Interrogating sources

April 10, 2014

In the matter of Zygmunt Bauman “rebuts plagiarism accusations” (“Do not confuse pedantry with scholarship”, 3 April), I stand with the accused. In an age when academics are electronically connected to all sorts of sources, it is a bit rich for a younger person to be accusing an older one of not providing enough clues to where his ideas are coming from. Of course, people should be interested in the source of ideas that appear novel or dubious, but technology has now made finding out so easy that the burden of discovery has been effectively shifted to the interested party.

However, what we should begin to worry about is that an excessive preoccupation with sources might veer into what logicians call the “genetic fallacy”, which would have a claim’s validity judged by what one thinks of its source. As someone who has critically engaged with Bauman’s corpus, while I have admired the eclecticism of his sources, I have been much more focused on how all those parts add up to a whole argument. In this context, too much fuss about the integrity of his individual sources is a distraction that is better suited to the world of exam marking. There are plenty of reasons to criticise Bauman’s positions without resorting to charges of plagiarism.

Steve Fuller
Auguste Comte Chair in Social Epistemology
University of Warwick


Bauman is himself confused about the fundamental principles of intellectual property and academic scholarship. Of course ideas and knowledge are not owned by anyone, and it’s mischievous of Bauman to frame it that way.

“What’s owned”, as he very well knows from the sales and profits of all his books, and what is at issue here, as we keep telling our students, is the precise expression of ideas. That is not a mere technicality, it goes to the heart of the claim to be the author of a piece of writing. Bauman’s words undermine all teachers’ efforts to get their students to develop their own writing capacities, and it’s important that his position be declared utterly wrong and basically self-interested. It brings shame on the discipline of sociology, and instead of an arrogant assertion of your supposed intellectual superiority, you owe us all an apology, Professor Bauman.

Robert van Krieken

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Reader's comments (1)

I cannot accept Zygmunt Bauman’s dismissal of Cambridge PhD student Peter Walsh’s identification of plagiarism in his work, as reported in Paul Jump’s article in the Times Higher Education (3th April 2014) and neither can I accept Bauman comment that in 60 years of publishing he had “never once failed to acknowledge the authorship of the ideas or concepts that I deployed, or that inspired the ones I coined”. Bauman is not adverse to taking ideas and arguments from other authors even in his most influential contributions to social theory; for example in ‘Conversations with Zygmunt Bauman’ by Bauman and Keith Tester, the referencing can be described at times as sloppy. Bauman is quoted as saying: “ .. no one explored the dilemma of the self’s ‘hard core’ better than Henrik Ibsen in the adventures of Peer Gynt. His hero found out – the hard way – that his ‘authentic self’ could be neither invented nor discovered. The invented one appeared to be met with miscomprehension and resentment. The effort of discovery – stripping one by one the roles played in public – led, like stripping the successive layers of an onion, to the nothingness in that centre hard stone was hoped to be found” (2001: 120). There should have been acknowledgment that this was drawn from Erich Fromm, who said: “Peer Gynt tries to discover his self and he finds that he is like an onion – one layer after the other can be peeled off and there is no core to be found” (Fromm 1948:73). I describe this as sloppy rather than plagiarism only because Fromm’s 1948 text is listed in the bibliography. However, in Bauman’s book ‘Consuming Life’ (2007a) Bauman draws upon ideas that appear to drawn from Fromm but does not mention the debt to Fromm at any point in the text. I have explored this argument in my book ‘Zygmunt Bauman: Why Good People Do Bad Things’ (Ashgate 2013). However in a nutshell, according to Fromm in the modern era a marketing orientation developed. Marketing characters have no deep attachment to self or others and experience themselves as a commodity, with an exchange value in a personality market place: ‘A person is not concerned with his life and happiness, but with becoming saleable’ (Fromm 1948:70). The marketing character becomes primarily concerned not with their personal happiness or their personal life but with becoming more saleable. As such, the marketing character ‘lacks a feeling of selfhood and experiences himself in terms of a response to the expectations of others’ (Fromm 1955: 187). The similarity between Fromm’s conception of consumerism (1948, 1955 and 1976) and Bauman’s conception of consumerism after his post- 2000 liquid turn is surprisingly close. In ‘Consuming Life’ (2007a) Bauman argues that in a society of consumers people have to ‘recast themselves as commodities’ (Bauman 2007a: 6), ‘men and women must meet the conditions of eligibility defined by market standards’, making themselves ‘fit for being consumed’ – and market-worthy’ (Bauman 2007a: 62) ‘consumers are driven by the need to “‘commoditize”’ themselves – remake themselves into attractive commodities’ (Bauman 2007a: 111). Why does Bauman appear to be so reluctant to follow the “technical procedural rules of quotations”? My view is that Bauman often claims to have knowledge that he does not possess and that following the “technical procedural rules of quotations” would demonstrate this. Bauman’s notion of liquid modernity, for example, is based upon a critique of Durkheim and others and yet in all of Bauman’s books when there is an accurately quoted reference to Durkheim’s work it is always drawn from Anthony Giddens volume ‘Emile Durkheim: Selected Writings’ . I am not criticising Giddens book, I used it as a first year undergraduate in the first semester, and I do not mind people challenging Durkheim’s ideas and arguments but I would like know that Durkheim’s critic has a deeper knowledge of Durkheim than that presented in an introductory reader. Bauman does not give his reader that reassurance. I would also suggest that Bauman is not adverse to fabricating statistics and research to support his arguments. In the book ‘On Education: Conversations with Riccardo Mazzeo’ (Polity 2012: 118) Bauman says: “ twenty years ago 60 per cent of American families had regular family dinners now only 20 per cent of American families now meet around the dinner table”. There is no reference to any research to support these statistics. However, I first heard Bauman make this point in a seminar for post graduate students in the in the 1980s! and he could not give me the source then. Shaun Best The University of Winchester

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