Liquid social mores

Zygmunt Bauman
November 2, 2006

Zygmunt Bauman is the most recent contribution to Routledge's long-running but slow-growing Key Sociologists series. Bauman is an influential and attractive contemporary figure, but whether he is ready to sit alongside Pierre Bourdieu, Michel Foucault and a handful of long-dead classics remains in question. There is a strong market for Bauman's own work, so an introduction ought to do well. However, Bauman is himself an energetic disseminator of his take on the predicaments of contemporary life with short, accessible, powerful works on community, identity, poverty,globalisation, Europe and so on. Since he can write and is a master of wearing his scholarship lightly, is there a need for an introduction?

Tony Blackshaw has concentrated on Bauman since Legislators and Interpreters and strongly contrasts his ideal types of solid and liquid modernity. He gives an effective characterisation of the appropriateness of Bauman's dominating metaphor of liquification, for life beyond the attempt to legislate for a perfect future typical of solid modernity with its tendency to exclude and terrorise. Bauman's postmodern ethics of responsibility lies at the heart of his whole enterprise. This is so clear it ensures that Blackshaw's book will do no harm.

Just as well, because some of the writing is really awful, and it is obvious that nobody edited the book. Blackshaw's understanding of Bauman's relations with sociology in general, and methodology in particular, seems confused, if not a bit silly. The author lives in too polarised and discontinuous a methodological world, reminiscent of the early 1970s, for my taste. Intended readers will not need Bauman defended as an "alternative sociologist" against the alleged "empty proceduralism found in the pages of the sociology journals". Straw-man arguments and weak dichotomies abound.

As an enthusiastic disciple of Bauman, Blackshaw should finish the medicine in the "ambivalence" bottle.

John Parker is honorary research fellow in sociology, Swansea University.

Zygmunt Bauman

Author - Tony Blackshaw
Publisher - Routledge
Pages - 170
Price - £60.00 and £13.99
ISBN - 0 415 35505 2 and 35504 4

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