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«Liquid Modernity Zygmunt Bauman polity Copyright © Zygmunt Bauman 2000 The right of Zygmunt Bauman to be identified as author of this work has been ...»

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Liquid Modernity

Zygmunt Bauman


Copyright © Zygmunt Bauman 2000

The right of Zygmunt Bauman to be identified as author of this work has been

asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

First published in 2000 by Polity Press

in association with Blackwell Publishing Ltd

(twice), 2005, 2006

Reprinted 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004

Editorial office:

Polity Press

65 Bridge Street

Cambridge CB2 1UR, UK

Polity Press

350 Main Street Malden, MA 02148, USA All rights reserved. Except for the quotation of short passages for the purposes of criticism and review, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, �lectronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.

Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condi­ tion that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

ISBN 0-7456-2409-X ISBN 0-7456-2410-3 (pbk) A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library and has been applied for from the Library of Congress.

Typeset in 11 on 13 pt Sabon by Ace Filmsetting Ltd, Frome, Somerset Printed in Great Britain by T.J. International, Padstow, Cornwall This book is printed on acid-free paper.

For further information on Polity, please visit our website http://ww w.polity.co.uk Contents Foreword: On Being Light and Liquid 1 Emancipation The mixed blessings of freedom. The fortuities and changing fortunes of critique. The individual in combat with the citizen. The plight of critical theory in the society of individuals. Critical theory revisited. The critique of life-politics 2 Individuality Capitalism - heavy and light. Have car, can travel.

Stop telling me; show me! • Compulsion turned into addiction. The consumer's body. Shopping as a rite of exorcism. Free to shop - or so it seems. Divided, we shop 3 Time/Space When strangers meet strangers. Ernie places, phagic places, non-places, empty spaces. Don't talk to strangers. Modernity as history of time. From heavy to light modernity. The seductive lightness of being.

Instant living Contents VI 4 Work Progress and trust in history. The rise and fall of labour

• From marriage to cohabitation. Excursus: a brief history of procrastination. Human bonds in the fluid world. The self-perpetuation of non-confidence 5 Community Nationalism, mark 2 • Unity - through similarity or difference? • Security at a price. After the nation-state

• Filling the void. Cloakroom communities Afterthought: On Writing; On Writing Sociology

–  –  –

Interruption, incoherence, surprise are the ordinary conditions of our life. They have even become real needs for many people, whose minds are no longer fed. by anything but sudden changes and constantly renewed stimuli. We can no longer bear anything that lasts. We no longer know how to make boredom bear fruit.

So the whole question comes down to this: can the human mind mas­ ter what the human mind has made?

Paul Valery 'Fluidity' is the quality of liquids and gases. What distinguishes both of them from solids, as the Encyclopaedia Britannica author­ itatively informs us, is that they 'cannot sustain a tangential, or shearing, force when at rest' and so undergo 'a continuous change in shape when subj ected to such a stress' This continuous and irrecoverable change of position of one part of the material relative to another part when under shear stress consti­ tutes flow, a characteristic property of fluids, In contrast, the shear­ ing forces within a solid, held in a twisted or flexed position, are maintained, the solid undergoes no flow and can spring back to its original shape.

Liquids, one variety of fluids, owe these remarkable qualities to the fact that their 'molecules are preserved in an orderly array over only a few molecular diameters'; while 'the wide variety of behav­ iour exhibited by solids is a direct result of the type of bonding that holds the atoms of the solid together and of the structural Foreword: On Being Light and Liquid

–  –  –

bid to deploy 'fluidity' as the leading metaphor for the present stage of the modern era.

What all these features of fluids amount to, in simple language, is that liquids, unlike solids, cannot easily hold their shape. Fluids, so to speak, neither fix space nor bind time. While solids have clear spatial dimensions but neutralize the impact, and thus downgrade the significance, of time (effectively resist its flow or render it irrelevant), fluids do not keep to any shape for long and are con­ stantly ready ( and prone) to change it; and so for them it is the flow

of time that counts, more than the space they happen to occupy:

that space, after all, they fill but 'for a moment'. In a sense, solids cancel time; for liquids, on the contrary, it is mostly time that matters. When describing solids, one may ignore time altogether;

in describing fluids, to leave time out of account would be a griev­ ous mistake. Descriptions of fluids are all snapshots, and they need a date at the bottom of the picture.

Fluids travel easily. They 'flow', 'spill', 'run out', 'splash', 'pour over', 'leak', 'flood', 'spray', 'drip', 'seep', 'ooze'; unlike solids, they are not easily stopped - they pass around some obstacles, dissolve some others and bore or soak their way through others still. From the meeting with solids they emerge unscathed, while the solids they have met, if they stay solid, are changed - get moist or drenched. The extraordinary mobility of fluids is what associ­ ates them with the idea of 'lightness' There are liquids which, cubic inch for cubic inch, are heavier than many solids, but we are inclined nonetheless to visualize them all as lighter, less 'weighty' than everything solid. We associate 'lightness' or 'weightlessness' with mobility and inconstancy: we know from practice that the lighter we travel the easier and faster we move.

These are reasons to consider 'fluidity' or 'liquidity' as fitting metaphors when we wish to grasp the nature of the present, in many ways novel, phase in the history of modernity.

I readily agree that such a proposition may give a pause to anyone at home in the 'modernity discourse' and familiar with the vocabulary commonly used to narrate modern history. Was not modernity a process of 'liquefaction' from the start? Was not 'meltForeword: On Being Light and Liquid 3 ing the solids' its major pastime and prime accomplishment all along ? In other words, has modernity not been 'fluid' since its inception ?

