Academic journal article New Formations

Culture in a Liquid Modern World

Academic journal article New Formations

Culture in a Liquid Modern World

Article excerpt

Zygmunt Bauman, Culture in a Liquid Modem World, Cambridge, Polity Press, 2011, 121 pp; £12.99 paperback

In Culture in a Liquid Modem World, Zygmunt Bauman describes a shift in the self-designated role of 'Culture', from its Enlightenment mission of educating the masses in the name of progress to making itself available in a market like any other commodity. He sees the quality of 'omnivorousness' in cultural elites as symptomatic of this change: that they admit no difference between high and low culture and will confess to enjoying darts as well as Wagner (2). So far, so liquid modern, as Bauman takes this phenomenon as exemplifying life in post-modernity whereby the old boundaries and forms that demarcated social life in an age of solid modernity have dissolved, and with it art's special role. Passion yields to dispassion, though not to disinterestedness, as artists orient their product towards the market: 'the culture of liquid modernity has no "populace" to enlighten and ennoble; it does, however, have clients to seduce' (16). Fashion, therefore, is for Bauman exemplary as a field in which this process plays out and is observable. The measure of 'progress' shifts from participation in a shared project to the ability of individuals to keep up with trends and sustain consumer markets (24). Bauman pays no attention to what makes this possible: sweated labour in countries producing the commodities that enable the working class in Britain to participate in 'fast fashion'. Primark as well as Prada is necessary if Bauman is correct in his thesis that consumption is where it's at for late capitalism, though recognising this exposes the central problem of his thesis. Capital has relocated production geographically and this fact forms no part of his understanding of culture as a commodity; 'culture' is decontextualised from its material conditions and conceived of wholly as a European concern. …

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