Category Archives: Changing Britain

Proactive Women and Individualised Men? Gender Differences in Mid-Life Solo-Living


The long term increase in Single Person Households in well documented – as in the infographic below.

Single Person Households UK

As is the fact that older people are more likely to live alone that younger people.

Single Person Households by age UK

As can be seen from the above chart, most of the increase in solo-living has come from middle aged people (45-64 year olds) and a recent longitudinal study: The Demographics of Living Alone in Midlife explores this in more depth:

The headline news (see the chart below, unfortunately going back to  2007) was that

  • At ages 35-49 there are approximately twice as many men living alone as women  – On average about 13% of men live alone compared to about 7% of women in these age categories.
  • At ages 50-54 the numbers of men and women living alone are approximately equal.
  • From age 55 and upwards the numbers of women living alone outnumber men and ratio gets larger as the population ages.

Percent Living Alone age and sex

To break this down into more detail….

  • The percentage of both men and women living alone has increased in all age categories.
  • For ages 35-39 approximately 15% of men live alone, compared to 6% of women.
  • For ages 40-49 approximately 12% of men live alone compared to 6% of women.
  • For the age categories 35-39, 40-44 and 45-49 the proportions of men living alone approximately doubled between 1984 and 2007 and in all of these aged categories there are twice as many men living alone as compared to women.
  • For the same age categories for women, the number of 35-39 year olds trebled over this period, and for women in their 40s, the the number living alone doubled between 1984 and 1997 and then stabilised from 1997 to 2007.
  • For the age category 50-54 roughly similar proportions of men and women live alone, with men rapidly catching up with women.
  • For people aged 55 and over, there are more women than men living alone and numbers have increased at similar levels.

This research also takes a more in-depth and comparative look at the social characteristics of middle-aged men and women who live alone – which reveals some of the possible reasons for the increasing numbers of men and women living alone.

Firstly – women who live alone are much more likely to be educated than men:

males females living alone education

Women living alone aged 35-64 are much more likely to have degrees – 38% of women living alone have degrees compared to 25% of men.

Men living alone aged 35-64 are twice as likely to have no qualifications – 15% of women have no qualifications compared to 27% of men living alone.

Given that men and women tend to couple up with people of similar (ish) ages (actually women on average go for men 6 years older, but that’s fairly similar) and people of at least similar class backgrounds  and levels of educational achievement  – the overall increase in people living alone across both sexes could be down to 20 years of women outperforming men in education resulting in a much higher proportion of educated women compared to men.

So possibly, we’re now living in a society in which millions of educated women aged 34-49 are living alone because they don’t want to settle for an uneducated male partner.

The converse of this is that we’ve also got millions of uneducated men aged 34-49 who are living alone, not out of choice, but because their more educated female peers don’t see them as a viable prospect.

Thirdly (I’m sure there are two reasons above!?) – If we look at the situation of people living alone in relation to children, we find that the increase in men living alone is probably mostly down to two combined factors – the long term increase in divorce and the fact that children (where they exist) are more likely to go and reside with the mother than the father…

families - children

As the table above shows us, for 35-64 year olds, an average of 15% of men living alone have at least one dependent child compared to only 2% of women, reflecting the fact that hardly any women with dependent children live apart from them.

To conclude on some Social Theory, one might tentatively say that the above research supports Giddens’ idea that increased gender equality has led to women being less prepared to settle for shallow relationships, as there is evidence of more (educated) women choosing to live alone rather than settling for any old relationship.

However, where men are concerned, perhaps Beck’s individualisation Thesis applies more – they appear to have less choice than women about whether they live alone or not – middle aged male solo-livers seem to be the ones being left on the shelf altogether or abandoned by their partners and children after a failed relationship.

Of course the above is hypothetical, you’d need to do some qualitative research with middle aged men and women to uncover the extent to which they’ve ‘chosen their solo lives.

The Gender Pay Gap – A Brief Analysis

This chart shows what most of us would regard as a generally positive trend – the decline in the gender pay gap – which is down to 9% for full-time workers, and even lower for part-time workers.

Gender Pay Gap 1 2014

However, there’s a lot more going on than this….

For starters, there is considerable variation by age – with women in their 20s and 30s actually earning more than men in the same age categories, with  a significant pay gap then emerging between older workers.

Gender Pay Gap by Age

The ONS notes that the gender pay gap between workers 40+ is probably down to women taking time off to become primary child carers, which to my mind is pretty bleak – Given the ‘negative’ gender pay gap between younger workers, this suggests women are getting into jobs which will give them the same (or better) wages than men (reflecting their higher educational achievement) but that this is then abruptly reversed when childcare responsibilities fall on the mother rather than the father.

