Zygmunt Bauman accused of serial ‘self-plagiarism’

Eminent sociologist has recycled 90,000 words of material across a dozen books, claims paper

八月 20, 2015
Zygmunt Bauman with hand over mouth
Source: Getty

One of the world’s most eminent sociologists has included large amounts of self-plagiarised material in a dozen of his most recent books, an academic paper claims.

Last year, Times Higher Education reported allegations that Zygmunt Bauman, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Leeds and often hailed as the world’s greatest living sociologist, had included several unacknowledged passages in his 2013 book Does the Richness of the Few Benefit Us All? that were near-exact quotations from Wikipedia and other web resources. The book also allegedly included numerous passages from previous works written by Professor Bauman “without appropriate attribution”.

His accuser was Peter Walsh, a doctoral student in sociology at the University of Cambridge. Now Mr Walsh and David Lehmann, emeritus reader in social science at Cambridge, have examined another 28 of Professor Bauman’s books, most of them among the 47 he has written since formally retiring in 1990.

In a paper posted on Academia.edu, “Problematic elements in the scholarship of Zygmunt Bauman, they report that 12 of the books contain “substantial quantities of material that appear to have been copied near-verbatim and without acknowledgement from at least one of the other books sampled. Several books contain very substantial quantities of text – running into several thousands of words, and in the worst case almost twenty thousand – that have been reused from earlier Bauman books without acknowledgement”.

When journal articles are factored in, the total amount of what they deem to be self-plagiarised material amounts to about 90,000 words, mostly in works published since 2000, they say.

The authors also take issue with Professor Bauman’s response to the original allegations, in which he said that he had “never once failed to acknowledge the authorship of the ideas or concepts that I deployed, or that inspired the ones I coined”, but that he had always failed to spot “the influence of the obedience to technical procedural rules of quotations on the quality…of scholarship”.

They acknowledge that some academics do not regard self-plagiarism as a serious issue. But “by failing to indicate that substantial parts of his newly authored works are not in fact new, in any conventional sense of the term, but are instead copied from his earlier works, Bauman deceives his readers”, they say.

Both Professor Bauman and Polity, the publisher of many of his most recent books, declined to comment.

Irene Hames, an editorial and publishing consultant and a former journal editor and council member of the Committee on Publication Ethics, said that self-plagiarism – she preferred to call it “recycling” – was “a topic of considerable current discussion, confusion and varying viewpoints”.

“What is totally clear, though, is that there should always be total transparency about any previous publication (in the broadest sense) of a person’s intellectual or creative output, whatever it is,” she said.

Repeatedly reusing material without appropriate citation misleads editors, publishers and readers, she added, and also gave an author credit for more work than they have really done. It could also give the author’s findings or opinions “unwarranted weighting”, especially when the publications containing recycled material contain additional authors, whose names can lend additional weight to their positions.

“Appropriate citation is a central pillar of all scholarly work,” Dr Hames said.

Blog: How big a sin is Zygmunt Bauman's alleged self-plagiarism?




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Reader's comments (9)

