increasingly replaces what we used to associate with the notion of “respect”. Basically, whereas in the past “respect” expressed one’s consideration towards someone (“one as being respected by someone else”) “prestige” has to do with one’s purchase and consumption power (“one owns prestige”).

Renewing Politics and Civil Society

Chair: Uri Ram
Room 3

The Concept of an Neoliberal, Exclusive Democracy in Post-communist Europe. The case of Poland

Tomasz Krawczyk, University of Wroclaw Institute of Political Sciences, POLAND

Transition from communism in Poland was initiated by political elites; the axiological and institutional patterns of the new democratic system has been depending mainly on the elites will. Initially the democratic values of a political representativeness at the parliament and a social equality, had been considered – both by the elites and the masses – as the core for legitimization the new political institutions. Then majority of the neoliberal elites, as Bauman
observes, focused on the narrow system efficiency and lost their enthusiasm for the democratic values. The process of decision-making is alienated from the people. There are two political realms: the realm of elites and the realm of
average citizens. This phenomena seems to be very similar to the process of the de-legitimization communism at the society. Communism and liberal democracy in Poland might be recognized as merely two different forms of an “exclusive democracy” for “the chosen”, and the civil society has been forming rather on negative proposals (against the elites and the state) than positive ideas.

Post-communist Society in the Age of the Uncertainty. Case of Poland

Sławomir Czapnik, Opole Unversity, POLAND

Transition of the Central European societies to neoliberal capitalism, could be comprehended through the Zygmunt Bauman’s ‘liquid’ (‘fluid’) modernity concept. In liquid society everything is process, there is no condition. Solidity of things, much as the solidity of human bonds, is perceived as a threat. Fluid modernity promotes unequal human existence – more than 23% of people in Poland are materially deprived. Usual dispersal of risk reinforces existing patterns of inequality. In Polish consumerist society everything is judged according to its market value, with devastating consequences. Flexible capitalism in Poland have created a permanent conflict between character and experience. Contemporary rule of no long term is seen to corrode employee loyalty, trust, mutual commitment and the notion of career. The impact of a less secure employment relationship can be traced in every human relationship.

Zygmunt Bauman: A Post-Modernist Humanist-Marxist

Uri Ram, Ben Gurion University, ISRAEL

In his intellectual biography of Zygmunt Bauman, Dennis Smith wrote: “Bauman’s wisdom is rooted in experience. His life has been a long process of searching and learning – a process that can be ‘read’ in his books.” (P. 35 in
D. Smith. Zygmunt Bauman: Prophet of Postmodernity. Polity Press, 2000). Paying heed to the observations of Smith, this paper on Bauman  proposes to  probe  his theoretical  work as reflecting a combination of his two
major life experiences:  one under Polish authoritarian communism, where he adopted a humanist-Marxist approach (Bauman 1967; 1974; 1976; 1981), and the other under British late-capitalism, where he became a reflective post-modernist (Bauman 1995). The paper presents the argument that Bauman has not completely “moved” with the passage of time from the first stance to the second. Rather, as he matures, he deploys each of the approaches to check and balance the other, so that both are being re-articulated. The hyper-modernism of Marxism is checked and the hyper-nihilism of post-modernism is balanced. The theoretical outcome can be understood as an “unfinished” critical and reflective wavering between Marxism and Post-Modernism, where each of these approaches acquires a grain of tentativeness and ambivalence. The emerging theoretical approach may be  described as post-Modern humanist-Marxism, or post-Marxism.

Bauman in Israel: A Short Presentation

Sever Plocker, Chief Economics Editor and Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Yedioth Ahronoth, ISRAEL

Prof. Zygmunt Bauman, accompanied by his wife and their three daughters left Poland by car in June 1968 and after an exhausting trip across the continent arrived in Israel. He was warmly welcomed by the Israeli academic and intellectual elite, recognized as the most prominent thinker and activist who emigrated from Eastern Europe to Israel. He immediately chooses Israel as his new homeland, presenting himself in introductory interviews as a moderate left-leaning Zionist. Unfortunately, the romance between Prof. Bauman and the establishment of universities in Israel, particularly of the departments of sociology in Tel Aviv and Haifa, turned quite quickly into an antagonism towards the newcomer, fueled by misunderstanding and envy. Feeling rejected and disappointed by broken promises Prof. Bauman left Israel just three years after his much heralded arrival.