It also seems that women in higher paid jobs lose out more compared to men in lower paid jobs – with the gender pay gap for the highest 10% of earners being near 20%, while it’s nearer 5% for the lowest 10% of earners (so rich women are less equal to rich men than poor women are to poor men, at least if we look purely at income). Of course this will also reflects the gendered age differences in the chart above.

Employment - gender pay gap

However to complicate matters there’s not a straightforward correlation between occupational class and the gender pay gap – it’s actually the traditionally masculine jobs which have the highest gender pay gap, not the highest income ‘professional and managerial’ jobs.

 gender pay gap occupation

There’s various explanations for this larger gender pay gap in traditionally male occupations – It could simply be the later entry of women into such occupations compared to women going into the professions – thus there are fewer older women than older men, so women on average earn less compared to men because older workers earn more than younger. An alternative explanation would be that women who go into these professions are less likely to return them after taking time out to raise children, in which case the question of whether this lack of return is due to gender-barriers, or genuine free-choice would arise. Of course, it’s probably a mixture of all three of these reasons.

Finally, it might be worth exploring what’s going in in Northern Ireland that’s led to such a significant reduction in the gender pay gap….. Whether this is down to social policy or just societal changes I don’t know, drop me a line if you do!

Employment - gender pay gap 1997 to 2014


Careers Advice for Teenagers Part One – Why You Can Never Do Enough to Make Yourself Employable


So you’re 17 going on 18 and it seems like the end of A levels are ages away, but for some reason your damn tutors keep haranguing you about about preparing for your future career NOW. When it comes to career readiness, there is no such thing as enough, even if you are going to university and possibly putting off the final choice of your ‘career pathway’ for another three or four years, there are still things you can be doing NOW to make you more employable in the future.

You know the sort of thing…

First of all there’s the ‘online careers survey’ which asks you to tick a load of boxes about whether you’re a ‘team player’ or like to ‘work independently’, on the basis of which you’re given a whole load of possible career options, most of which probably won’t sound that exciting. (Admitedly I think these surveys may lack some validity, as my ideal-career doesn’t seem to match any combination of answers I’ve tried: ‘lounging around in bed ’til about 10.00 and then strolling into to town for a Cappuccino every day’ never seems to come up as a viable option).

Once you’ve chosen a career, it’s quite likely that you’ll have to do some sort of work experience in that general area, not only to prove that you’ve got a basic level of competency, but also to provide some evidence of committment to this career-path. Alternatively, you might be lucky enough to have a part-time job in area you want to go into. I say lucky, but either option sounds pretty grim to me – the former will probably involve giving up some of that holiday time to work for nothing, which is a bit of a rub, while the later probably involves doing enough hours a week while at college to make balancing paid-work, college-work, family and social commitments something of a challenge.

Incidentally, if you’re putting this phase off by going to university, you may not escape it, given that we live in the age of the unpaid-internship, especially if you want to get into any of the higher-end professions such as journalism.

(What’s also interesting here is that it’s up to you to prove commitment to a career-path before you set out on it, while your employer, in this age of flexibilised labour, is unlikely to offer you the same.)

Thirdly, and finally for now,  you need to build a C.V. – Assuming you’ve got a decent set of qualifications and some work experience, and know your name and address, the first half a page is easy enough, but then things can get difficult because filling in the rest of it requires you to have engaged in quite a few ‘C.V. Able activities. And if all you’ve done these past few years outside of school and college is flit between Youtube, twitter and whatsapp, then you’d better get of your ass and go and join a gymnastics club, take up horse riding, volunteer with your local church, and apply for and WIN young apprentice, even though you’re probably too old for that already.

Indeed, when it comes to work readiness, there is never such a thing as enough. This is because we live in an economically insecure world, and the cause of this insecurity is that global capital is freer  today than ever to move around the globe to seek short-term profit and then uproot at a moments notice to seek greater profits elsewhere. As it stands there are no global institutions capable of controlling global capital (the Nation State is declining in power) and so this global economic context of ‘Flexibilised Capitalism’ is likely to remain.

What this means is that it isn’t just NOW that you can never do enough to get ready for your that future career (which you may not even be certain about yet), but that in the future you will constantly have to update yourself to keep pace with an ever-changing labour market. Below are a few of the key reasons why you have to spend so much time an effort making yourself employable, and why you will need to continue to do so in the future…

Firstly –  ‘Technological Dislocation’ could be set to reduce the number of jobs available in the future. A recent post from The Economist summarises the situation thus….