Self plagiarism in an academic journal, where the publication may assume or require originality, is one thing. Using material from previous publications in a book is quite another.. The only obligation that the author of a book owes to the reader is to ensure that the material contained within the book is indeed the work of the author. It is perhaps not surprising that a Doctoral Student should manifest confusion over the details of authorial obligations and academic wrong-doing. It is very surprising that instead of helping to correct Peter Walsh's misconceptions, a more experienced academic, Cambridge University's David Lehman should join him in leveling the same misguided criticism at Zygmunt Bauman. They should both be ashamed of themselves for seeking to gain publicity for themselves by traducing a scholar who has made a sustained and substantial contribution to Sociology in an impressive number of monographs of which he is sole author. Peter Walsh's supervisor might do well to consider imposing a programme of remedial study.
This is just gratuitous muck slinging at a great scholar. Those who do such things generally have not a single original idea of their own in their heads. It is a pity that THE feels the need to headline such dubious copy.
Did sociology really reach such level of nothingness? If these anti-sociologists do not have anything substantial to say on the sociology of ZB, they should just say nothing instead of putting their lack of ability to substantial debate into quasi-sociological wrapping. It is interesting though that this low level of critique is a confirmation of much what ZB said; and they confirm that it cannot be said often enough (though they probably don't get it at any stage ...) My deepest sympathy for lack of professional sense - and my sympathy also to the discipline that snows such orientation very much as part of the mainstream of ranking-driven self-humiliation ...
Having spent most of my career trying to persuade students that plagiarism is the unattributed use of someone else's ideas, rather than just or only the reproduction of someone else's text, it is heartbreaking to witness this appallingly crass piece of attentiongrabbing nonsense. Under that criterion, how can this brilliant thinker be accused of stealing his own ideas, even if he uses the same words again? At his great age, he's entitled.
I agree with much of the comments provided so far: the criticism of Bauman takes a lot for granted. Self-plagiarism is one of those ambiguous terms which we see being used interchangeably with ideas of fraud and deception, but this is an oversimplification. One reason to treat the idea of self-plagiarism with caution is that it seems (in my cynical reading) to be a vehicle for enforcing copyright laws. Is the problem that Bauman is copying his own work, or that one publisher has disseminated text from another publisher without the due permissions or acknowledgements? Is this not more of a commercial-legal problem than scholarly sin? Would be interesting to hear people´s thoughts on this...
Raymond Chandler recycled chunks of text from his pulp writing into his novels. Does this mean he is a 'self-plagiarist' and his great works should be discarded. There is a serious plagiarism problem out there. But it is not people using the same words which they had originally constructed in two different places to build towards different arguments or logics. If Bauman had simply paraphrased his own work, would that have been ok ? By the lights of this article and the 'research' underwriting it yes. Likewise those who still others original work by paraphrase dodge the bullet. Shameful.
ps. Silly season.
Sorry, this isn't going to get read, but what do the U of Cambridge's research ethics codes say about this. 1) This is research on a living, named human subject 2) Presumably conducted without his permission (which is fine by me, but brings extra ethical responsibilities) 3) The research seems to make categorical judgements about the named individual using controversial, ill defined terms 4) This claim is made in a paper posted on academia.edu, so one presumes, it has not been through any peer review process 5) The named person has been given no opportunity to rebut or challenge the logic of the statement. Yet, here it is, a scholar named and traduced in the pages of the Times Higher. Let me also add, that the dramatis personae upon whom this scandalous scandal is built are: 1) A PhD student 2) A Retired Professor 3) A 'consultant' in publishing. On the third point, I challenge Irene Hames standing on this point. She is not a scholar. And not least, here weasel word is 'currently'. The article suggests controversial and largely unaccepted 'rules' she would like to see implemented should apply in the past. There's a bottom line here. If someone writes something, whatever the publishing copyright, the ideas belong to that person. Really, if they want to use the material again in other places, while satisfying the publishers criteria with respect to originality, that is up to them. If people think work is recycled, then the place to do that is in reviews and critiques of the work. Most publishers I know of actually recognize this. In several fields journal publishers give permission without comment for material to reappear as part of a book. Many books I know might use words to the effect 'substantial elements of chapter 2 first appeared in xxxx' etc. But the scandal here is of the researcher and not the researched.
A crusade against plagiarism? Let me pe part of is! Beginning with the mentioned article ob Walsh and Lehmann. Are they themselves able to "acknowledge the authorship of the ideas or concepts" they are using. A quicktest on the biographic data of Zygmunt Bauman shows: no, they aren't. Beginning with the first biographic statement: "Born in 1925 in Poznań, Poland, into a poor Jewish family, Bauman was forced to flee his homeland with his parents after the Nazis invaded in 1939". The given reference (Best 2010) knows nothing about this former poverty. Instead, the scentence could be found very similar in a book of Keith Tester, "Conversations with Zygmunt Bauman": "Bauman was born into a poor Jewish family in Poland in 1925. With his family he fled to the Soviet Union from the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939" After that, Walsh and Lehmann move on to another Work of Keith Testler. Their statement: "After the war he became a significant figure in the Polish Communist Party, until he was dismissed from his military post in 1953 as part of an anti-Semitic purge (Best, 2010: 10-33). From 1954, Bauman held an academic position at the University of Warsaw, but in 1968, following a further wave of anti-Semitism, was driven into exile. Bauman moved first to Israel, where he was Professor of Sociology at the Universities of Tel Aviv and Haifa, and then to Australia. But unable to settle, Bauman came in 1971 to England, where he became Professor of Sociology at the University of Leeds. He has remained there ever since." This could be easy tracked down to "The Social Thought of Zygmunt Bauman", published in 2004: "Bauman was expelled from the army in 1953 during an anti- Semitic purge which was carried out in the name of a policy of the ‘de-Judaising of the army’. From 1964 to 1968 Bauman held the Chair of General Sociology at Warsaw, only to be expelled from this post on 25 March 1968, during another wave of anti-Semitism whipped up by the state authorities After three years, struggling to settle in universities in Israel (for a short while he was Professor of Sociology at the Universities of Tel Aviv and Haifa) and Australia, Zygmunt Bauman finally found a new home in 1971 at the University of Leeds, where he was Professor of Sociology until his retirement in 1990." All this information, including the significant phrases "an anti Semitic purge", "another wave of anti-Semitism" and the barely mentioned episode in Australia are taken from this source. Conclusion: Maybe Bauman is guilty of plagiarism. Most likely, his persecutors don't have a clean record either.