In an interview with The Guardian, Bauman confirmed he had been a committed communist during and after World War II and had never made a secret of it. He admitted that joining the military intelligence service at age 19 was a mistake although he had a "dull" desk-job and did not remember informing on anyone. While serving in the KBW, Bauman first studied sociology at the Warsaw Academy of Political and Social Science. In the KBW Bauman, already in the rank of major, was suddenly dishonourably discharged in 1953, after his father had approached the Israeli embassy in Warsaw with a view to emigrating to Israel. As Bauman did not share his father's Zionist tendencies and was indeed strongly anti-Zionist, his dismissal caused a severe, though temporary estrangement from his father. During the period of unemployment that followed, he completed his M.A. and in 1954 became a lecturer at the University of Warsaw, where he remained until 1968.
During a spell at the London School of Economics, where his supervisor was Robert McKenzie, he prepared a comprehensive study on the British socialist movement, his first major book. Published originally in Polish in 1959, a revised edition appeared in English in 1972. Bauman went on to publish other books, including Socjologia na co dzień ("Everyday Sociology", 1964), which reached a large popular audience in Poland and later formed the foundation for the English-language text-book Thinking Sociologically (1990). Initially, Bauman remained close to orthodox Marxist doctrine, but, influenced by Georg Simmel and Antonio Gramsci, he became increasingly critical of Poland's Communist government. Owing to this he was never awarded a professorship even after he completed his habilitation but, after his former teacher, Julian Hochfeld, was made vice-director of UNESCO's Department for Social Sciences in Paris in 1962, Bauman did in fact inherit Hochfeld's chair.
Faced with increasing political pressure connected with a political purge led by Mieczysław Moczar, the Chief of the Polish Communist Security Police, Bauman renounced his membership of the governing Polish United Workers' Party in January 1968. The March 1968 events culminated in a purge that drove many remaining Communist Poles of Jewish descent out of the country, including those intellectuals who had fallen from grace with the communist government. Bauman, who had lost his chair at the University of Warsaw, was among them. Having had to give up Polish citizenship to be allowed to leave the country, he first went to Israel to teach at Tel Aviv University, before accepting the chair of sociology at the University of Leeds, where he intermittently also served as head of department. After his appointment, he published almost exclusively in English, his third language, and his reputation grew. Indeed, from the late 1990s, Bauman exerted a considerable influence on the anti- or alter-globalization movement.
In a 2011 interview in the Polish weekly, "Polityka", Bauman criticised Zionism and Israel, saying Israel was not interested in peace and that it was "taking advantage of the Holocaust to legitimize unconscionable acts". He compared the Israeli West Bank barrier to the walls of the Warsaw Ghetto where hundreds of thousands of Jews had died in the Holocaust. The Israeli ambassador to Warsaw, Zvi Bar, called Bauman's comments "half truths" and "groundless generalizations."
Bauman was married to writer Janina Bauman, née Lewinson; 18 August 1926 – 29 December 2009. They had three daughters, painter Lydia Bauman, architect Irena Bauman, and professor Anna Sfard, a leading theorist of education at the University of Haifa. His grandson Michael Sfard is a prominent civil rights lawyer and author in Israel. Zygmunt Bauman died in Leeds on 9 January 2017.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s Bauman published a number of books that dealt with the relationship between modernity, bureaucracy, rationality and social exclusion. Bauman, following Freud, came to view European modernity as a trade off: European society, he argued, had agreed to forego a level of freedom to receive the benefits of increased individual security. Bauman argued that modernity, in what he later came to term its 'solid' form, involved removing unknowns and uncertainties. It involved control over nature, hierarchical bureaucracy, rules and regulations, control and categorisation — all of which attempted to remove gradually personal insecurities, making the chaotic aspects of human life appear well-ordered and familiar.
