School of Sociology and Social Policy

The Bauman Institute

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Parallel Sessions 5

The Social Thought of Zygmunt Bauman

Chair: Peter Beilharz
Room 1

Liquid Modernity 2.0

Antony Bryant, Leeds Metropolitan University, UK

Having analyzed and defined our current condition of existence as liquid modernity, Bauman does not actually offer any solutions or palliatives; moreover in Society Under Siege he actually pre-empts the issue by saying that there is no way back to a self-confident space where private problems can meet in a meaningful way. In my previous work I have extended the concept of liquid modernity into a discussion of turbulence, and the manner in which the example of open source software offers a potential basis for a new set of political institutions and actions that might indeed offer a way forward to the emergence of new forms of politics and civil society.  Building on my work on Mutuality 2.0 I will develop this argument, using Bauman’s concept of praxeomorphism and also his recent writings that ignore the pessimism-optimism dichotomy in favour of some form of ‘hope’.

Zygmunt Bauman’s Optimism and its Significance for Agency in Liquid Modernity

Matt Dawson, University of Sussex, UK

Bauman’s work on liquid modernity has often been categorised as a bleak worldview; one of ‘misery’ (Schultz 2007).  Such misery is often attributed to: his earlier work on the holocaust, the decoupling of politics and power and the all-conquering nature of the society of consumers.  This paper argues assigning pessimism and misery to Bauman’s view of liquid modernity relies on a somewhat limited reading, specifically one which doesn’t fully consider his work on ethics and its significance for liquid modernity. When this is accounted for Bauman can be seen to have an optimistic, yet critical, worldview.  The significance of such an observation rests on where Bauman’s optimism lies: in the hands of inevitably moral individuals who can acquiesce to, reject, or modify the demands of liquid modernity. Therefore this paper will argue this is where the potential for agency (particularly political agency) lies in Bauman’s work.

Big Brother and Freedom

Nick Stevenson, University of Nottingham, UK

George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four remains centrally important for an understanding of the oppositional politics of the twentieth century. The idea of Big Brother, state control and a politics of cruelty have made it a central feature for the democratic imagination. Here I seek to uncover examples of totalitarianism that continue to exist within democratic societies and argue that many have become overly persuaded that the information society through the internet has lead to the empowerment of critical forms of citizenship. By re-examining the role of the state, capitalism and media in the context of the ‘war in terror’ I seek to argue that Orwell remains of considerable contemporary relevance particularly in relation to debates on the role of torture and state sponsored cruelty. Further I shall also ask what we mean by freedom in this setting (drawing on the work of Zygmunt Bauman amongst others) and how it might best be defended. In particular I seek to explore ‘the fear of freedom’ and its implications for the practice of democracy.

No freedom of action without emotional energy

Poul Poder, Københavns Universitet, DENMARK

Bauman’s theory of freedom shows how freedom should be understood as a differential capacity of social positions. Consequently, Bauman treats freedom (of action) and power as two sides of the same coin implying that the freedom of one actor will often restrict the possibilities of action of others. The paper further develops such a social and relational approach by arguing that freedom is also based on emotional energy and not merely on priveleges and power (cf. Bauman). Agency cannot be taken for granted as a generic feature of humans beings (cf. Layder, Bauman, Campbell) founded in consciousnes and intentionality (Fuchs). In a differential and generative sense freedom/agency is based on emotional energy. For example, to act personally, cooperately with others or on behalf on institutions individuals need feeling self-confidence, trust or loyalty (Barbalet). Such emotions are resources inmplicated in processes of power in which freedom/agency is more or less generated and re-generated. Such forms of emotinal energy are a crucial power resource by being essential for bringing more conventionally understood power resources in to play, the paper concludes

Consumerism and Sustainability

Chair: Mark Davis
Room 2

McDonaldization or IKEAization? Rethinking the ways and means of global consumerism