It is my intent to review, in a short lecture at the Conference, the “Israeli Period” in Prof. Zygmunt Bauman’s live. I
will use archival materials, press clips and private memories, emphasizing the roots of his latter sociological and political thinking. To my view, in Israel Prof. Bauman experienced a second failure – after facing the first one in communist Poland – to realize his “dream of belonging”. Here was a tragedy of Polish Jew who could not find his place neither in the land of Poles nor in the land of Jews.

Globalization, Risk and Uncertainty

Chair: Anne Sophie Krossa
Room 4

Re-thinking “the socials” in the age of globalization

Hirofumi UTSUMI, Otemon Gakuin University, JAPAN

The globalizing market economy does not lead directly to the uncertainty of the individuals in the present age. The various existing types of “the socials (societies in a narrow sense)”, which is the collectivity of human agencies in the political, economical and life worlds, have been deeply related with our uncertain experiences. In the 20th
century, various types of “the socials” in the developed countries were coordinated to each other, more or less, within “the society as a whole” called “nation”. The decline of the privileged position of the “nation” as the “whole society”, and the emerging antagonisms among “the socials” give our times a distinctive feature. To describe the dynamic state of “the socials” in the political, economical and life worlds since the late 20th century may be one of the most important tasks for us to understand the uncertainty of the individuals in the age of globalization.

The Iconoclastic Utopia of Zygmunt Bauman as the Critical Revision of Global Society

Dariusz Brzeziński, Jagiellonian University in Krakow, POLAND

In my paper I am going to explore the utopian aspects of the contemporary social theory of Zygmunt Bauman. This analysis will be based on the Russell Jacoby’s concept of the ‘iconoclastic’ utopia as a kind of dreaming of a superior society without depicting its precise details. The way Bauman portrays the alternatives to the contemporary global society is an excellent example of this particular kind of utopia. Instead of proposing a precise design of the future, he tries to open the space for critical thinking about the contemporary form of global society. Furthermore, in accordance with the concept of the ‘iconoclastic’ utopia, Bauman depicts the direction in which the changes should be made, but not their final result. I am going to stress as well that according to Bauman in the time ‘negative globalisation’ there is a necessity of re-thinking global society.

How Out-dated Political Institutions Help World Society Elites

Haimo Schulz Menien, Helene-Lange-School, Hannover, GERMANY

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

In a world dominated by product streams which permeate all borders and regions nation boundaries mostly are used to help to buffer elites and optimistic will-be-elites plus their adherents. Generally overridden national boundaries in the 21th century are getting restrengthened by artificially enhancing language and traditional or historical group identities to camouflage the really existing differences and dependencies within world society. As in fact modern world society has almost the same shares and fractions of rich and poor as societies of different ideology in earlier epochs. But using outworn national institutions, boundaries and vocabulary interest-allies in politics and economy are able to cheat both national and international society about their hidden strategy.

World Society – either Homogenisation or Heterogenisation?

Anne Sophie Krossa, Lancaster University, UK

When discussing world society, there are two major risks: overemphasising homogeneity (globalisation as standardisation, Americanisation) and/or overemphasising heterogeneity (the individual as only remaining point of reference). Two aspects shall be discussed here:

  1. Apart from their oversimplifications, the main problem is that these takes on world society neglect that ‘world’, ‘humanity’ or ‘individual’ are all categories subject to definition and by no
    means self-generating or -explaining.
  2. The social plays an irreplaceable role as we witness in ongoing specific, including and excluding, self-attributions that are perceived as meaningful and function as social facts (Thomas-theorem).

The question is, then: how can it be explained that we simultaneously develop an awareness of being part of world society and search for particularity and related forms of specific belonging? On this background, world society needs a critical look – and it does not suffice to link the various diagnoses of individualisation (for instance ‘liquidity’) to a total and assumingly self-evident framework or – explicitly normatively – to particular social model (e.g. ‘republicanism’).

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