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Life In Fragments: Essays in Postmodern Morality
Influences to Bauman’s work and logic can be traced back to his upbringing in the Polish Humanist tradition, where society was culture. His most immediate teachers, Julian Hochfeld and Stanislaw Ossowski, viewed sociology as primarily a service to the common man, seen simultaneously as a product and the producer of culture. Bauman eventually learned to think of culture as the activity of structuring, rather than structure as a matrix of permutations, which he adopted from Claude Levi-Strauss’ theory. He came to think of culture as existing solely in its permutations, in making and unmaking distinctions, tying and untying connections. Bauman goes on to explain that his background was mostly in the Marxist theory, with all of its historical determination and solid structures. Gramsci’s writings made him realize that this rigid framework was actually a fluid, liquid flow of cultural transmutations…and such a viewpoint has opened up a completely new approach to understanding and analyzing social reality. Zygmunt Bauman falls under the post- modernity category, so in light of this, it can be assumed that he writes in reaction to the modernist train of thought, thus inadvertently influencing him. The modernist argument is that personal and cultural experience in the contemporary world involves various tensions and ambiguities, the distinctive characteristics of which involve contradiction, fluidity, and fragmentation. Postmodernism, on the other hand, reacts against the tiredness of the modernist negotiation of risk and uncertainty by attempting to dissolve the problem all together.
In his book “Life in Fragments: Essays in Postmodern Literature”, Bauman believes that contemporary culture exercises both postmodern and modern orders simultaneously, which leads to his central thesis: post- modernity as modernity without illusions. The purpose of this work is twofold. First, it presents a critique of the way, in which culture is approached by most contemporary analyses, in particular, postmodernism.
Many of the arguments presented in this book by the different perspectives are weakened by their overemphasis on the structural relations among elements in a culture system, their under- conceptualization of how culture is created and reproduced at the micro-level, the ramifications of that process, and their neglect of affect-meaning. Perhaps this structuralism turn in the social sciences has been motivated by an attempt to grant culture an independent, theoretical effect on human behavior; alternatively, it may be due to the influence of postmodernism on the culture of cultural studies. Either way, there have been some positive results. In “Life in Fragments”, the author illustrates that establishing a separate analytical domain can result in a number of powerful insights into the makeup of culture. These attitudes may fix the culture as a legitimate field of inquiry in sociology and can prompt an increase in the use of nation’s symbols as a variable in a diverse array of research projects. However, Bauman points stresses readers’ attention on the point that disconnecting theories of culture from humans in interaction has serious theoretical consequences, most notably that reality and meaning are rendered less viable for the subject due to some macro-level changes.
The second goal of this book is to generalize some of the dynamics or effects that postmodernism has identified and placed those elements within a well-defined theory of meaning construction. It is writer’s position that postmodernism has correctly identified some important cultural dynamics but that their conclusions are incorrect. His aim, then, is to move some of the issues raised by postmodernism out of the realm of critique and into a general theory of cultural meaning and reality. In order to be constructively effective, a critique must eventually be couched in positive terms- something must be built, not simply torn down.
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Bauman admits that this move would be considered an anathema by unadulterated postmodernists- generalizing their statements does violence to the epistemological assumptions under- girding his work. In “Life in Fragments”, Postmodernism’s philosophy of knowledge represents a critique of the modernist assumption of representation that a language can be developed into perfectly corresponding brute reality. Some critics believe that the author claims that this assumption has allowed science to blindly attempt discovery of the general laws that lay in back of the operation of the universe. Furthermore, a connection can made between Western, colonizing culture and science: representational knowledge assumes an objective stand in order to dominate and manipulate the environment toward some predetermined goal, oftentimes at the expense of less advanced people. Even if the claim that science enables a colonizing culture is seen as too extreme, Bauman may be interpreted to argue that it is impossible for humans to use knowledge without infusing it with some kind of value, thus obfuscating the goal of discovery. He concentrates on discussion that that science is a value laden knowledge system and thus cannot claim intrinsic superiority over other languages. However, one must realize that it is not the case for postmodern knowledge to become value-free and to exist apart from its own grand narrative.
Zygmunt Bauman has developed a useful number of categories for understanding the options facing sociology in the aftermath of the post-modernist tide, which has washed over the journals and seminar rooms. “Life in Fragments” illustrates that sociology in any traditional sense looks condemned to the dustbin of history. What is more, the very idea that modern society displays a logic of development, or that cultural phenomena can be explained rationally in terms of their deeper structural characteristics are defined as classic Enlightenment- rationalist strategies, and severely demoted as at best discursive figures only.
This work comprises the position of sociology against postmodernism, in which not only the claims, but also the governing questions, of postmodernism are straightforwardly dismissed as rather frivolous and diversionary. The final, more straightforward position is a sociology of post- modernity stance, which is somewhat skeptical of strong postmodernism, but which certainly accepts that the questions posed by the latter are often important and productive ones. One might note that, whilst Bauman’s work represents a kind of two-thirds postmodernism, the dialectical argumentation of the last chapter is quintessentially modernist. The scheme presented by the author almost requires a condition of discursive participation that the first option is perceived as positive but over- dramatic and the second deemed virtually unthinkable. The other matter then emerges naturally as the most rational and sensitive one is the preferred track for sociological theory today. Despite the considerable problems facing the arguably over-sensitive stance of ambivalence, Bauman proves that such aspects have already become something of a new orthodoxy in surveys of the postmodernist debates. Like many others, he finds discrepancy to be a useful heuristic notion to explore the depth of current post- modernism theory. However, the writer notes, its exploratory value does not thereby establish contradiction, or sociology of post- modernity for that matter, as satisfactory statements of sociological theory.
In “Life In Fragrance”, the author seems to have sympathy with the popular argument that the continual resort within the discipline to categories of contradiction, tension, duality may be indicative of sociology’s partial explanatory failure, rather than a mark of its ascent into subtle maturity.
One of the problems with Bauman’s views is, of course, the fact that a good number of theorists, including himself probably, do not snugly fit into his categories. More importantly perhaps, his discussion tends to suggest that no one who is up with the play could possibly advocate the virtually unthinkable: a straightforward rejection of postmodernism and a return to old style sociological theory. Yet once the author allows for a genuine spectrum of inclinations on postmodern issues, whilst clearly interested in postmodern challenges, is not ultimately persuaded that this terminology is the best way forward for theory. The sociology against postmodernism end of the spectrum does, after all, appear to be well populated and ably defended. In addition Bauman has offered a unique re-statement of classical theoretical themes and in his way the writer revises the other historical sociologists, the contemporary neo-functionalists, various American meta-theorists, post-post-modernist feminists, and persistent historical materialists who are all striving to formulate a kind of updated theoretical modernism, albeit in a pluralistic vein. Of course, strong the author would reject both the structuralism and the rationalism which that conception of sociological theory necessarily involves. Nevertheless, that full-strength position is not proving to be entirely palatable, and so there is this noticeable, if somewhat intangible, neo-traditionalist revival going on. Zygmunt Bauman makes the point that the definition of modernity against which post- modernity makes its stand is defined within the postmodern discourse itself. Thus the distinction between postmodernism and modernism may be due to perception rather than actual conditions. The writer claims that post- modernity, for the intellectual, is a sense of anxiety that arises from the feeling that the kinds of services that created the status of the academic in modernity are no longer needed.
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