Tony Blackshaw, Sheffield Hallam University, UK

Suggesting a change to ‘IKEAization’ as the principal driving force of global consumer sociality, this paper argues that Ritzer’s ‘McDonaldization’ thesis is unsatisfactory, not only because its author’s instinct is that bland cultural uniformity is being brought about by rationalization tendencies and nobody appears to recognize it, but also because it ignores Heidegger’s seminal observation that moderns are ‘beings for whom being is a question’. Drawing on some pivotal insights from Susan Nieman, who suggests that we want to determine our own world rather than merely be determined by it, which means that we also want to stand above the things we consume, Blackshaw argues that ‘IKEAization’ has become the paradigm for understanding changes in all areas of contemporary life. Outlining its key dimensions, he demonstrates how the global home furnishing corporation has changed the ways that we consume and in the process helped realign social class, while becoming an indelible part of our cultural fabric.

“The Continuity of Change”: the Creation of Prosumption as a Capitalism’s Response to a Changing Environment

Shay Hershkovitz, Sapir Academic College, ISRAEL

In recent years the sociological discourse of consumer-culture witnesses a paradigmatic shift towards what is called the ‘Prosumption’ phenomenon. The term – an acronym of ‘Producer’ and ‘Consumer’ – express the blurring distinction between the traditional dichotomy of production/consumption. This change in sociology follows an even more dramatic change in the field of marketing and business administration, where terms as ‘Co-Creation’, ‘Mass Creativity’, ‘Peer Production’ and ‘Wikinomics’ are now at their Heydays.

It will be argued that ‘Prosumption’ is not a new phenomenon, and it does not signify a change in the logic of capitalism. Rather, it is a response of capitalism to stimuli in its environment: technological improvements, the changing character of consumers, and increasing production capabilities which require a parallel increase in consumption demands. This response – in the economic and cultural fields – is the expression of capitalism’s basic logic of constant development in order to achieve its goals.

‘Chanting for Prada’: How ethnographic research examining the social life of brands and consumers is informing new approaches to encourage individuals to create sustainable lifestyles.

Bruce Davis, co-founder of and author of

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

The last decade has seen a massive growth in the use of ethnographic research and researchers to inform and actively contribute to the creation of not only new consumer technologies, products, brands and services but also by public organisations seeking to address the costs and consequences of those behaviours for the environment and the well being of society as a whole. This paper draws from 12 years spent ‘deep hanging out’ for companies and entrepreneurs and will aim to illustrate how the insights generated by such experiences are now being used to encourage individuals to adopt more sustainable lifestyles and practices in their everyday life.

In particular, the paper will examine how understanding the contexts and motivations of consumers in situ has opened up new ways to change behaviours that challenge the conventional mechanisms of persuasion and marketing rhetoric which hitherto have generated mixed and sometimes negative results against the goal of encouraging individuals to become more sustainable in their consumption behaviours.

Consumer Studies and Consumer Sciences – Identity and Sustainability

Sue Bailey, London Metropolitan University, UK

Consumer studies and consumer sciences are interdisciplinary subjects taught at undergraduate level in the UK. Subject benchmarking (QAA, 2009) included Consumer Sciences within the   grouping of Agriculture, Horticulture, Forestry, Food and Consumer Sciences. Programmes in consumer sciences/studies have “a focus on the consumption of goods and services and on the behaviour of people as consumers. With the increasing importance of sustainable consumption and development, there is an interest in how consumer choices are made and can be modified.”   Programmes studied in this area are involved in “critical analysis of the social, economic, legal, technological, ethical and environmental contexts within which consumer choices are made.”

However, there is limited research that considers how the subject field is evolving related to 21st century consumers. An awareness of the individual, environmental and social contexts, framed through a local, but also regional and global perspective, emphasising sustainable solutions, form the core aspects of the subject at undergraduate level. The author suggests that the ability to blend a technical/rational approach using a critical perspective with a psychological/social/environmental approach is an important strength of the subject and is allied to 21st century modes of thinking.

