Zygmunt Bauman

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Zygmunt Bauman
Zygmunt Bauman Teatro Dal Verme.jpg
Bauman in 2013
Born(1925-11-19)19 November 1925
Poznań, Poland
Died9 January 2017(2017-01-09) (aged 91)
Leeds, West Riding of Yorkshire, England
Alma mater University of Warsaw
London School of Economics
School Continental philosophy  · Western Marxism
Main interests
Ethics · Political philosophy  · Sociology · Postmodernity  · Postmodern art
Notable ideas
Modernity's struggle with ambiguity, resulting in the Holocaust  · postmodern ethics · critique of "liquid" modernity  · liquid fear

Zygmunt Bauman ( /ˈbmən/ ; 19 November 1925 – 9 January 2017) was a Polish-British sociologist and philosopher. He was driven out of the Polish People's Republic during the 1968 Polish political crisis and forced to give up his Polish citizenship. He emigrated to Israel; three years later he moved to the United Kingdom. He resided in England from 1971, where he studied at the London School of Economics and became Professor of Sociology at the University of Leeds, later Emeritus. Bauman was a social theorist, writing on issues as diverse as modernity and the Holocaust, postmodern consumerism and liquid modernity. [1]


Early life and education

Bauman was born to non-observant Polish Jewish family in Poznań, Second Polish Republic, in 1925. In 1939, when Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, his family escaped eastwards into the USSR. [2]


In the 1940's Bauman enlisted in the Soviet-controlled First Polish Army, working as a political instructor. He took part in the Battle of Kolberg (1945) and the Battle of Berlin. [3] In May 1945, he was awarded the Military Cross of Valour. [4] After World War II he became one of the Polish Army's youngest majors. [5]

According to the Polish Institute of National Remembrance, from 1945 to 1953 Bauman was a political officer in the Internal Security Corps (KBW), a military intelligence formed to combat the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and the remnants of the Polish Home Army. [6] From 1945 to 1948 Bauman worked for military intelligence. However, the nature and extent of his collaboration remain unknown, as well as the exact circumstances under which it was terminated. [6]

In an interview with The Guardian , Bauman confirmed he had been a committed communist during and after World War II and had never made a secret of it. He admitted that joining the military intelligence service at age 19 was a mistake although he had a "dull" desk-job and did not remember informing on anyone. [7] [8] While serving in the Internal Security Corps, Bauman first studied sociology at the Warsaw Academy of Political and Social Science. In 1953, Bauman, already in the rank of major, was suddenly dishonourably discharged, after his father had 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. [9]

While 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 originally in Polish in 1959, a revised edition appeared in English in 1972. Bauman went on to publish other books, including Socjologia na co dzień ("Everyday Sociology", 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 Georg Simmel and Antonio Gramsci, he became increasingly critical of Poland's Communist government. Owing to 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 did in fact inherit Hochfeld's chair. [10]

Faced with increasing political pressure connected with a political purge led by Mieczysław Moczar, the Chief of the Polish Communist Security Police, Bauman renounced his membership of the governing Polish United Workers' Party in January 1968. The March 1968 events culminated in a purge that drove many remaining Communist Poles of Jewish descent out of the country, including those intellectuals who had fallen from grace with the communist government.[ citation needed ] 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 the chair of sociology at the University of Leeds, where he intermittently also served as head of department. After his appointment, he published almost exclusively in English, his third language, and his reputation grew. From the late 1990s, Bauman exerted a considerable influence on the anti- or alter-globalization movement. [11]

In a 2011 interview in the Polish weekly, "Polityka", Bauman criticised Zionism and Israel, saying Israel was not interested in peace and that it was "taking advantage of the Holocaust to legitimize unconscionable acts". He compared the Israeli West Bank barrier to the walls of the Warsaw Ghetto where hundreds of thousands of Jews died in the Holocaust. The Israeli ambassador to Warsaw, Zvi Bar, called Bauman's comments "half truths" and "groundless generalizations." [12]

