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Zygmunt Bauman

Zygmunt Bauman, fot. Elżbieta Lempp
Zygmunt Bauman, fot. Elżbieta Lempp

Born on November 19, 1925, Bauman was one of the most highly esteemed social critics in Europe. His name is often mentioned as a principal creator of the concept of "post-modernity" and "liquid modernity". He has also been a critic of the Third Way,  globalisation and consumerist society.

He was born on November 19th 1925 in Poznań. When the war begun, he escaped to USRR with his parents. He joined the Communist Youth Association and started his studies at the University in Gorki. When he was 19, he wrote his maturity exam,  joined the 1st Army of the Polish Military and he became a member of the Communist party. He took part in the battle of Kołobrzeg and the battle of Berlin. In 1945 he was incorporated into the Internal Security Korps. When asked in an interview with the Guardian whether counter-espionage meant informing on people who were fighting against the communist project, Bauman replied:

'That's what would be expected from me, but I don't remember doing [anything like that]. I had nothing to do - I was sitting in my office and writing - it was hardly a field in which you could collect interesting information'. Did you do anything at all that might have had adverse consequences? 'I can't answer that question,' he says, upset now. 'I don't believe there was any. At the same time, I was a part of a wider scene, and of course everything you do has consequences'.

Does he think those three years were a mistake? 

They're part of my biography. I bear full responsibility for that. At that time it seemed to me the right thing to do ... Some choices in everybody's biography can be looked upon as wrong choices, except that it doesn't seem to be a wrong choice at that time. When I was 19 years old I didn't know as much as I know now that I'm 82.

In 1953 he was discharged from any military work. After the war he studied philosophy at the Warsaw University. He became the assistant of one of the best Marxist sociologists, Julian Hochfeld. After the breaktrough of 1956, he became one of the pioneers of social studies in Poland. In 1960 he became associate professor. 

Bauman belongs to the generation that faced the task of rebuilding the splendid traditions of Polish learning after the war. In 1959, he published British Socialism, which he had written several years earlier. Bauman's intellectual integrity has been accompanied since the outset by great essayistic and popularizing talents, which have born such fruit as Everyday Sociology and Ideas, Ideals and Ideology. The seeds of his original philosophical concepts can already be seen in these early works.

In March, 1968, Zygmunt Bauman was professor of sociology at the University of Warsaw and Chairman of the General Sociology Department. He was suddenly stripped of his post and expelled from the university for political reasons by the communist authorities. Although he left Poland, he was remembered as the author of many books and sociology textbooks. Bauman had been an outstanding teacher of younger sociologists and the first editor-in-chief of "Studia Sociologiczne". In emigration, he continued to develop his ideas and his original scholarly concepts. Bauman lectured at the universities in Tel Aviv and Haifa in 1969-1971. He went to England in that year and accepted a permanent post at the University of Leeds. He was also visiting professor at Berkeley, Yale, Canberra, St. John's and Copenhagen.

Read about "Lawnswood Gardens" - a film portrait of Zygmunt Bauman...

He writes and publishes in English. His books have appeared in many countries. Zygmunt Bauman was awarded the European Amalfi Prize in sociology and the social sciences for Modernity and The Holocaust.

Bauman seems intellectually closest to the neopragmatism exemplified by Richard Rorty. Bauman finds Rorty's interpretative pluralism especially congenial. This is particularly important in relation to the aesthetic and moral questions that are most important to Bauman, particularly in his highly original treatment of the Holocaust. As he states in Modernity and The Holocaust, the Shoah "emerged as the result of an extraordinary accumulation of factors, each of which was completely ordinary and normal by itself, and the responsibility for that accumulation must be attributed to the modern state".

In the 1990s Bauman started to reflect mostly on the late modernity, consumerism and technology. The concept of liquid modernity is his best known. It is characterized by the uncertainty of the individual, episodicity and fragmentarization in the globalized, capitalist world, which changes under the effect of technology. It is not the reverse of modernity, but a chaotic continuation: it is modernity which agrees with its own failure. This notion has been introduced by Bauman in the book Liquid Modernity (2000). The concept of liquidity was developed in Bauman's following works, dedicated to different aspects of modernity: Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds (2003), Liquid Life (2005), Liquid Fear (2006), Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty (2006) and Liquid Evil (with Leonidas Donskis, 2016). Lately he also wrote about the crisis of democracy, the fight with terrorism and the migration crisis (in books such as (Strangers at our Door, 2016).  Professor Bauman passed away on 9th January 2017.

Selected Bibliography:

  • Hermeneutics and Social Science, New York: Columbia University Press, 1978.
  • Memories of Class: The Pre-history and After-life of Class, London-Boston: Routhledge & Kegan Paul, 1982.
  • Legislators and Interpreters - on Modernity, Post-modernity, Intelectuals, Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1987.
  • Freedom, Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1988.
  • Modernity and the Holocaust, Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1989.
  • Thinking Sociologically. An Introduction for Everyone, Cambridge, Mass.: Basil Blackwell, 1990.
  • Modernity and Ambivalence, Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991.
  • Intimations of Postmodernity, London, New York: Routhledge, 1992.
  • Mortality, Immortality and Other Life Strategies, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992.
  • Postmodern Ethics, Life in Fragments. Essays in Postmodern Morality, Cambridge, Mass.: Basil Blackwell,1995.
  • Postmodernity and its Discontents, New York: New York University Press, 1997.
  • Work, Consumerism and the new Poor, Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1998.
  • Globalization: The Human Consequences, New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.
  • Culture as Praxis, Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 1999.
  • Ponowoczesność jako źródło cierpień (Man's discomfort in postmodernity), Warsaw: Sic!, 2000 (more...).
  • Globalizacja (Globalization), Warsaw: PIW, 2000.
  • Does the Richness of the Few Benefit Us All?, Cambridge: Polity Press. 2013. 
  • State of Crisis (with Carlo Bordoni), Cambridge: Polity Press, 2014. 
  • Practices of Selfhood (with Reine Raud), Cambridge: Polity Press, 2015. 
  • Liquid Evil (with Leonidas Doskis), Cambridge: Polity Press, 2016. 
  • Babel (with Ezio Mauro), Cambridge: Polity Press, 2016. 
  • Strangers at Our Door, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2016. 

Source:; copyright: Stowarzyszenie Willa Decjusza; updated by NMR, November 2016.'s picture
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Zygmunt Bauman


Zygmunt Bauman


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