Bauman. Peter Beilharz

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1 Z munt Bauman Peter Beilharz

2 Zygmunt Bauman

3

4 Zygmunt Bauman Dialectic of Modernity PETER BEILHARZ SAGE Publications London Thousand Oaks New Delhi

5 Peter Beilharz 2000 First published 2000 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without permission in writing from the Publishers. SAGE Publications Ltd 6 Bonhill Street London EC2A 4PU SAGE Publications Inc 2455 Teller Road Thousand Oaks, California SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd 32, M-Block Market Greater Kailash - I New Delhi British Library Cataloguing in Publication data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN ISBN (pbk) Library of Congress catalog record available Typeset by Mayhew Typesetting, Rhayader, Powys Printed and bound in Great Britain by Athenaeum Press, Gateshead

6 Contents Preface vii Prologue Class and Labour 4 2 Culture and Sociology 34 3 Intellectuals and Utopians 58 4 The Holocaust and the Perfect Order 88 5 Touring the Fragments Following the Human Condition 145 Epilogue: Mediations 170 References 174 Index 177

7

8 Preface Does sociology have a future? In one perspective, Zygmunt Bauman might be its last man. Well recognized for his major work, Modernity and the Holocaust (l989a), Bauman is often also widely imagined as the leading sociological representative of postmodernism. What lies before us? And, how do we make sense of modernity, of its century and of what now opens before us? As sociology enters the millennium, some will have cause to wonder about its prospects. Others, including Zygmunt Bauman, will wonder too but will likely rather persist in believing that we have barely begun this project in earnest at all; critical theory, in this vista, is more like an anticipation than a result, though it is also that. So this is good news, as well. The purpose of this book is to enter into this field by introducing, surveying and interpreting Bauman's work for an audience which, living at a postmodern pace, may know it only fleetingly, or else partially. Of course this is an interpretation in itself, therefore partial in its own way; it reflects my own curiosities as well as his, and says something about the difference of our life paths and the connection of our moment, and our passions and shared commitments as well as our differences. Why an introduction? Bauman's work is extensive, awesome, different; it denies the systemic nature or relatively clear trajectory which characterizes other bodies of work like, say, those of Habermas or Foucault. Bauman's work is notoriously difficult, by comparison, at least inasmuch as it is slippery and shifting. Those who choose to pursue Bauman's work further are welcome to head to the library or the bookshop; they might find the profiles in my Bauman Reader (2000), published simultaneously by Blackwell, to be of some use. In Freud's sense, the present book is more like a prosthesis, a way to handle the work just as culture is a way to handle the world. The present study works as a lengthier conversation with Bauman, conducted through the medium of his books and many of his essays published in English across the past 30 years. There is nothing here on the Polish pre-life of Bauman's sociology. We await a biography of Bauman; Dennis Smith's interpretation of his work will appear in the same year as this book does, and though we two have communicated we have worked independently of one another, as we have worked independently of our subject. From differing perspectives, again, Dennis Smith and I seek to rectify the awkward situation in which the widespread deference to Bauman's ideas has remained unaccompanied by any more elaborate appreciation of his work. To this point, the most extended acknowledgement of Bauman's work has been that registered in Richard Kilminster and Ian Varcoe's 1996 Festschrift