Bauman was a supporter of the Campaign for the Establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, an organisation which advocates for democratic reform in the United Nations, and the creation of a more accountable international political system. [13]


Bauman was married to writer Janina Bauman, née Lewinson; 18 August 1926 – 29 December 2009. [14] They had three daughters, painter Lydia Bauman, architect Irena Bauman, and professor Anna Sfard, a leading theorist of education at the University of Haifa. His grandson Michael Sfard is a prominent civil rights lawyer and author in Israel. Zygmunt Bauman died in Leeds on 9 January 2017. [15] [16] [17]


Bauman's published work extends to 57 books and well over a hundred articles. [18] Most of these address a number of common themes, among which are globalisation, modernity and postmodernity, consumerism, and morality. [19] [20] [21]

Early work

Bauman's earliest publication in English is a study of the British labour movement and its relationship to class and social stratification, originally published in Poland in 1960. [22] He continued to publish on the subject of class and social conflict until the early 1980s. His last book was on the subject of Memories of Class. [23] Whilst his later books do not address issues of class directly, he continued to describe himself as a socialist, and he never rejected Marxism entirely. [24] The Neo-Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci in particular remained one of his most profound influences, along with Neo-Kantian sociologist and philosopher Georg Simmel. [25]

Modernity and rationality

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. [26] Bauman, following Freud, came to view European modernity as a trade off: European society, he argued, had agreed to forego a level of freedom 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 remove gradually personal insecurities, making the chaotic aspects of human life appear well-ordered and familiar. [27]

Bauman in 2011 Zygmunt Bauman, fot. M. Oliva Soto (6144135392).jpg
Bauman in 2011

Later in a number of books Bauman began to develop the position that such order-making never manages to achieve the desired results. [28] 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 about such indeterminate persons in terms of an allegorical figure he called, 'the stranger.' Drawing upon Georg Simmel's sociology 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 or ordered, is always the object of fear; he is the potential mugger, the person outside of society's borders who is a constant threat. [29]

Bauman's most famous book, Modernity and the Holocaust, is an attempt to give a full account of the dangers of those 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 obedience to rules as morally good, all played their role in the Holocaust coming to pass. He argued that for this reason modern societies have not fully grasped the lessons of the Holocaust; it tends to be viewed—to use Bauman's metaphor—like a picture hanging on the wall, offering few lessons. In Bauman's analysis the Jews became 'strangers' par excellence in Europe. [30] The Final Solution was pictured by him as an extreme example of the attempt made by society to excise the uncomfortable and indeterminate elements that exist within it. 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. [31]

Postmodernity and consumerism

In the mid-to-late 1990s, Bauman began to explore postmodernity and consumerism. [32] He posited that a shift had taken place in modern society in the latter half of the 20th century. It had changed from a society of producers into a society of consumers. According to Bauman, this change reversed Freud's "modern" tradeoff—i.e., security was given up in exchange for more freedom, freedom to purchase, consume, and enjoy life. In his books in the 1990s Bauman wrote of this 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 fears becoming 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 have no easily identifiable reference. [33]

Bauman is credited with coining the term allosemitism to encompass both philo-Semitic and anti-Semitic attitudes towards Jews as the other. [34] [35] Bauman reportedly predicted the negative political effect that social media have on voter's choice by denouncing them as 'trap' where people only "see reflections of their own face". [36]

Art: a liquid element?

One of Bauman works focuses on the concept of art as influenced by the liquidity appreciation. The author forwards this idea that "we desire and seek a realization that usually consists of an constant becoming, in a permanent disposition of becoming". [37] In essence, our aim is not the object of our longing but the action of longing itself, and the worst peril is reaching complete satisfaction.