Bauman in 2011
Later in a number of books Bauman began to develop the position that such order-making never manages to achieve the desired results. When life becomes organised into familiar and manageable categories, he argued, there are always social groups who cannot be administered, who cannot be separated out and controlled. In his book Modernity and Ambivalence Bauman began to theorise about such indeterminate persons in terms of an allegorical figure he called, 'the stranger.' Drawing upon Georg Simmel's sociology and the philosophy of Jacques Derrida, Bauman came to write of the stranger as the person who is present yet unfamiliar, society's undecidable. In Modernity and Ambivalence Bauman attempted to give an account of the different approaches modern society adopts toward the stranger. He argued that, on the one hand, in a consumer-oriented economy the strange and the unfamiliar is always enticing; in different styles of food, different fashions and in tourism it is possible to experience the allure of what is unfamiliar. Yet this strange-ness also has a more negative side. The stranger, because he cannot be controlled or ordered, is always the object of fear; he is the potential mugger, the person outside of society's borders who is a constant threat.
Bauman's most famous book, Modernity and the Holocaust, is an attempt to give a full account of the dangers of those kinds of fears. Drawing upon Hannah Arendt and Theodor Adorno's books on totalitarianism and the Enlightenment, Bauman developed the argument that the Holocaust should not simply be considered to be an event in Jewish history, nor a regression to pre-modern barbarism. Rather, he argued, the Holocaust should be seen as deeply connected to modernity and its order-making efforts. Procedural rationality, the division of labour into smaller and smaller tasks, the taxonomic categorisation of different species, and the tendency to view obedience to rules as morally good, all played their role in the Holocaust coming to pass. He argued that for this reason modern societies have not fully grasped the lessons of the Holocaust; it tends to be viewed—to use Bauman's metaphor—like a picture hanging on the wall, offering few lessons. In Bauman's analysis the Jews became 'strangers' par excellence in Europe. The Final Solution was pictured by him as an extreme example of the attempt made by society to excise the uncomfortable and indeterminate elements that exist within it. Bauman, like the philosopher Giorgio Agamben, contended that the same processes of exclusion that were at work in the Holocaust could, and to an extent do, still come into play today.
Postmodernity and consumerism
In the mid-to-late 1990s, Bauman began to explore postmodernity and consumerism. He posited that a shift had taken place in modern society in the latter half of the 20th century. It had changed from a society of producers into a society of consumers. According to Bauman, this change reversed Freud's "modern" tradeoff—i.e., security was given up in exchange for more freedom, freedom to purchase, consume, and enjoy life. In his books in the 1990s Bauman wrote of this as being a shift from "modernity" to "post-modernity".
Since the turn of the millennium, his books have tried to avoid the confusion surrounding the term "postmodernity" by using the metaphors of "liquid" and "solid" modernity. In his books on modern consumerism, Bauman still writes of the same uncertainties that he portrayed in his writings on "solid" modernity; but in these books he writes of fears becoming more diffuse and harder to pin down. Indeed, they are, to use the title of one of his books, "liquid fears" – fears about paedophilia, for instance, which are amorphous and have no easily identifiable reference.
Bauman is credited with coining the term allosemitism to encompass both philo-Semitic and anti-Semitic attitudes towards Jews as the other. Bauman reportedly predicted the negative political effect that social media have on voter's choice by denouncing them as 'trap' where people only 'see reflections of their own face'.
The University of Leeds established 'The Bauman Institute' within its School of Sociology and Social Policy in his honour in September 2010. The University of Lower Silesia, a small private higher education institution in Lower Silesia, Poland, planned to award Bauman an honorary doctorate in October 2013. However, as a reaction to a major anti-communist and what Bauman supporters allege "anti-semitic" uproar against him, he eventually rejected the award.
In 2015 the University of Salento awarded Bauman an honorary degree in Modern Languages, Literature and Literary Translation.
In 2014, Peter Walsh, a PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge, accused Bauman of plagiarism from several websites, including Wikipedia, in his book Does the Richness of the Few Benefit Us All? (2013). In this book Bauman is said to have copied verbatim paragraphs from Wikipedia articles on Slow Food and steady-state economy, along with their bibliography, without attributing sources, authors or the fact that they were copied from Wikipedia. He did use a paragraph from the article on the golden handshake, but this citation was properly attributed to Wikipedia.
In a response Bauman suggested that "obedience" to "technical" rules was unnecessary, and that he "never once failed to acknowledge the authorship of the ideas or concepts that I deployed, or that inspired the ones I coined". In a detailed critique of Walsh and co-author David Lehmann, cultural critics Brad Evans and Henry A. Giroux concluded: "This charge against Bauman is truly despicable. It's a reactionary ideological critique dressed up as the celebration of method and a back-door defence of a sterile empiricism and culture of positivism. This is a discourse that enshrines data, correlations, and performance, while eschewing matters of substance, social problems, and power."