9 viii Preface - Culture, Modernity and Revolution: Essays in Honour of Zygmunt Bauman - and charted by various writers in a special issue of Theory, Culture and Society (1998). Hopefully this reception will open into the millennium. I first made acquaintance with Zygmunt and Janina Bauman in the 1990s, partly through the medium of Thesis Eleven. It has become a happy ritual, this annual pilgrimage to Leeds, from whence I inevitably depart light-headed and physically heavier. Ours is necessarily a long distance relationship, yet it has intimacies of its own, and I will always be deeply grateful for the willingness of the Baumans to take me in in this way. It is not always the case that intellectual enthusiasm transfers across onto other levels. For my own part, Bauman's Memories of Class (1982) had much influenced my thinking about modernity and labour, published in a book called Transforming Labor (1994a) and in its sequel, Postmodern Socialism (1994b). I had sent a copy of my 1988 review of Legislators and Interpreters (Bauman, 1987) to Leeds; a line of contact opened between us which has developed in the past decade. We discovered shared enthusiasms for labour's utopias; but he was the teacher. Reading Bauman's work coincides with my intellectual formation from the mid- 1970s through marxism to somewhere else. Moving into the 1990s I had begun researching the work of the Australian art historian and cultural theorist Bernard Smith, which resulted in a book entitled Imagining the Antipodes (1997). In the process I rediscovered the wonder of engaging directly with the thinking of a single, exemplary writer. This was an intellectual approach I had learned in my doctoral work with Alastair Davidson, who applied it brilliantly in Antonio Gramsci: Towards an Intellectual Biography (1977), and which I had then extended critically to the work of Leon Trotsky in Trotsky, Trotskyism and the Transition to Socialism (1987). Working on the project of Bernard Smith was a different kind of experience, because I was dealing with a living thinker, and because I wanted to appraise his work positively, to value it anew as a source or tradition to carry forward. This is also my motivation in the present study, for Bauman is good to think with, to follow not as a leader but as an example of how to go about the activity of interpretation and criticism, and this is his invitation to sociology. So this is a sympathetic and expository study, based on the search for spirit rather than letter. As in Imagining the Antipodes, I do not offer strict distinctions here between Bauman's thinking and my own. This is, then, a hermeneutic reading, and in this it follows his own work and example. The structure of this book rests on an attempt conceptually to cluster Bauman's work, in order to open different lines into his labyrinth. The approach is often chronological, especially in its broad sweep, but chronology does not govern the structure of the book. My object here is to establish something of how the works hang together, rather than necessarily to plumb their inner conceptual depths. My purpose is to chase themes, to connect and where possible to identify resonances in classical, modern and postmodern social theory. There are, then, three levels of voice

10 Preface Ix in this book. First, there is Bauman's voice, with mine as its sometime medium. Second, there are presences, echoes and dissonances with contemporaries, such as Castoriadis and Heller, which I attempt to spell out or explain. Third, there are echoes with the classics, not least Marx, Weber and Simmel, to which I allude but do not always elucidate. The attraction of Bauman's work is based on a combination of sociological insight and personal commitment; its approach is not that of the professional, or managerial sociologist. Its classical exemplar is Simmel, not Durkheim. This is a beginning book, together with Dennis Smith's, a beginning of that moment in which we take some perspective on Bauman's extraordinary achievement, that which hitherto we as readers have followed instalment by instalment. So this book does not seek to establish the inner nature or secret of Bauman's work, as much as to discern its larger contours, its shifts and its continuities, recurring themes or motivating curiosities. There is certainly no single clue to Bauman's work, not even in the idea of ambivalence or in the overarching theme of the critique of order. My sense is that Bauman's work shifts by the pattern of at least three different possible intellectual movements. First, there is a way in which it is continuous, or linear; some themes lead on to others, some books emerge as it were directly out of others, as though the entire project were one long conversation, extended over 30 years, with such varying interlocutors as pass by, cut into parts from the longer cloth. Second, there is a sense in which to plot the path of Bauman's work is to deal with the principle of eternal recurrence or repetition, for the problems which animate us across time recur and recycle. As Bauman says, we do not solve problems in social theory, we become bored with them. But third, there are also moments of effective opening, reorientation or innovation across this story, or at least there are turning points or moments of realization like those born in Legislators and Interpreters (1987), after which perspectives change more radically or forcefully, or after the collapse of marxism, one primary source of Bauman's theory and life. In Bauman's own, conversational self-understanding, his more recent books have figured perhaps as trilogy, or triptych. The first trilogy consists of Legislators and Interpreters (1987), Modernity and the Holocaust (1989a), and Modernity and Ambivalence (1991a). The second includes Postmodern Ethics (1993a), Life in Fragments (1995) and Postmodernity and its Discontents (1997a), and the final trio consists of the shorter, more directly political essays in Globalization: The Human Consequences (1998a), Work, Consumerism and the New Poor (1998b) and In Search of Politics (1999b). From any other perspective, of course, different profiles emerge; so that it seems to me, for example, that the books on the Holocaust and Ambivalence are directly continuous, whereas say Postmodern Ethics (1993a) and Mortality, Immortality and Other Life-Strategies (1991b) are distinct critical excurses, while what unites the books published after Life in Fragments (1995) is the essay form itself, especially with the return to the more specifically political themes as a kind of postmodern reprise of what earlier

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