Zygmunt Bauman (born 19 November 1925 in Poznań) is a Polish sociologist who, since 1971, has resided in England after being driven out of Poland by an anti-Semitic purge organized by the Communist Party. Professor of sociology at the University of Leeds (and since 1990 emeritus professor), Bauman has become best known for his analyses of the links between modernity and the Holocaust, and of postmodern consumerism.
According to semi-official statements of a historian with the Polish Institute of National Remembrance made in the conservative magazine Ozon in May 2006, from 1945 to 1953 Bauman held a similar function in the Corps for Domestic Security (KBW), a military unit formed to combat the remnants of the Polish resistance.
Bauman, the magazine states, distinguished himself as the leader of a unit that captured a large number of underground combatants. Further, the author cites evidence that Bauman worked as an informer for the Military Intelligence from 1945 to 1948. However, the nature and extent of his collaboration remain unknown, as well as the exact circumstances under which it was terminated.
In an interview in The Guardian, Bauman confirmed that he had been a committed communist during and after World War II and had never made a secret of it. He admitted, however, that joining the military intelligence service at age 19 was a mistake even though he had a "dull" desk-job and did not remember informing on anyone.
While serving in the KBW, Bauman first studied sociology at the Warsaw Academy of Social Sciences. He went on to study philosophy at the University of Warsaw - sociology had temporarily been cancelled from the Polish curriculum as a "bourgeois" discipline -, where his teachers included Stanisław Ossowski and Julian Hochfeld.
In the KBW, Bauman had risen to the rank of major when he was suddenly dishonourably discharged in 1953, after his father approached the Israeli embassy in Warsaw with a view to emigrating to Israel. As Bauman did not share his father's Zionist tendencies and was indeed strongly anti-Zionist, his dismissal caused a severe, though temporary estrangement from his father. During the period of unemployment that followed, he completed his M.A. and in 1954 became a lecturer at the University of Warsaw , where he remained until 1968.
During a stay at the London School of Economics, where his supervisor was Robert McKenzie, he prepared a comprehensive study on the British socialist movement, his first major book. Published in Polish in 1959, a translated and revised edition appeared in English in 1972.
Bauman went on to publish other books, including Socjologia na co dzień ("Sociology for everyday life", 1964), which reached a large popular audience in Poland and later formed the foundation for the English-language text-book Thinking Sociologically (1990).
Initially, Bauman remained close to orthodox Marxist doctrine, but influenced by Antonio Gramsci and Georg Simmel, he became increasingly critical of Poland's communist government. Because of this he was never awarded a professorship even after he completed his habilitation but , after his former teacher Julian Hochfeld was made vice-director of UNESCO's Department for Social Sciences in Paris in 1962, Bauman de facto inherited Hochfeld's chair.
Faced with increasing political pressure and the anti-Semitic campaign led by the populist minister Mieczysław Moczar, Bauman renounced his membership in the governing Polish United Workers' Party in January 1968. With the March 1968 events, the anti-Semitic campaign culminated in a purge, which drove most remaining Polish Jews out of the country, including many intellectuals who had fallen from grace with the communist government. Bauman, who had lost his chair at the University of Warsaw, was among them. Having had to give up Polish citizenship to be allowed to leave the country, he first went to Israel to teach at Tel Aviv University, before accepting a chair in sociology at the University of Leeds, where he intermittently also served as head of department. Since then, he has published almost exclusively in English, his third language, and his repute has grown exponentially. Indeed, from the late 1990s, Bauman exerted a considerable influence on the anti- or alter-globalization movement.
Bauman's published work extends to 57 books and well over a hundred articles. Most of these address a number of common themes, among which are globalization, modernity and postmodernity, consumerism, and morality.
