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Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty Paperback – Dec 26 2006
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"Liquid Times and Living on Borrowed Times offer deep insights into post-modern life. Specifically, it exposes the essential social and philosophical changes that lie at the heart of the conditions that led to the global financial crisis ... the ideas in these books are fascinating."
Satyajit Das, Willmot.com
The passage from 'solid' to 'liquid' modernity has created a new and unprecedented setting for individual life pursuits, confronting individuals with a series of challenges never before encountered. Social forms and institutions no longer have enough time to solidify and cannot serve as frames of reference for human actions and long-term life plans, so individuals have to find other ways to organise their lives. They have to splice together an unending series of short-term projects and episodes that don't add up to the kind of sequence to which concepts like 'career' and 'progress' could meaningfully be applied. Such fragmented lives require individuals to be flexible and adaptable - to be constantly ready and willing to change tactics at short notice, to abandon commitments and loyalties without regret and to pursue opportunities according to their current availability. In liquid modernity the individual must act, plan actions and calculate the likely gains and losses of acting (or failing to act) under conditions of endemic uncertainty. Zygmunt Bauman's brilliant writings on liquid modernity have altered the way we think about the contemporary world. In this short book he explores the sources of the endemic uncertainty which shapes our lives today and, in so doing, he provides the reader with a brief and accessible introduction to his highly original account, developed at greater length in his previous books, of life in our liquid modern times.See all Product Description
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Mr. Bauman contends that as multinational corporations have wrested economic power from state control, individuals have born the cost of change: the evisceration of the social safety net compels individuals to sink or swim. Mr. Bauman describes how urban elites have become disconnected from the working class, residing in tightly-controlled enclaves of security while the masses have been left behind to fend for themselves in slums or crime-ridden shantytowns. As globalization depletes resources and produces prodigious amounts of human waste, the author believes that refugee camps represent only the most severe manifestation of the permanency of transience, as unwanted populations are forever stranded in a 'nowhereville' of non-citizenship.
Indeed, Mr. Bauman asserts that the state finds newfound legitimacy in law enforcement and militarization. While the reality of increasing economic insecurity has compelled many individuals to assuage their anxieties by increasing discipline over mind, body and physical environment, the state incarcerates those who are unable to adopt and attacks others who might threaten us. In this manner, the state serves the interests of the powerful by protecting property rights; meanwhile, the social rights that are most needed by the poor are almost never seriously considered.
In the final chapter, Mr. Bauman discusses how consumerism offers individuals the illusory utopia of the endless pursuit of self-realization. Mr. Bauman contrasts the "hunter" who lives within this fantasy with the "gardener" who attempts to cultivate a more humane and sustainable world for all. Discovering that the utopian concept is today most often seized upon by marketers than by idealists, the author brilliantly connects the seduction of the market economy with public passivity and a general lack of outrage within the industrialized nations for what the advent of corporate rule has come to mean for most of the world's people.
I give this masterwork the highest possible recommendation.
The book is divided in 5 sections ("Introduction: Bravely into the Hotbed of Uncertainties," "Liquid Modern Life and its Fears," "Humanity on the Move," "State, Democracy and the Management of Fears," "Out of Touch Together," and "Utopia in the Age of Uncertainty"). I find the last section the least interesting because of its vagueness. Although the writing is engaging, not all the quotes are fully documented; for instance, many times the author's name will be included but not the work and the page numbers.
The focus of "Liquid Times" is a meta-critique of globalization and all of the problems it presents, from rootlessness to the ubiquity of the security sate, with Bauman's central thesis being that the consequences of globalization have seriously hindered attempts at international justice. The goal of globalization - to eradicate any trade barriers and therefore create "markets without frontiers" - results in the transition from a world where people are subject to the laws and protections of their home countries to one in which radical fear and lack of security are reified and the "fading of human bonds and the wilting of solidarity" reigns. This lack of security results in fear and a perceived lack of control, which in turn perpetuates and shores up the conspicuous shift toward national security that we have experienced in advanced liberal democracies. And so the pernicious cycle goes. In his comparison of cities, the globally located ones (that are able to participate in the fully integrated sphere of globalization) and locally located cities ones (those that aren't), Bauman says that the job of the city has changed from protecting its inhabitants from outsiders to housing ghettoized populations of peripatetic transnationals and strangers, the "dumping ground for globally conceived and gestated problems."
Our new liquid times have also brought about an unprecedented number of refugees, both political and economic. Wars, which Bauman thinks are essentially local attempts to solve global problems, become intractable. The result is an "excess of humanity" - humanity as waste product - completely and utterly divested of property, personal identity, or even a state that will recognize their existence.
Bauman suggests that democracy has ironically become an elitist affair, where the rich protect their interests and the poor continue to suffer from a lack of social safety nets and supportive governmental networks. He is also not terribly optimistic about the chances of gaining a pre-globalized utopia, a word which Thomas More first darkly noted could mean, homophonically, either "paradise" or "nowhere." While it is still a paradise for some, our world has become too liquid to be anything but the latter for most of us. In the end, Bauman offers in every analysis of globalization the ultimate paradox of modernity: a permanent life shot through with impermanency.
As I pointed out before, at least according to the back of the book, Bauman has taken the time to further detail his analyses in other books. However, from what I read here, I am not sure how many of his arguments are original. Books on globalization with themes of alienation and disenfranchisement are not unpopular in the field of sociology. However, Bauman's wry wit definitely has me interested in reading more of his work, which I plan on reviewing in the future.
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