‘Technological dislocation may create great problems for moderately skilled workers in the coming decades… innovation has speeded up a lot in the past few years and will continue at this pace, for three reasons: the exponential growth in computing power; the progressive digitisation of things that people work with, from maps to legal texts to spreadsheets; and the opportunities for innovators to combine an ever-growing stock of things, ideas and processes into ever more new products and services. Between them, these trends might continue to “hollow out” labour markets as more and more jobs requiring medium levels of skill are automated away.”

This is the first reason you have to increase your effort to be employable now and in the future – because not only are their fewer jobs and thus more competition, it is impossible to tell what jobs are going to disappear and what new opportunities may arise (which will require retraining) because of technological change.

Secondly,  it is cheaper for employers to pay a smaller amount of employees for long hours (50-60 hours a week say) rather than to duplicate the costs of such things as training, holiday pay and pensions contributions by employing a larger workforce part-time.

This means you may well end up in a nice job that you want, but with no choice but to work hours that prevent you from having anything like a social life, let alone a family.

Thirdly, Capital today is more free-floating than ever, in other words it is free to leave this country at a moment’s (or no) notice if it can find labour cheaper somewhere else. This has already happened in the low-skilled manufacturing sector, but it could just as easily happen with higher skilled, techno and creative jobs, especially when much work today can be done in a virtual environment and the costs to Capital of uprooting and relocating are no where near as expensive when it doesn’t have to rebuild expensive ‘heavy’ factories.  The chances are, if you end up being employed by a global company (or contracting yourself out to one) your job is likely to be increasingly insecure as the years ‘progress’ – given that you are competing with millions of other employees who are just as well qualified as you from lower-income countries.

Thus, in the future, be ready for periods of unemployment as your employer moves to countries with a cheaper source of labour leaving you to seek new employment (which is likely to get harder the older you get).

Fourthly, the primary source of profit for the Capitalist Class is to encourage consumers to consume more and more products and services at an ever faster rate – thus there is pressure for technologies, software, fashions etc. become obsolete at an ever faster rate, to have an ever shorter shelf-life – thus you are unlikely to be able to rest on your laurels – The software skills you learn in university may be obsolete when you start work, and that idea that made your company a fortune today will be superceded by someone else’s idea tomorrow, leaving you in the position to have to constantly update your knowledge and generate new ideas.

Yes, all in all, sorry to say it, but I’m glad I’m not 17, even though I had hair then. And I’m also glad I’ll be retired fairly soon, spending my days drinking my real ales, smoking ma cigars and, if they still exist, leisurely leafing through some ole school broadsheets.

Don’t like the sound of your flexibilised, insecure future – then what to do???

The mainstream starting-point strategy suggests that you should position yourself into the core of highly educated, highly skilled knowledge workers. This is the best way of guaranteeing yourself a high income and relatively secure employment (and if not secure at least well-paid enough to be able to endure short periods of unemployment between contracts).

The problem with this strategy is that it is only the extreme minority of people in the UK are going to be able to get skilled up to this level – What proportion of the population? 5%, maybe 10%? Certainly no more. And even for this top 5-10%, in a globalising ‘converging world’ where more and more people are educated up to degree level (especially in Asia) there is simply going to be more competition for these types of job, so the only way for this proportion is down.

By all means, try and land one of these jobs, but in the meantime, because you’ve got more chance of not getting a decent job than you have of getting one, you should also consider how you can minimise your exposure to the labour market and can minimise your dependence on money, because you may not end up having a choice in the matter.

Forthcoming Post – A few alternatives to working in an insecure job for the next 50 years.

Increasing income inequality in the UK

I thought this infographic showing income inequality was worth sharing (From the Equality Trust) –


Unfortunately (if you think income inequality is bad!) things have got even worse since 2012!

Britain’s top executives are now paid around 130 times their average employee, according to analysis released today by the High Pay Centre think-tank. 

Income inequality has got a LOT WORSE in recent decades. In 1998, the average FTSE 100 CEO was paid 47 times their average employee, which means that while average incomes have stagnated in relation to the cost of living, the incomes of the very richest have almost trebled in 15 years.

The video below illustrates this in stark terms by comparing the typical wage of a nurse with that of a typical CEO, the headline figures being as follows:

  • A CEO earns as much in 3 days as a nurse does in a year.

  • A CEO earns more in a year than a nurse will earn in her entire life.

  • If we redistributed the income of the top 1%, then on average each household in the UK would be better off by £3K a year.

 Related questions you might like to think about include….

1. Why does such income inequality exist?

2. Is this fair? (are CEOs worth 130 times more than their average employee?)

3. Is income inequality good or bad for society?

4. If you’ve answered ‘no’, and ‘bad’ to questions 2 and 3, can anything be done about increasing income inequality?

Work in Low Pay, No Pay Britain

In this latest Thinking Allowed podcast on ