Farewell to Professor Zygmund Bauman, and thank you.

Farewell to Professor Zygmund Bauman, and thank you.

Even sociologists have their heroes, and Zygmund was one of mine. My respect for him began in February 1990, when myself and some of my fellow MA Sociology students from Leeds Metropolitan University (down the road in leafy Roundhay) were invited to attend a Leeds University sociology seminar led by the distinguished Emeritus Professor Bauman.

I was only a few months into my Masters and both excited and nervous about what I’d embarked on. Even attending Leeds Met. University was a massive leap into the unknown for me.  I was 40 years old with very limited academic background and the more prestigious, ‘red brick’ Leeds University felt a world away.

But there I was, that memorable cold, wet Wednesday afternoon, sitting in the same lecture room as Professor B and listening.

And wow, did I listen.

I was a sponge. My brain went into overdrive and just absorbed it all. The most wonderful experience, lighting up my inner intellectual core (up until my 40s, I didn’t even know I had one). There were a handful of Leeds University students also attending but they were very evidently far more knowledgeable than myself. And confident in that knowledge! So throughout the two hour seminar I said nothing. Just listened as the discussion and debate ebbed and flowed. The topic was the First World War, origins and consequences, and touched, not surprisingly, on Professor B’s burgeoning theme of modernity, or as he termed it ‘liquid modernity’.

I remember feeling very high, very elated. I loved the intellectual discussion. I felt at home. I felt I had arrived. I wanted more. Indeed my very positive experiences on the LMU MA were to drive me forward and provide the confidence for me to embark on a PhD in 1993. Come the winter of 1996/97 and I was, myself, lecturing at Leeds University (Business School). By February 1998 I was firmly ensconced at Keele University, Department of Education, lecturing to my own group of bright, sharp graduate and postgraduate students.

A long way, a long journey. And one I never, ever imagined I would take. Certainly not even conceivable to the callow youth who left school at 14 years old, with no qualifications whatsoever.

As my own intellectual journey gathered pace, so I returned time and again to the writings of Professor Zygmund Bauman: ‘Postmodernity and its Discontents’; ‘Intimations of Postmodernity’; and ‘Liquid Love’ were notable publications for me, and were regularly referenced in my own books.

It was the mark of his intellectual strength that Bauman could move from analysis of Nazi Germany and its relationship to 20th century Modernism/Postmodernism, to analysis of love. As befits a refugee from the Nazi holocaust, a member of the Stalin-era Polish Security corps, and an anti-Zionist Jew, Bauman was not afraid of being criticised for his beliefs.

But what were his beliefs? For me, he was a critical postmodernist. For others, he was a neo-Marxist. His critique of modernism is undoubtedly one of the most powerful and persuasive to be made by any sociologist, yet he appeared equally distrusting of postmodernity and globalisation.

He was famously difficult to pigeonhole.

But perhaps his book Liquid Love (2003) was the one which is most prescient, given the days we are currently living through. I leave you with this quote:

‘A spectre hovers over the planet: the spectre of xenophobia. Old and new, never extinguished and freshly defrosted and warmed up tribal suspicions and animosities have mixed and blended with the brand-new fear for safety distilled from the uncertainties and insecurities of liquid modern existence’ (p.119)

And that was written well before Facebook, Google and Twitter arrived on the scene to render our existence even more fluid than it already was.

Professor Zygmund Bauman (19 November, 1925 – 9 January, 2017)




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