In this framework, Bauman explores how art can position itself in a world where the fleeting is the dominant paradigm. Art is substantially something that contributes to give immortality to virtually anything: hence the philosopher wonders, "can art transform the ephemeral into an eternal matter?" [37] . Bauman concludes that the current reality is characterized by individuals who do not have time nor space to relate with the everlasting, with absolute and established values. Art and the relation of people with them, both in creating it and in participating in it, is dramatically changing. Citing Hannah Arendt, he asserts that "an object is cultural if it persists; its temporary aspect, its permanence, is opposite to the functional [...] culture sees itself threatened when all the objects in the world, those produced today and those of the past, are exclusively considered from the point of view of utility for the social process of survival" [37] . Withal, the concept of culture and art can only find a sense in the liquid society if it abandons its traditional understanding and adopts the deconstructive approach.

Awards and honours

Bauman was awarded the European Amalfi Prize for Sociology and Social Sciences in 1992 and the Theodor W. Adorno Award of the city of Frankfurt in 1998. He was awarded in 2010, jointly with Alain Touraine, the Princess of Asturias Award for Communication and the Humanities. [38]

The University of Leeds established 'The Bauman Institute' within its School of Sociology and Social Policy in his honour in September 2010. [39] The University of Lower Silesia, a small private higher education institution in Lower Silesia, Poland, planned to award Bauman an honorary doctorate in October 2013. [40] However, as a reaction to a major anti-communist and what Bauman supporters allege "anti-semitic" uproar against him, he eventually rejected the award. [41] [42]

In 2015 the University of Salento awarded Bauman an honorary degree in Modern Languages, Literature and Literary Translation. [43]


In 2014, Peter Walsh, a PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge, accused Bauman of plagiarism from several websites, including Wikipedia, in his book Does the Richness of the Few Benefit Us All? (2013). In this book Bauman is said to have copied verbatim paragraphs from Wikipedia articles on Slow Food and steady-state economy, along with their bibliography, without attributing sources, authors or the fact that they were copied from Wikipedia. He did use a paragraph from the article on the golden handshake, but this citation was properly attributed to Wikipedia. [44]

In a response Bauman suggested that "obedience" to "technical" rules was unnecessary, and that he "never once failed to acknowledge the authorship of the ideas or concepts that I deployed, or that inspired the ones I coined". [45] In a detailed critique of Walsh and co-author David Lehmann, cultural critics Brad Evans and Henry A. Giroux concluded: "This charge against Bauman is truly despicable. It's a reactionary ideological critique dressed up as the celebration of method and a back-door defence of a sterile empiricism and culture of positivism. This is a discourse that enshrines data, correlations, and performance, while eschewing matters of substance, social problems, and power." [46]


