Karlsruhe Dialogues 2012

Everything in (dis)order? New obscurities in a globalized world

Zygmunt Bauman




René Aguigah

Zygmunt Bauman, born in 1925, received his PhD and his Habilitation after the Second World War at the University of Warsaw. In 1968 he temporarily emigrated to Israel, and in 1971 he was offered a sociology professorship at the University of Leeds in Great Britain, a position he held until 1990. Since the end of the 1980s, he has garnered international renowned prices across disciplines for his studies on the links between the culture of modernity and totalitarianism. According to Bauman, the Holocaust was one among many paths that the European Enlightenment could have taken. While interpreting the Holocaust as an integral component of European modernity—one that could in principle be repeated at any time—he was simultaneously able to “historicize” it. Bauman received the Amalfi Prize in 1989 as well as the Theodor W. Adorno Prize in 1998. In 2010, he was honoured (together with Alain Touraine) with the Prince of Asturias Prize in the category of communication. Whereas in the 1990s he produced numerous works on the discourse of postmodernity, today he is primarily engaged with the new contingency that characterises the living conditions of “liquid” modernity. To emphasize the “fluid” condition of the present, Bauman describes the difference between “heavy” and “light” postmodernity through the example of the phenomenon of power. His latest publications are Collateral Damage: Social Inequalities in a Global Age (2011), und Culture in a Liquid Modern World (2011).



ZAK asked Prof. Dr Zygmunt Bauman to answer the following questions:

1. Has our need for security grown or merely our perception of insecurity?

Both. Our perception of insecurity is, arguably, more acute and ubiquitous than that of previous generations (and particularly that of present-day older generations in their youth – the sole people with whose sentiments we are able to compare our own Erlebnisse meaningfully) - but most certainly there is a fast growing volume of Erfahrungen that renders the present-day anxiety standing to reason. The reason for the first phenomenon (a growing need for security) is the liquefaction of structures and settings that until quite recently seemed rock-solid and trustworthy (their well-nigh universal “deregulation” penetrating all areas of life pursuits at all levels), and the ever deeper sense of divorce, as well as the growing disparity/disproportion that follows, between the Macht (ability to have things done) and Politics, that is the available tools of deciding what things need to be done. The second phenomenon (a growing perception of insecurity) is the genuine situation of ignorance of what “the future may bring” with a feeling of impotence. It results from the absence of agencies capable of performing the tasks which the avoidance and prevention, let alone the preventing of catastrophes would require.

2. To what extent are interferences between the different risks on the increase?
Is a domino effect recognisable?

The recent impression of a “domino effect” has to a great (probably decisive) extent been created by what I called “parasitic capitalism”, drifting to a new “host organism” after the previous one/ones has/have been sucked dry and emasculated. This is most spectacularly the case when supra-national currency speculators make billions in stock exchanges out of the inanity of running a “single currency” by seventeen autonomous finance ministers. They spot the “weakest link” in the currency circulation, and move to another - once the prospects of gains from a local sale of assets and from funds poured in the assaulted locality (read: nation state) from outside with an idea in mind to “recapitalize” the banks running short of money have been fully used up. Behind the apparent “domino effect” lie profit-motivated meanders of deregulated, politically uncontrolled capital.

3. In the face of the present crisis situation should more decision-making
authority be shifted to the European institutions/organs?

If you wish to proceed with the idea of European Union, this is a condition sine qua non. It will not resolve the issues emerging from the global (supra-continental, planetary) system of intertwined, though multi-centred, dependencies and interests. Such a long-term, radical solution would require not just the European, but all planetary institutions/organs. Without it, however, a movement towards making our life in common liveable and relatively secure is not conceivable.