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Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty
Zygmunt Bauman
Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007. 115 pp. (paper)
ISBN 0745639879
Review and Commentary
Author’s Information:
Hamid Yeganeh, MBA, MSC, PHD
Assistant Professor of International Management
College of Business, Winona State University,
Minnesota, USA, 55987.5838
Contact: hyeganeh@winona.edu
Tel: 507-457-2453
Dr. Yeganeh is assistant professor of international management at Winona State University in
Minnesota, USA. His research focuses on cross-cultural/comparative management and
organizational theory. His work has appeared in the leading journals such as International
Journal of HRM, International Journal of Cross-Cultural Management, International Journal of
Commerce and Management, International Journal of Conflict Management, Gender in
Management, Personnel Review, and Cross Cultural Management: An International Journal.
Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty
Zygmunt Bauman
Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007. 115 pp. (paper)
ISBN 0745639879
Introduction
In “Liquid Times”, Zygmunt Bauman offers a profound, lucid, and especially pessimistic
analysis of globalization and its implications at the individual and societal levels. The author
coins the term “Liquid Times” to underline the insecurity and uncertainty facing the citizens of a
modern world. According to Bauman, a liquid globalized society is marked by change,
uncertainty, flux, conflict, and revolution.
More specifically, Bauman identifies five main dire consequences of globalizations that are
changing our lives. The chief consequence of globalization is described as the passage from the
“solid” to the “liquid” phase marked by instability, ambiguity and fear. The second consequence
of globalization is about the separation between politics and power. Prior to globalization, each
individual country could satisfy local political issues, but due to globalization, the nation States
are losing the capacity to manage their domestic affairs. The third outcome of globalization is the
creation of nebulous, random networks of people. The fourth issue is about the prevalence of
short-sightedness which may be attributed to the fast pace of technological innovation. Finally,
the fifth consequence of globalization is the daily challenge of individuals in dealing with an
ever changing environment.
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Liquid Times
In chapter one, Bauman elaborates on the concept of fear in a globalized society, and describes
those business leaders and politicians who capitalize on the people’s fear to offer a wide range of
temporary reliefs (p.12). For instance, politicians and the media, especially after the September
11th have been amplifying the fear of global terrorism to push their agendas (p.15). According to
Bauman, the major task of the modern state is becoming management of fear rather than
distribution of wealth.
In chapter two Bauman elaborates on the implications of negative globalization and describes
how human waste and the waste of humans themselves are affecting the world. While
globalization apparently leads to lower barriers among countries, Bauman blames it for a wide
range of vicious effects such as deregulation, poverty, injustice, conflict, and violence (p.7). In
his view, the capitalist globalization is consolidating wealth and power by the rapid integration
and structuring of national economies into one global economic order through trade
liberalization, privatization and deregulation. Bauman maintains that capitalism produces “the
acute crisis of the human waste disposal industry, as each new outpost conquered by capitalist
markets adds new thousands or millions to the mass of men and women already deprived of their
lands, workshops, and communal safety nets” (p. 28). Under these circumstances, refugees and
job seekers move around the world. Bauman nicely uses the metaphor ‘‘humanity waste’’ to
describe the miserable conditions of those undesired individuals without state, identity, property,
and documents.
Chapter three discusses the role of the State and the value of democracy in the management of
the“liquid modern” fears. Bauman believes that individualism is another result of globalization
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and people are often left to deal with highly complex problems without the necessary capacity or
tools (p.14). Furthermore, he argues that due to globalization, nation-states are losing control
over their domestic affairs and consequently, power and politics are moving away from each
other, meaning that ultimately democracy and freedom are compromised.
In chapter four, Bauman examines the implications of globalization for our physical environment
namely our architecture and urban centers. He explains that cities originally represented
relatively safe places, but nowadays are filled with fear and insecurity. He compares the modern
city to a warzone and maintains that “sources of danger have now moved almost wholly into
urban areas and settled there” (p.72). The modern cities are creating separations from the high
class and the low class because of the insecurities people hold when dealing with strangers.
Homes are no longer built to integrate people and communities; they are built to serve protection
to the people who live in them. He also explains how the elites are globally connected and have
much more familiarity with remote places than with their local communities. He reflects on the
main features of urban areas and argues that our cities ‘‘have become the dumping ground for
globally conceived and gestated problems’’ (p. 83). He uses two terms “mixophobia” and
“mixophilia” to discuss the contradictory feelings of city life.
In chapter five, Bauman discusses the prospects of utopia in the age of uncertainty. He maintains
that in liquid times the utopia is out of reach since globalization has created much instability and
insecurity. Individuals are feeling anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. Moreover, since things are more
and more changing, individuals are forced to constantly adapt themselves to new ways and
redefine their identities. Most people have to focus on the fight against losing. They have to try
to stay among the hunters; otherwise they will become one of the hunted. Hunting consumes a
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lot of energy and attention and leaves little time for anything else. Under these circumstances,
Bauman views consumerism as an illusory utopia in an endless pursuit of self-realization which
may divert our attention and provide a momentary relief from our malaise. He cynically
mentions that measures such as changing job or residence, promiscuity, alcohol or drug
consumption, travel and vacation, and even psychoanalysis cannot bring us peace of mind.