These and similar objections are well j ustified, and will seem more so once we recall that the famous phrase 'melting the solids', when coined a century and a half ago by the authors of The Communist Manifesto, referred to the treatment which the self­ confident and exuberant modern spirit awarded the society it found much too stagnant for its taste and much too resistant to shift and mould for its ambitions - since it was frozen in its habitual ways. If the 'spirit' was 'modern', it was so indeed in so far as it was determined that reality should be emancipated from the 'dead hand' of its own history - and this could only be done by melting the solids (that is, by definition, dissolving whatever persists over time and is negligent of its passage or immune to its flow ). That intention called in turn for the 'profaning of the sacred' : for dis­ avowing and dethroning the past, and first and foremost 'tradition'

- to wit, the sediment and residue of the past in the present; it thereby called for the smashing of the protective armour forged of the beliefs and loyalties which allowed the solids to resist the 'liquefaction'.

Let us remember, however, that all this was to be done not in order to do away with the solids once and for all and make the brave new world free of them for ever, but to clear the site for new and improved solids; to replace the inherited set of deficient and defective solids with another set, which was much improved and preferably perfect, and for that reason no longer alterable. When reading de Tocqueville's Ancien Regime, one might wonder in addition to what extent the 'found solids' were resented, con­ demned and earmarked for liquefaction for the reason that they were already rusty, mushy, coming apart at the seams and al­ together unreliable. Modern times found the pre-modern solids in a fairly advanced state of disintegration; and one of the most powerful motives behind the urge to melt them was the wish to discover or invent solids of - for a change - lasting solidity, a solidity which one could trust and rely upon and which would make the world predictable and therefore manageable.

The first solids to be melted and the first sacreds to be profaned were traditional loyalties, customary rights and obligations which bound hands and feet, hindered moves and cramped the enterprise.

Foreword: On Being Light and Liquid To set earnestly about the task of building a new (truly solid! ) order, i t was necessary to get rid of the ballast with which the old order burdened the builders. 'Melting the solids' meant first and foremost shedding the 'irrelevant' obligations standing in the way of rational calculation of effects; as Max Weber put it, liberating business enterprise from the shackles of the family-household du­ ties and from the dense tissue of ethical obligations; or, as Thomas Carlyle would have it, leaving solely the 'cash nexus' of the many bonds underlying human mutuality and mutual responsibilities. By the same token, that kind of 'melting the solids' left the whole complex network of social relations unstuck - bare, unprotected, unarmed and exposed, impotent to resist the business-inspired rules of action and business-shaped criteria of rationality, let alone to compete with them effectively.

That fateful departure laid the field open to the invasion and domination of ( as Weber put it) instrumental rationality, or ( as Karl Marx articulated it) the determining role of economy: now the 'basis' of social life gave all life's other realms the status of 'superstructure' - to wit, an artefact of the 'basis' whose sole function was to service its smooth and continuing operation. The melting of solids led to the progressive untying of economy from its traditional political, ethical and cultural entanglements. It sedimented a new order, defined primarily in economic terms.

That new order was to be more 'solid' than the orders it replaced, because - unlike them - it was immune to the challenge from non­ economic action. Most political or moral levers capable of shifting or reforming the new order have been broken or rendered too short, weak or otherwise inadequate for the task. Not that the economic order, once entrenched, will have colonized, re-educated and converted to its ways the rest of social life; that order came to dominate the totality of human life because whatever else might have happened in that life has been rendered irrelevant and in­ effective as far as the relentless and continuous reproduction of that order was concerned.

That stage in modernity's career has been well described by Claus Offe ( in 'The Utopia of the Zero Option', first published in 1 9 87 in Praxis International): 'complex' societies 'have become rigid to such an extent that the very attempt to reflect normatively upon or renew their " order", that is, the nature of the coordination of the processes which take place in them, is virtually precluded by Foreword: On Being Light and Liquid dint of their practical futility and thus their essential inadequacy' However free and volatile the 'subsystems' of that order may be singly or severally, the way in which they are intertwined is 'rigid, fatal, and sealed off from any freedom of choice' The overall order of things is not open to options; it is far from clear what such options could be, and even less clear how an ostensibly viable option could be made real in the unlikely case of social life being able to conceive it and gestate. Between the overall order and every one of the agencies, vehicles and stratagems of purposeful action there is a cleavage - a perpetually widening gap with no bridge in sight.

Contrary to most dystopian scenarios, this effect has not been achieved through dictatorial rule, subordination, oppression or enslavement; nor through the 'colonization' of the private sphere by the 'system' Quite the opposite: the present-day situation emerged out of the radical melting of the fetters and manacles rightly or wrongly suspected of limiting the individual freedom to choose and to act. Rigidity of order is the artefact and sediment of the human agents ' freedom. That rigidity is the overall product of 'releasing the brakes': of deregulation, liberalization, 'flexibilization', increased fluidity, unbridling the financial, real estate and labour markets, easing the tax burden, etc. ( as Offe pointed out in 'Bind­ ing, Shackles, Brakes', first published in 1 987); or (to quote from Richard Sennett's Flesh and Stone) of the techniques of 'speed, escape, passivity' - in other words, techniques which allow the system and free agents to remain radically disengaged, to by-pass each other instead of meeting. If the time of systemic revolutions has passed, it is because there are no buildings where the control desks of the system are lodged and which could be stormed and captured by the revolutionaries; and also because it is excru�iat­ ingly difficult, nay impossible, to imagine what the victors, once inside the buildings (if they found them first), could do to turn the tables and put paid to the misery that prompted them to rebel. One should be hardly taken aback or puzzled by the evident shortage of would-be revolutionaries: of the kind of people who articulate the desire to change their individual plights as a project of changing the order of society.

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