Bauman Theorizing Society the Writings Essay

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Bauman summarises these factors by referring to the methods of scientific and bureaucratic rationality and logic which reached extreme levels during this period in Germany. While on the one hand bureaucratic rationality can be seen as a positive aspect in relation to the ordered development of society, it can also be seen as the underlying cause that led to an atmosphere of moral distancing and irresponsibility.

3. Context

In respect to the theoretical view of civilization and society espoused by the theorist, the above discussion highlights Bauman's view that sociology as a science has not taken into account the full implications of the rational-scientific worldview. This is evident from his critique of the Webber's model of sociology as a science that follows the rational dictates of modernism. (Bauman, 1988, p. 478) As the author states;

The anxiety can hardly abate in view of the fact that none of the societal conditions which made Auschwitz possible has truly disappeared; that, on the contrary, 'existence now is more and more recognizably n accord with the principles which governed life and death in Auschwitz... (Bauman, 1988, p. 478)

In this light he proposes a "…task of the re-reading the sociological tradition." (Bauman, 1988, p. 478) This includes an analysis of the historical meaning of the 'civilizing process', bureaucratic rationality as well as the value-free ideal of knowledge. (Bauman, 1988, p. 479) All of these aspects resonate in his later writings.

Bauman extends his sociological analysis of the Holocaust in terms of other aspects of modern society; including individual freedom, identity and globalization. In essence, the same fundamental critique of rational and bureaucratic society in the assessment of thinking about the Holocaust is found in other areas of contemporary concern. Fundamental to his theoretical trajectory is an interrogation and a deconstruction of the acceptance of ideologies of rational and mechanical notions of civilization and order at the expense of human expression and freedom.

However, at the same time Baumann warns us consistently against an over-reaction. "The claim that critical scrutiny of the received wisdom is necessary does not need the ridiculous assumption that the Holocaust revealed 'the true essence' of modern civilization, which has been heretofore belied by the dominant orthodoxy." (Bauman, 1988, p. 479)

In his critique of the civilizing process, Bauman deconstructs the myth of a rational and linear evolution from savagery to a state of civilization. This is also supported by the critique of the view that rationality and science have superseded the inferior eras in human history characterized by superstition and myth. This analysis of conventional linear metaphysic can be related to many other modern and postmodern thinkers. One could for example refer to the entire works of Martin Heidegger and his critique of modern subjectivity. In fact the postmodern enterprise has, in varying degrees, attacked the idea of the progress of civilization. This critique is evident in the following quotation. "At no point of its long and tortuous execution did the Holocaust come in conflict with the principles of rationality. The 'Final Solution' did not clash at any stage with the rational pursuit of optimal goal-implementation." (Bauman, 1988, p. 484)

As noted in the introduction, in his later publications, for example in Modernity and Ambivalence (1993) Bauman explores the phenomenon of the "stranger" in modern society. This is also a reflection on a society driven by a consumer orientation where strangeness becomes enticing. The stranger is the person who is "…present yet unfamiliar, society's undecidable." ( Zygmunt Bauman) Furthermore, "… 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." (Zygmunt Bauman)

Therefore, from the analysis of the Holocaust Bauman goes on to consider postmodern culture and globalization. He refers to the change from hard to soft modernity. By hard modernity Bauman basically refers to the need for structure and order that characterized the bureaucratic rational logic that pervaded the past. However, he concludes that the postmodern is an area of "liquid" modernity. His central thesis is that "… we have moved from a solid to a fluid phase of modernity, in which nothing keeps its shape, and social forms are constantly changing at great speed, radically transforming the experience of being human." (Cummings)

This liquid phase of modernity also leads to Bauman's analysis of globalization. In its negative sense Bauman sees globalization as being linked to an amorphpous and morally irresponsible form of capitalism. As one commentator notes in summarizing the themes of Liquid Times (2007),

…the owners of Capital are invisible and shifting, having the power to invest locally without making commitments, and even to ignore international law if they deem it in their interests...The elite are seen as creating an unstable world as they move from place to place, seeking to maximise their profits. Meanwhile, the experience of 'negative globabalisation' for the rest of us who are 'doomed to be local' is one of increasing anxiety, fear, and suspicion, which derive from living in an unstable and unpredictable world over which we have no control,

(Summary of Liquid Times)

As the above quotation emphasizes, the liquid state of modern culture and society results in the generation of insecurity and anxiety as well as the problematics of identity. In real terms this results in a modern situation where "…we invest in pensions, become very protective of our children, and become increasingly suspicious of strangers. We are obliged to spend our time doing things to minimize the perceived threats to our safety." (Summary of Liquid Times)

4. Conclusion

As Kilminster and Varcoe (1995) remark, in Bauman's view of the Holocaust:

"Rationality and efficiency -- both products of the civilizing mission, implemented progressively by the 'gardening state' -- were, Bauman says, necessary conditions of genocide. The Holocaust as a modern programme is inconceivable without bureaucracy and technocracy." (Kilminster and Varcoe, 1995, p. 231)

This insight can be linked to other aspects in his later writings, including his view of the changing nature of modernity. What is clear is that the thinking that exemplifies Bauman's analysis of the Holocaust is extended into an interrogation of the modern world and contemporary society. One can therefore trace a line of thought in all of his work that is based on an acute and sensitive analysis of the sociological reality of civilization.


Bauman Z. 1988, 'Sociology after the Holocaust', The British Journal of Sociology, Vol.

39, No. 4, pp. 469-497.

Bauman Z. 2007, Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty, Polity, Cambridge.

Bauman Z. And Ga-ecki L. 2005, The unwinnable war: an interview with Zygmunt

Bauman, viewed 10 may, 2011

Kilminster, Richard, and Ian Varcoe, eds. 1995, Culture, Modernity, and Revolution:

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