Rethinking Global Society

Chair: Kieran Flanagan
Room 3

The ‘Contingent Turn’ in Contemporary Social Thought

Simon Susen, Birkbeck College, University of London, UK

The main purpose of this paper is to examine the impact of postmodern thought on the social sciences by giving a systematic account of the theoretical presuppositions shared by contemporary approaches to history associated with postmodernism. As argued in the paper, the shift from modern to postmodern ways of interpreting history can be described as the ‘contingent turn’ in contemporary social thought. In essence, postmodern accounts of history assume that the collapse of state socialism at the end of the twentieth century is indicative of the deep historical contingency and political questionability of all meta-ideological formations. With the aim of assessing the validity of this assumption, the paper seeks to demonstrate that the discrepancy between modern and postmodern conceptions of history is based on three oppositions: (i) ‘necessity’ versus ‘contingency’, (ii) ‘grand narratives’ versus ‘small narratives’, and (iii) ‘continuity’ versus ‘discontinuity’. Far from suggesting that the relevance of these paradigmatic oppositions is limited to the field of social historiography, the paper makes a case for the view that a critical theory of society cannot dispense with a critical theory of history.

Thinking modernity with Zygmunt Bauman and Günther Anders

Philippe Gruca, University of Bordeaux, EA 4201 LNS, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, FRANCE

The proximity between the work of these two authors is striking for more than one reason. Its first indication is certainly the fact that Anders is one of the very few persons, with Bauman, who received the famous Adorno prize – Anders in 1983 and Bauman in 1998. But this wouldn’t be enough to prove their affinities. Bauman, in his great Modernity and the Holocaust, wanted to demonstrate that the horrors than happened in the Nazi Germany, even if they are presented like an “accident” or an “exception”, and even if we would prefer to see them presented like that, were the realization of one of the multiple potentialities offered by modernity. Anders, writing about the Holocaust, but also about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, states precisely the same thing: it is the whole social and technological configuration allowing common human beings to act in such an inhuman way that needs to be questioned. Finally, we find in the work of the liquidity theorist and the author of The Obsolescence of Man a very similar tension that can help us throwing light on our present-day global situation – a tension we could express in one sentence: What we depend on is beyond us – how can we manage to be up to it?

Risk society, civil society and Cosmopolitic

Yasmine Jouhari, The Centre for Philosophy of Law (C.P.D.R.), BELGIUM

For Beck, civil society is the foundation for the possibility of a cosmopolitic. Our purpose is to explain the link made by U. Beck between risk and emergence of new kinds of actors, and transformation of the politic. Our theses is that a normative thought on what is politic and political action rest on the way civil society constitutes itself. In line with this understanding, the constitution of civil society as a collective actor is based on risk perception according to U. Beck. It is from this perspective that we’ll try to understand how the theory of social link developed by Z. Bauman is re-appropriated by U. Beck and how it determines all the cosmopolitic theory of U. Beck.

Decentralized Governance and Public Deliberative Spaces: The Cases of Gender Equality in Québec

Denyse Côté, Université due Québec en Outaouais, CANADA

In the context of globalization, political decentralization and transformation of the State, local women’s groups are being called upon to participate with other agents of civil society to local and regional governance. This paper will address how feminist demands are being integrated to neoliberal programs, policies and projects through mecanisms of local consultation and concertation (Ballmer-Cao, 2006) and how these new models of local governance implement new modes of regulation (Bourque, Duchastel et Pineault, 1999). The hypothesis is that these new structures and mechanisms of local governance reduce public deliberation and public space (Thériault, 1996) as well as the potential for conflictual (Jouve et Booth, 2004) and innovative (Marques-Pereira, 2007) social action. In the last forty years, women’s groups’ demands have constituted a protection against conservative and patriarchal policies as well as a motor for social change in all of Québec’s regions. But these new mechanisms of local and regional governance legitimize conservative policies and programs (Côté et Simard, 2009)  and now fundamentally change pratices and agendas of women’s groups (Jaglin, 2005). This paper is based on a series of empirical data and professionnal experiences collected in 7 of Québec’s 17 regions between 1985 and 2009 (Côté et Maurice, 2005; Côté, 2009).