1957: Zagadnienia centralizmu demokratycznego w pracach Lenina [Questions of Democratic Centralism in Lenin's Works]. Warszawa: Książka i Wiedza.
1959: Socjalizm brytyjski: Źródła, filozofia, doktryna polityczna [British Socialism: Sources, Philosophy, Political Doctrine]. Warszawa: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe.
1960: Klasa, ruch, elita: Studium socjologiczne dziejów angielskiego ruchu robotniczego [Class, Movement, Elite: A Sociological Study on the History of the British Labour Movement]. Warszawa: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe.
1960: Z dziejów demokratycznego ideału [From the History of the Democratic Ideal]. Warszawa: Iskry.
1960: Kariera: cztery szkice socjologiczne [Career: Four Sociological Sketches]. Warszawa: Iskry.
1961: Z zagadnień współczesnej socjologii amerykańskiej [Questions of Modern American Sociology]. Warszawa: Książka i Wiedza.
1962 (with Szymon Chodak, Juliusz Strojnowski, Jakub Banaszkiewicz): Systemy partyjne współczesnego kapitalizmu [The Party Systems of Modern Capitalism]. Warsaw: Książka i Wiedza.
1962: Spoleczeństwo, w ktorym żyjemy [The Society we inhabit]. Warsaw: Książka i Wiedza.
1962: Zarys socjologii. Zagadnienia i pojęcia [Outline of Sociology. Questions and Concepts]. Warszawa: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe.
1995: Ciało i przemoc w obliczu ponowoczesności [Body and Violence in the Face of Postmodernity]. Toruń: Wydawnictwo Naukowe Uniwersytetu Mikołaja Kopernika. ISBN83-231-0654-1
1997: (with Roman Kubicki, Anna Zeidler-Janiszewska) Humanista w ponowoczesnym świecie – rozmowy o sztuce życia, nauce, życiu sztuki i innych sprawach [A Humanist in the Postmodern World – Conversations on the Art of Life, Science, the Life of Art and Other Matters]. Warszawa: Zysk i S-ka. ISBN83-7150-313-X
2009: Living on Borrowed Time: Conversations with Citlali Rovirosa-Madrazo. Cambridge: Polity. ISBN978-0-7456-4738-8
2009: (with Roman Kubicki, Anna Zeidler-Janiszewska) Życie w kontekstach. Rozmowy o tym, co za nami i o tym, co przed nami. [Life in contexts. Conversations about what lies behind us and what lies ahead of us.] Warszawa: WAiP. ISBN978-83-61408-77-2
^The Guardian piece erroneously claimed that the Brickhouse article, to which it referred, was written by Bogdan Musiał, a conservative Polish historian working in Germany. In fact, it was written by the Institute of National Remembrance employee, Piotr Gontarczyk; Musiał had simply repeated Gontarczyk's findings in the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
2016: Michael Hviid Jacobsen (Ed), "Beyond Bauman: Critical Engagements and Creative Excursions"? London: Routledge; ISBN978-1-4724-7611-1 (hardback); 978-1-315-56917-8 (ebook)
2016: Tony Blackshaw (Ed)," The New Bauman Reader: Thinking Sociologically in Liquid Modern Times", Manchester: Manchester University Press; ISBN978-1-5261-0079-5 (hardback); 978-1-7849-9403-7 (paperback)
2016: Carlo Bordoni (Ed), "Zygmunt Bauman. With an original contribution", in Revue Internationale de Philosophie, n. 3, vol. 70, ISBN978-2-930560-28-1
2017: Ali Rattansi, "Bauman and Contemporary Sociology: A Critical Analysis", Manchester: Manchester University Press (in press, to be published Spring 2017).
2017: Sociedade, Linguagem e Modernidade Líquida. Interview By Leo Peruzzo; in Journal Diálogo Educacional, n. 6, vol. 47.
2019: Shaun Best, Zygmunt Bauman on Education in Liquid Modernity, London, Routledge, ISBN978-1138545144