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Z. Bauman: Stories of Self and Individuality in Modern Society

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Z. Bauman: Stories of Self and Individuality in Modern Society. Outline Introduction Bauman on the emergence of modern society: class, control and politics Bauman’s theory of self, culture and society: following Durkheim’s footsteps? Bauman on the individualized society and second modernity

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Z. Bauman: Stories of Self and Individuality in Modern Society
  • Outline
  • Introduction
  • Bauman on the emergence of modern society: class, control and politics
  • Bauman’s theory of self, culture and society: following Durkheim’s footsteps?
  • Bauman on the individualized society and second modernity
  • Conclusion
Z. Bauman: Self and Individuality in Modern Society
  • Suggested Readings
  • Z. Bauman, Memories of Class. Routledge & Kegan Paul 1982. Ch.1 & 6.
  • Z. Bauman, Mortality, Immortality and other Life Strategies. Polity Press 1992. Ch.1.
  • Z. Bauman, The Individualized Society (readings suggested for tutorial)
  • Z. Bauman, Liquid Love (readings suggested for tutorial)
  • R. Kilminster & I. Varcoe (eds.), Culture, modernity, and revolution : essays in honour of Zygmunt Bauman London : Routledge, 1996.
  • Z. Bauman & K. Tester, Conversations with Zygmunt Bauman. Polity Press, 2001
Z. Bauman: Self and Individuality in Modern Society
  • Introduction
  • Bauman’s concerns: the ‘eclectic’ Bauman
  • Bauman’s concerns as situated in other contemporary theorists’ themes
  • Bauman’s style
  • Our approach
Z. Bauman: Self and Individuality in Modern Society
  • Bauman on the origins of modernity
  • ‘Memories of Class’: the 18th century, old order and new means of control; factory system as disciplinary power (mind and bodies); protest against control (saving autonomy) as generated by memories of the old order;
  • Modernity is very much a matter of ordering relationship, of removing unpredictability (the weak as subdued to a situation where they could not longer count as a source of unpredictability), of imposing control, of a civilizing crusade (very much assisted by the state)
  • Modernity based on capitalism is not so much about the control and management of surplus as about the control over the mind and bodies of the producers; protest, i.e. class conflict is at first, and primarily, about reclaiming the autonomy, and only later shifted to a struggle over the distribution of surplus
Z. Bauman: Self and Individuality in Modern Society
  • Origins of modernity, cont’d
  • The concept of power: Foucaldian; stressing the fact that culture is not something static, some general code influencing and regulating behaviour; but culture is seen as a cultivating effort; the example of control and culture in the emergence of class society (most of the rules have little to do with the efficiency of production)
  • Culture and power are often one and the same thing, or two levels of the phenomenon of the civilizing process
  • For B, the thing of modernity that concerned him most is the loss of bearing, of familiarity and security (e.g., the loss of these things experienced by the apprentice-master as they witnessed the triumph of the factory/routine system)
Z. Bauman: Self and Individuality in Modern Society

Origins of modernity, cont’d

  • From the ‘classic’ class society to contemporary society: from producer to consumer; the logic of global capitalism is not to appeal to the motivation/compliance of the producer, but to the consumption desires of the consumer; thus the four categories of labour (first, symbolic manipulators ‘who invent ideas and ways to make goods desirable and sellable’; second, those engaed in the ‘reproduction of labour’ (educators, social workers…); third, ‘people employed in ‘personal services’ (face-to-face encounters with recipients of service); fourth, ‘routine labourers’ (assembly line, attendants at computer networks…)) ---- the last category of labour is eclipsed
  • the classic labour movement is no longer viable, and for the ‘new’ categories of labour, they are subject to the precariousness and vulnerability of a global economic system that emphasized ‘travel light’ and ‘leave at short notice’, ‘downsizing’, ‘delayering’, ‘no long term’, etc. etc.
Z. Bauman: Self and Individuality in Modern Society

The vulnerability of labour, cont’d

  • Capitalism as explosion or implosion, but both results in the same thing: all that is solid melts into air, and then becomes liquefied resources to be molded in bigger, more rational and efficient structures
  • Labour in heavy modernity (big, rational production systems, Fordism (intentions and practices, tying both capital and labour, each heavily dependent on the other; time horizons are long term)
  • Labour now liquefied again: disengagement between capital and labour; the hold on to the present is weakened; the high and mighty travel light; flexibility, unencumbered, undermined faith in the holding power of the past frame;
  • implications/connections: trust, confidence, political will; speed of movement vs. entrapment; capital more global, workers more local
Z. Bauman: Self and Individuality in Modern Society
  • Lives, Self and Society
  • Lives told and lives lived
  • B as telling different stories about the many faces and aspects of modern living; these stories are mainly about the trade in life meanings (whether and in what ways modern selves could find anchorage in modernity and second modernity;
  • In nature and out of nature (in society); society as liberating (Durkheim); society as saying right and wrong (Durkheim); but society also promising something more than ephemeral (through customs, habit and routine, society takes the sting out of the finality of life); self has this transcendence energy; the energy is capitalized and channeled, and stratified (as resources) to different categories of people; morality (Durkheim) and mortality (Bauman)
Z. Bauman: Self and Individuality in Modern Society

Telling stories of the self, cont’d

  • Conditions and narratives: the boundary between condition beyond choice and choice, if seen as given, will mean that conditions become a no-choice matter; whenever on says option x is not an alternative, X becomes part of the non-negotiable conditions.
  • Articulation: opens and closes options; need to enlarge and keep the width of possible options
  • Central questions: why do our life-telling experiences remain closed in fenced-off subjective self? How to make the connection between action and conditions; recording and mapping the interconnections, dependencies, etc. often rendered invisible to our very individual experience
  • Lives told affect lives lived; and this makes story telling more important than usually thought; one could (and should be) be helped in articulating new linkages, discovering new resources… thus pushing further away the boundary of conditions
Z. Bauman: Self and Individuality in Modern Society
  • Culture, order and chaos
  • Culture as reducing ambivalence, as order-creating (removing uncertainties); culture-making is order-making; culture as manipulating the probabilities of events (B as taking a different shot at culture)
  • Culture as about classifying, drawing boundaries (Bourdieu)
  • Choice as power: the more you could become an unknown variable in the calculations of others, and the less you could make them have the same ability in your calculations, the more freedom of choice you have, and thus more power; this is the use of chaos (or absence of order in the bid for power)
  • Inherent in the concept of order, there is power (or the bid for power), because the different parties to order try to reduce the element of uncertainty in the other, to make the other more predictable, while reserving for oneself more freedom of choice
Z. Bauman: Self and Individuality in Modern Society
  • Order is about mutual engagement, that both parties are interdependent (though asymmetrical), and both know that they are tied; both the management and the workers know that they are tied to the company’s welfare, and that they’d better sit at the negotiation table and see the bargain through
  • But that kind of order is fast disappearing, for the high and mighty might move fast, leave the table at short notice; lightness and volatility have replace weighty and ominous presence as the main techniques of domination
  • The old order with normative regulation is fast becoming a relic
Z. Bauman: Self and Individuality in Modern Society
  • When order is placed on to the issue of globalization, then order becomes the index of powerlessness and subordination; globalization thrives on the nomads, not the settled (again the high and mighty travel light); this is what B called the devaluation of order (second modernity as ‘subverting’ order)
  • Order in the past often associated with community (density of communication and intensity of everyday intercourse); place mattered then, place as a site of intellectual/emotional/spiritual togetherness; but now this place is punctuated, invaded by mobile phones, by long-distance stock market information, by the whole avalanche of cyber-age; this is the devaluation of place
  • Flexibility, vulnerability, precariousness, unpredictability: all these are characteristic of the present age of globalization; flexibility for those at the top requires and generates traits of exuberant, energetic, spontaneous character; it only turns self-destructive for those who work lower down the flexible regime (p.39)
Z. Bauman: Self and Individuality in Modern Society
  • B and Giddens on time and space: for G, the separation of the two meant it is now possible to lift social activities out of the local context, recombine them across a much larger span of time and space; it makes for instantaneous communication, expanded production and distribution of goods, it undermines the territory-maintaining efforts of groups and nation states; it is ultimately dynamic and liberating; for B, he emphasizes more on the uprootedness, the dislocation, the vulnerability and unpredictability that this generates
  • And this time-space transformation makes for a new stratifying order; there is a new meta-factor in social stratification, viz. mobility of movement (speed of mobility, ability to act effectively regardless of distance, and the freedom to move offered by the absence of localized commitments) has become the major stratifying factor on the global as well as on the local scale
Z. Bauman: Self and Individuality in Modern Society
  • Psychological and political ramifications of the second modernity: the hold on the present must be there before the capacity for future projections is possible (revolutionary project); but the hold on the present is conspicuously missing in the second modernity
  • Losing one’s bearings: this is the common predicament for the many nowadays; more and more ‘alternative X’ has moved to those conditions where one feels one has no control or knowledge about
  • This means ultimately the weakening of the political will
Z. Bauman: Self and Individuality in Modern Society
  • Individuality
  • As self-assertion capacity and as fate of modernity
  • Individuality and individuation (the former is a fate, a fact of modern living; the latter is about the practical capacity for self-assertion); the former is an inevitable state of affairs; the latter about the loss of available means for self-assertion
  • Modern society and individuality are inseparable (‘to speak of individualization and of modernity is to speak of the same social condition’, p.149); individuality is accentuated once ascriptive, inherited and inborn determination gives way to autonomy and initiative, i.e. from a given into a task (p.144); from ‘human nature’ to ‘identity’, from predestination to life project
  • class is a byproduct of individuals given differential access to the resources for self-assertion; working class naturally compensates for the lack of resources by joining ranks (numbers), while the upper class orientation is more partial and derivative, and only comes to the fore when interests or values are challenged
Z. Bauman: Self and Individuality in Modern Society
  • Individuality and politics/democracy: Individual as enemy of citizen: because he will be lukewarm about ‘good society’, ‘just society’, ‘common cause’; these things are not central (and must follow the fulfulling of individual wants) to the essence of individuality; also, the troubles for modern man do not often add up; there is little about them that would facilitate them to be enjoined into a common cause; also individualization means that one is ultimately responsible for oneself; for one’s success, just as for one’s failure; individualization thus fills up (colonizes) the public space; politics becomes the revealing of the private lives of the public figures and public confessions of private sentiments
  • Individualized society: hard fact is that one is left to struggle on one’s own; one is told to be responsible for yourself, but also are dependent on things beyond control/knowledge; one’s life is a biographical solution of systemic contradictions; no more salvation from society; the self is always (and is to be ) relying one its own
Z. Bauman: Self and Individuality in Modern Society
  • Conclusion
  • Though Giddens (Beck) and Bauman share many similarities in their views of modernity (the present age as ‘radicalized’ or ‘second modernity’), and the implications for self, interpersonal relationships, love and trust, etc., Bauman is more interested in the dislocating impact on the self, especially the search for meanings
  • Bauman recognizes the more positive side of this stage of modernity (e.g., break with tradition, skepticism of grand narratives or universal claims, perpetual experimentation…), he fears the dark side even more (vulnerability, precariousness, the loss of the hold on the present, etc.)
  • Bauman is optimistic to the extent that he is confident about the pooling of ‘life stories’, and the expanded horizons that this creates: we might find parallels and sustenance from other people’s stories; other people’s life strategies might help us to uncover hidden resources, forging new connections, etc., i.e. conditions are pushed back, and choice regained