Warsaw period

Leeds period

See also

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  4. "Czy Bauman rzeczywiście dostał Krzyż Walecznych za zwalczanie żołnierzy wyklętych? Historyk IPN oskarża, ale prawda może wyglądać zupełnie inaczej" . Retrieved 24 April 2020.
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  6. 1 2 Piotr Gontarczyk: Towarzysz "Semjon". Nieznany życiorys Zygmunta Baumana Archived 29 August 2013 at the Wayback Machine "Biuletyn IPN", 6/2006. S. 74–83
  7. Aida Edemariam, "Professor with a past", The Guardian, 28 April 2007.
  8. The Guardian piece erroneously claimed that the Brickhouse article, to which it referred, was written by Bogdan Musiał, a conservative Polish historian working in Germany. In fact, it was written by the Institute of National Remembrance employee, Piotr Gontarczyk; Musiał had simply repeated Gontarczyk's findings in the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung .
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  12. Frister, Roman (1 September 2011). "Polish-Jewish sociologist compares West Bank separation fence to Warsaw Ghetto walls". Haaretz . Retrieved 4 January 2020.
  13. "Overview". Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly. Retrieved 9 October 2017.
  14. Janina Bauman nie żyje, Gazeta Wyborcza. Retrieved 10 January 2017.(in Polish)
  15. "Zygmunt Bauman, sociologist who wrote identity in the modern world, dies at 91". The Washington Post. Retrieved 24 September 2017.
  16. "Renowned sociologist Zygmunt Bauman dies in Leeds" . Retrieved 24 April 2020.
  17. "Zygmunt Bauman obituary" . Retrieved 24 April 2020.
  18. "Academic Staff " Sociology and Social Policy " University of Leeds". University of Leeds. 19 December 2016. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  19. "Introduction to Zygmunt Bauman" . Retrieved 24 April 2020.
  20. Palese, E. (2013). "Zygmunt Bauman. Individual and society in the liquid modernity". SpringerPlus. 2 (1). p. 191. doi:10.1186/2193-1801-2-191. PMC   3786078 . PMID   24083097.
  21. "The Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman. Challenges and Critique" . Retrieved 24 April 2020.
  22. Between Class and Élite. The Evolution of the British Labour Movement: A Sociological Study. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1972.
  23. Memories of Class: The Pre-History and After-Life of Class. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul
  24. Madeleine Bunting, "Passion and pessimism". The Guardian, 5 April 2003.
  25. Bauman, Zygmunt; Tester, Keith (31 May 2013). Conversations with Zygmunt Bauman. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN   978-0745657134.
  26. See in particular Modernity and Ambivalence, Cambridge: Polity, 1991, and Modernity and the Holocaust, Cambridge: Polity/Blackwell, 1990.
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  28. "The Empty Couch: The Taboo of Ageing and Retirement in Psychoanalysis" . Retrieved 24 April 2020.
  29. "The Empty Couch: The Taboo of Ageing and Retirement in Psychoanalysis" . Retrieved 24 April 2020.
  30. Modernity and the Holocaust, p. 53.
  31. "Modernity and the Mechanisms of Moral Neutralisation" . Retrieved 24 April 2020.
  32. Work, Consumerism and the New Poor, Open University, 1998.
  33. See In Search of Politics, Polity, 1999.
  34. Weinstein, Valerie. "Dissolving Boundaries: Assimilation and Allosemitism in E. A. Dupont's "Das Alte Gesetz" (1923) and Veit Harlan's "Jud Süss" (1940)", The German Quarterly 78.4 (2005): 496–516.
  35. Briefel, Aviva. "Allosemitic Modernism", NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction 43, no. 2 (2010): 361–63, Jstor.org. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  36. De Querol, Ricardo (25 January 2016). "Zygmunt Bauman: "Social media are a trap". El Pais.
  37. 1 2 3 Arte, ¿líquido?. Bauman, Zygmunt, 1925-2017., Ochoa de Michelena, Francisco. Madrid: Sequitur. 2007. ISBN   978-84-95363-36-7. OCLC   434421494.CS1 maint: others (link)
  38. "The Princess of Asturias Foundation". www.fpa.es. Archived from the original on 31 May 2010.
  39. "The Bauman Institute". University of Leeds. 20 June 2014. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  40. Gnauck, Gerhard (23 August 2013). "Ehrendoktor mit Hindernissen". Die Welt.
  41. "Leeds professor rejects Polish award over antisemitic slurs", The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  42. "Prof. Bauman rezygnuje z honorowego doktoratu ('Prof. Bauman resigns honorary doctorate')". Gazeta Wyborcza (in Polish). 19 August 2013. Retrieved 10 June 2014.
  43. "Laurea honoris causa a Zygmunt Bauman: materiali (Honorary degree to Zygmunt Bauman: resources)" (in Italian). 17 April 2015. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  44. "KOMPROMITACJE: Zygmunt Bauman przepisuje z Wikipedii albo wielka nauka i małe machlojki". kompromitacje.blogspot.co.uk. Retrieved 13 November 2015.
  45. Jump, Paul (3 April 2014). "Zygmunt Bauman rebuffs plagiarism accusation". Times Higher Education. Retrieved 3 April 2014.
  46. Brad Evans and Henry A. Giroux, "Self-Plagiarism and the Politics of Character Assassination: the Case of Zygmunt Bauman", CounterPunch, 27 August 2015.
  47. "Szkice z teorii kultury". scholar.com.pl. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  48. "Gb1-08.qxd" (PDF). Demos.co.uk. Retrieved 10 January 2017.

Further reading