Concluding Remarks
Bauman’s views are similar to those of other authors who maintain that we are living in a new
era marked by spatial and temporal dismemberment (e.g. Giddens, 1998, 1991; Beck, 1998,
1992; Harvey, 2005; Nowotny, 1994; Sennett, 1998; Zoll, 1988), but he clearly paints a much
bleaker picture of the globalized world. The major causes of these profound changes may be
attributed to globalization as a whole and the new information technologies which replace
experiences of linearity and spatiality by simultaneity and hyper-reality.
Bauman solely chooses to reflect on the modern ills, to ask questions, and to criticize the
consequences of the negative globalization. He does not provide any possible solutions or even
alternatives. His propositions are abstract, gloomy, and sometimes inflated. Indeed, readers could
benefit from some moderate positions. For instance, the dissatisfaction with the modern world is
not a direct consequence of globalization; rather it may be considered as an inevitable
characteristic of human nature. In his previous writings, Bauman (2001) himself emphasized this
issue by citing Pascal that “all unhappiness comes from one thing – the inability of human beings
to stay quietly in their rooms” (Bauman, 2001). Similarly, Bauman agreed with Montaigne that
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“of all the pleasures we know of, their pursuit is the most pleasurable” (Bauman, 2001).
Previously, the author had argued that the dissatisfaction with life stems from our human
condition as mortal and miserable (Bauman, 2001). Therefore, considering globalization as the
main cause of desolation in the modern world seems untenable and unjustified. By the same
logic, the argument that consumerism and its implications are the direct results of globalization
can be refuted. We may argue that consumerism is a consequence of wealth creation that can
exist with or without globalization. The author blames the liquid modern society for creating
change, uncertainty, and fear, but we may view it as a source of excitement and happiness as
well.
Likewise, Bauman does not see any substantial positive effects in globalization. He blames
globalization for creating poverty, unemployment, injustice, inequality, and waste. While
globalization is the cause of many ills, it has led to many other positive consequences that have
been overlooked in Bauman’s analysis. For example, it is difficult to deny that globalization has
led to job creation in many developing countries such as China, India, Brazil, and Bangladesh.
Hard evidence indicates that as a result of globalization and outsourcing, the standard of living in
these countries has risen dramatically. Globalization is a complex phenomenon with many
dissimilar and even contradictory implications. Therefore, a well-managed globalization process
can be a powerful force for economic growth and prosperity (Stiglitz, 2003).
Similarly, the Bauman’s criticism with regard to insecurity and anxiety could be moderated.
Indeed, we do not have any objective yardstick to gauge the level of anxiety of individuals
during our time and compare it with that of previous generations. It is true that news stations
such as Fox News and CNN are injecting insecurity in our daily lives and show live stories about
terrorist groups. However, we should keep in mind that, as Bauman himself has mentioned these
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practices have been very common through history (p.18-19). In other words, capitalizing on fear
has always been an effective strategy in business and politics and it cannot be considered as a
characteristic of globalization.
Overall, Bauman’s “Liquid Times” represents a highly insightful, stylish, and intellectually
enriching book that can be beneficial for all scholars in different areas of social sciences such as
business and cultural studies. In a time when we are bombarded with superficial accounts of
globalization, Bauman’s standpoint is much needed. He paints a gloomy picture of the
globalization, but perhaps this striking pessimism makes his writing even more attractive and
elegant. After all, as the French writer Paul Valéry noticed, optimists are not good writers1 and
the great literature is often a result of great pain.
1 Les optimistes écrivent mal.
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References
Bauman, Z. (2007). Liquid times: living in an age of uncertainty. Cambridge: Polity.
Bauman, Z. (2001). Consuming life, Journal of consumer culture, 1 (9) p.9–29.
Beck, U. (1998). The politics of risk society, In: J. Franklin, ed. The politics of risk society,
Cambridge: Polity Press, 9–22.
Beck, U. (1992). The risk society, London: Sage.
Giddens, A. (1998). The third way: the renewal of social democracy, Cambridge: Polity Press.
Giddens, A. (1991). Modernity and self-identity, Cambridge: Polity Press.
Harvey, D. (2005). A brief history of neoliberalism, New York: Oxford University Press.
Nowotny, H. (1994). Time: the modern and postmodern experience, Cambridge: Polity Press.
Sennett, R. (1998). The corrosion of character, New York: W.W. Norton.
Stiglitz, J.E. (2003). Globalization and growth in emerging markets and the New Economy,
Journal of Policy Modeling, 25. 505–524
Valéry, P. (1941). Mauvaises pens(es et autres, Dijon : Les Cahiers du sud : Librairie José Corti,
1941.
Zoll, Rainer (1989). Nicht so wie unsere Eltern! Ein neues kulturelles Modell? (Not as Our
Parents! A New Cultural Model?). Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag.
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... The process of globalization brings about deep social changes, at the same time evoking a feeling of greater opportunities and of growing uncertainty (Yeganeh, 2011). Some authors noted earlier that globalization and identity are the most important forces shaping our time (Castells, 1997), with recent studies confirming that the rise of ethnocentric attitudes and increasing globalization are inter-connected processes (Bizumic, 2019). ...
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