Zyg­munt Bau­man

Con­tro­ver­sial so­ci­ol­o­gist who pre­dicted the dan­gers of a shape-shift­ing mod­ern so­ci­ety

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - GLO­RIA TESSLER

HE SUF­FERED first from the Nazis and then the Com­mu­nists, but Zyg­munt Bau­man, who has died aged 91, used those ex­pe­ri­ences to ex­plain the dan­gers of right wing pop­ulism, through his work as a lead­ing so­ci­ol­o­gist. It’s hard not to see un­com­fort­able par­al­lels with the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump as US pres­i­dent, when Pro­fes­sor Bau­man de­scribes an “in­creas­ing po­lar­i­sa­tion be­tween the élite and the rest”.

One of his main tenets, ex­pressed in Liq­uid Moder­nity (2000) was that solid in­sti­tu­tions, once the bedrock of or­gan­ised mod­ern so­ci­eties, were dis­ap­pear­ing. “Our liq­uid mod­ern world,” he ar­gued, “could not re­main static and re­tain its shape. This led to a grow­ing tol­er­ance of ever-ex­pand­ing in­equal­i­ties. In its shape­less­ness, the state and the mar­ket place bat­tled for supremacy, he added – elo­quently concluding – “When ele­phants fight, pity the grass.” In his book Moder­nity and the Holo

caust ,(1989) largely based on the philoso­phies of Han­nah Are nd ta nd Theodore Adorno, he ar­gued that the Holo­caust should be re­garded as con­nected to moder­nity and its at­tempts to or­der so­ci­ety. He be­lieved that mod­ern so­ci­eties had not grasped the lessons to be learned from the Holo­caust, which should be viewed nei­ther from a his­tor­i­cal, Jewish per­spec­tive, nor a mod­ern de­scent into bar­barism, but rather as an ex­treme ex­am­ple of so­ci­ety’s at­tempt to ex­clude el­e­ments it found un­com­fort­able. Bau­man warned that such ex­clu­sion could re­cur today. There was a geno­ci­dal im­pulse la­tent within mod­ern bu­reau­cratic so­ci­eties in which ef­fi­ciency and or­der could over-ride moral re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Zyg­munt Bau­man was born in Poz­nan , Poland to sec­u­lar Jewish par­ents, Mau­rice Bau­man, an ac­coun­tant, and his wife, Sophia née Cohn, who fled to the Soviet Union as the Sec­ond World War broke out. He joined the Soviet-con­trolled First Pol­ish Army as a po­lit­i­cal in­struc­tor and in May 1945 was awarded the Pol­ish Mil­i­tary Cross of Valour for fight­ing the Nazis, be­com­ing one of the Pol­ish Army’s youngest ma­jors. From 1945-53, he was a po­lit­i­cal of­fi­cer in the In­ter­nal Se­cu­rity Corps, in­tended to com­bat Ukrainian na­tion­al­ism.

He stud­ied so­ci­ol­ogy at the Univer­sity of War­saw where he later lec­tured. But de­spite gain­ing the rank of ma­jor, he was dis­hon­ourably dis­charged in 1953 be­cause his fa­ther sought an exit visa to Is­rael. This caused a tem­po­rary fam­ily rift, be­cause Bau­man did not share his fa­ther’s Zion­ist views. How­ever, he was able to com­plete his MA and be­came a pro­fes­sor there in 1964, the year he mar­ried the pi­anist Jan­ina Lewin­son. Her mem­oir Win­ter in the Morning – (re­vised in 2006 as Beyond These Walls: Es­cap­ing the War­saw Ghetto – a Young Girl’s Story) in­spired his Holo­caust book.

The tur­bu­lence of bit­ter mem­ory and con­tem­po­rary ex­pe­ri­ence fol­lowed Bau­man and his fam­ily. Now with three daugh­ters, Ly­dia, Irena and Anna, the fam­ily fell vic­tim to Com­mu­nist an­ti­semitism and he was forced for the sec­ond time into ex­ile and poverty.

From this point on his so­ci­ol­ogy be­came driven by eth­i­cal and moral val­ues. De­spite his re­jec­tion of Zion­ist prin­ci­ples, Bau­man lec­tured at Tel Aviv and Haifa uni­ver­si­ties on his topic: 20th-21st cen­tury western phi­los­o­phy, and the quest of moder­nity to cope with am­bi­gu­ity. He was crit­i­cal of Is­rael’s treat­ment of the Pales­tini­ans and af­ter a stint in Aus­tralia’s Mel­bourne Univer­sity, he set­tled in Leeds where he headed the so­ci­ol­ogy de­part­ment.

His first ma­jor book, a com­pre­hen­sive study of the Bri­tish so­cial­ist move­ment, first pub­lished in Pol­ish in 1959, was com­pleted dur­ing his time at the Lon­don School of Eco­nomics. This was fol­lowed by Ev­ery­day So­ci­ol­ogy, which won pop­u­lar ac­claim in 1964 and Think

ing So­ci­o­log­i­cally in 1990. How­ever Bau­man courted con­tro­versy when he at­tacked Zion­ism and Is­rael dur­ing a 2011 in­ter­view in the Pol­ish weekly Poli­tyka, as­sert­ing that Is­rael was not in­ter­ested in peace but took “ad­van­tage of the Holo­caust to le­git­imise un­con­scionable acts.” He drew fur­ther par­al­lels be­tween Is­rael’s West Bank bar­rier and the War­saw Ghetto walls where thou­sands had died.

Bau­man’s 60 books and in­nu­mer­able ar­ti­cles on glob­al­i­sa­tion, moder­nity, post­moder­nity, con­sumerism and moral­ity res­onated with young pro­gres­sive thinkers in Spain, Italy and cen­tral and south Amer­ica, be­cause of the em­pha­sis he placed on the poor and vul­ner­a­ble who suf­fered within global cap­i­tal­ism. His tenet was to urge peo­ple to see the world through the eyes of so­ci­ety’s weak­est – “and then tell any­one hon­estly that our so­ci­eties are good, civilised, ad­vanced, free.”

Though he re­tained his in­nate so­cial­ism, he was less able to pro­pose an al­ter­na­tive model of so­ci­ety, apart from one that was never con­vinced it was good enough. He re­cently de­scribed the cur­rent refugee cri­sis and the emerg­ing right-wing pop­ulism in Europe and Amer­ica as a cri­sis of hu­man­ity and was a strong ad­vo­cate of the Euro­pean Union as a bul­wark against war and civil un­rest. In his fi­nal Leeds lec­ture last Oc­to­ber, Bau­man in­voked the Holo­caust as a re­minder of the power in­her­ent in mod­ern pop­ulism to re­morse­lessly alien­ate “the other”.

Prof Bau­man re­ceived sev­eral Euro­pean awards, and Leeds Univer­sity hon­oured him by es­tab­lish­ing the Bau­man In­sti­tute in its School of So­ci­ol­ogy and So­cial Pol­icy in Septem­ber 2010.

Jan­ina Bau­man pre­de­ceased him in 2009. He later mar­ried so­ci­ol­o­gist Aleksandra Jasinka, who sur­vives him with his daugh­ters and six grand­chil­dren.

Zyg­munt Bau­man: born Novem­ber 19, 1925. Died Jan­uary 9, 2017

PHOTO: PA

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