Zygmunt Bauman is a Polish-born sociologist, one of the most significant global social thinkers of the late 20th century. He was born in 1925 in Poznan to non-practicing Polish-Jewish parents, and he studied sociology at the Warsaw Academy of Social Sciences and philosophy at the University of Warsaw. Despite having been a supporter of Poland's ruling Communist party, in 1968 he was driven out of Poland by an anti-Semitic campaign led by the government. In 1971, Bauman arrived in Leeds, England, via Israel, to take up the first Chair of Sociology at the University of Leeds. From 1990, he was the Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the university. In September 2010 the university launched The Bauman Institute within its School of Sociology and Social Policy.
Bauman is best known for his analyses of the links between modernity and the Holocaust, and of post-modern consumerism, globalization and morality. Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) and sociologist Georg Simmel (1858-1918) had a profound influence on his ideas.
The reach of Bauman's work, which spans nearly five decades, stretches across the arts, humanities and social sciences. His writings are relevant to his host subject of sociology, but also to social and political theory, philosophy, ethics, art theory, media/communications studies, cultural studies, and theology. The influence of art, literature, and film can be carefully traced throughout his nearly 60 books and hundreds of articles.
In the 1970s Bauman wrote in the areas of phenomenology, Marxist theory, structuralism, hermeneutics and ethnomethodology. Bauman was from outside the Anglo-American tradition as such and brought with him a refreshing agenda of issues, partly arising from the influence of his teachers, Julian Hochfeld and Stanislaw Ossowski, and partly posed by humanistic Marxists in the context of the Polish socialist experiment.
Bauman tried to make the concept of culture central to sociological work on the grounds that in it one can find the essential problématique of the discipline: that human life is simultaneously structured and structuring. In "Culture as Praxis," Bauman says that culture is linked inextricably with power because some people are able to structure the world more than others; and they do so for others. These "others," find that their world is structured for them and they are able to structure the world less than the "structurers," who are the more powerful. Bauman has increasingly come to see modernity as a general structuring or ordering drive, with power implications. Later he came to say that modernity is a doomed project, because the urge to structure, or order, always creates new problems, or further untidiness, which he calls ambivalence.
In the 1990s Bauman began to explore the subjects of postmodernity and consumerism. According to Bauman, modern society in the late 20th century changed from a society of producers to a society of consumers. Bauman saw this change as being a change from modernity to post-modernity. He has used the metaphor of "liquid modernity," to describe the present condition of the world as contrasted with the "solid modernity," condition that preceded it. According to Bauman, the passage from solid to liquid modernity has created a completely new setting for individual life pursuits, with individuals confronting a series of unprecedented challenges. Social forms and institutions can no longer serve as frames of reference for human actions and long-term life plans, so individuals have to find other ways to organise their lives by putting together an unending series of short-term projects. This fragmented living requires individuals to be flexible and adaptable, to be always ready to change tactics at short notice, to feel no regret at abandoning commitments and loyalties and to pursue available opportunities. Liquid modernity involves conditions of endemic uncertainty in which individuals must act, plan their actions and calculate any possible gains and losses of acting, or of failing to act.
Bauman's conceptual framework of liquid modernity has influenced international research within a number of disciplines. By employing the metaphor of liquidity, Bauman's later work has captured the fluid and constantly shifting character of our equally individualized and globalized lives and, over the course of a series of related books and articles, offered one of the most significant interpretations of human societies in the 21st century. This period of his work offers a reappraisal of fundamental concepts such as freedom, responsibility, morality, identity, community, security and uncertainty, love and intimacy, and welfare.