The Social Thought of Zygmunt Bauman

Chair: Ian Varcoe
Room 4

Is a Sociology of Morality Possible?  Thinking Sociality with Zygmunt Bauman

Jesse Carlson, York University, CANADA

In Modernity and the Holocaust (1989), Zygmunt Bauman called for a new sociology of morality.  The ‘orthodox sociology of morality,’ he argued, does not have the resources to think through the most fundamental moral question of the 20th century, how to think about morality ‘After Auschwitz.’  Drawing on the work of Emmanuel Levinas, Bauman argued that morality’s origins are actually to be found in the ‘pre-societal’ context of dyadic relations, in relations of ‘being-for another’ rather than in socialized conformity to either collective sentiment or institutionalized (i.e., legal) expectations.  Some have argued that, while Bauman’s critique of the ‘orthodox sociology of morality’
rings true, his Levinasian position is no longer sociological.  Does Bauman renovate the sociology of morality, or does he think its limits?  This paper surveys Bauman’s published output on ethics, morality and the social in order to formulate a response to this question.

Re-establishing a sociological ontology

Thomas Campbell and Chris Till, School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds, UK

Global society needs to be rethought in light of the financial crisis this in turn necessitates that sociological analysis re-formulates its most fundamental tools. Our work thus attempts to re-establish a sociological ontology which critiques the individual. The near collapse of global financial institutions highlights the advanced levels of human interdependence in the contemporary world and the limits of unfettered capitalism. Through an engagement with Elias’ theories of interdependence and levels of integration and Foucault’s late comments on the relationship between power, resistance and domination we suggest that relations between interdependent groups and between humans and objects are the object of sociology and that these relations are relations of resistance before they are relations of power.

Zygmunt Bauman’s and Edward Bond’s Critical Thoughts on Postmodern Morality

Natasa Milovic, Faculty of Dramatic Arts, University of Arts, Belgrade, REPUBLIC OF SERBIA.

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

This paper will examine the critical stances of the sociologists Zygmunt Bauman and British playwright Edward Bond. Their works are similar in the critical approach they take to the so called civilized values of our time.  Zygmunt Bauman’s book Life in Fragments: Essays in Postmodern Morality (1995) examines the problem of professional ethics in the context of the 20th century, both in the environment that produced and supervised Auschwitz , and in our neo-liberal, democratic, globalized corporate world. Edward Bond, (in his plays, but also in his theoretical essays such as “Notes on Postmodernism”, and other texts collected in Hidden Plot: Notes on Theatre and the State (2000), examines the chances for survival of our humanity within societies based on obedience and continued belief in ‘ethical’ rationalizations which lead to Auschwitz and Hiroshima in the past, and are likely to do so again. Comparing the work of those two thinkers it is possible to find interesting connections in their approaches to the possible alternatives which could help us transcend postmodern morality – the dominant discourse which continues to promote old (and new) forms of violence and generate unjust societies within the much advertised neo-liberal New World Order.

‘More than Sociology’: Zygmunt Bauman on Negation, Ambivalence and Otherness 

Ayşe Mermutlu, Department of Sociology, Firat University, TURKEY

This paper represents an undertaking which deals Z. Bauman’s sociology with reference to G. Simmel’s essay entitled The Transcendent Character of Life in which the notion of more-(than)-life was developed. It is argued that the insights implying in the notion can be regarded as the ‘methodological impulse’ of Bauman’s sociology. This ‘impulse’ also determines Bauman’s strategy of negation which cannot be conceived in terms of any formalism. It is a negation strategy operating simply in ‘more-than’. It underlies a sociological agenda that pays attention not to ‘society’ but rather to what suspended by the very existence of society (‘ambivalence’); and not to what constructs ‘us’ but rather to what left out of through ‘us’ (‘otherness’). It enables Bauman to actualize a dialogical practice of sociology engaging critically with the boundedness and gaining the form by way of the self-overcoming. In this strategy the prospects for ‘other than’ is an intrinsic orientation rooted in ‘more-than’ and the very possibility of subject’s activism can be sustained due to the state of incompleteness embracing by ambivalence thereby keeping the orientation from surpassing by any determination. It allows for holding a normative standpoint and putting responsibility into play as well as rendering the poetic imagination and deployment of metaphors relevant tools for the representation of that ‘zone of distance’.

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