Bauman's earliest publication in English is a study the British labour movement and its relationship to class and social stratification, originally published in Poland in 1960. He continued to publish on the subject of class and social conflict until the early 1980s, with his last book on the subject being Memories of Class. Whilst his later books do not address issues of class directly, he continues to describe himself as a socialist, and he has never rejected Marxism entirely . The Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci in particular remains one of his most profound influences.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s Bauman published a number of books that dealt with the relationship between modernity, bureaucracy, rationality and social exclusion. Bauman, following Freud, came to view European modernity as a trade off; European society, he argued, had agreed to forego a level of freedom in order to receive the benefits of increased individual security. Bauman argued that modernity, in what he later came to term its 'solid' form, involved removing unknowns and uncertainties; it involved control over nature, hierarchical bureaucracy, rules and regulations, control and categorisation — all of which attempted to gradually remove personal insecurities, making the chaotic aspects of human life appear well-ordered and familiar. However, Bauman over a number of books began to develop the position that such order-making efforts never manage to achieve the desired results. When life becomes organised into familiar and manageable categories, he argued, there are always social groups who cannot be administered, who cannot be separated out and controlled. In his book Modernity and Ambivalence Bauman began to theorise such indeterminate persons by introducing the allegorical figure of 'the stranger.' Drawing upon the sociology of Georg Simmel and the philosophy of Jacques Derrida Bauman came to write of the stranger as the person who is present yet unfamiliar, society's undecidable.
In Modernity and Ambivalence Bauman attempted to give an account of the different approaches modern society adopts toward the stranger. He argued that, on the one hand, in a consumer-oriented economy the strange and the unfamiliar is always enticing; in different styles of food, different fashions and in tourism it is possible to experience the allure of what is unfamiliar. Yet this strange-ness also has a more negative side. The stranger, because he cannot be controlled and ordered, is always the object of fear; he is the potential mugger, the person outside of society's borders who is constantly threatening. Bauman's most famous book, Modernity and the Holocaust, is an attempt to give a full account of the dangers of these kinds of fears. Drawing upon Hannah Arendt and Theodor Adorno's books on totalitarianism and the Enlightenment, Bauman developed the argument that the Holocaust should not simply be considered to be an event in Jewish history, nor a regression to pre-modern barbarism. Rather, he argued, the Holocaust should be seen as deeply connected to modernity and its order-making efforts. Procedural rationality, the division of labour into smaller and smaller tasks, the taxonomic categorisation of different species, and the tendency to view rule-following as morally good all, Bauman argued, played their role in the Holocaust coming to pass. And he argued that for this reason modern societies have not fully taken on board the lessons of the Holocaust; it is generally viewed - to use Bauman's metaphor - like a picture hanging on a wall, offering few lessons. In Bauman's analysis the Jews became 'strangers' par excellence in Europe; the Final Solution was pictured by him as an extreme example of the attempts made by societies to excise the uncomfortable and indeterminate elements existing within them. Bauman, like the philosopher Giorgio Agamben, contended that the same processes of exclusion that were at work in the Holocaust could, and to an extent do, still come into play today.
In the mid and late 1990s Bauman's books began to look at two different but interrelated subjects: postmodernity and consumerism. Bauman began to develop the position that a shift had taken place in modern society in the latter half of the 20th century - it had altered from being a society of producers to a society of consumers. This switch, Bauman argued, reversed Freud's 'modern' trade-off: this time security was given up in order to enjoy increased freedom, freedom to purchase, to consume, and to enjoy life. In his books in the 1990s Bauman wrote of this shift as being a shift from 'modernity' to 'post-modernity'. Since the turn of the millennium, his books have tried to avoid the confusion surrounding the term 'postmodernity' by using the metaphors of 'liquid' and 'solid' modernity. In his books on modern consumerism Bauman still writes of the same uncertainties that he portrayed in his writings on 'solid' modernity; but in these books he writes of these fears being more diffuse and harder to pin down. Indeed they are, to use the title of one of his books, 'liquid fears' - fears about paedophilia, for instance, which are amorphous and which have no easily identifiable referent.
From Solid Modern Utopia to Liquid Modern Anti-Utopia? Tracing the Utopian Strand in the Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman
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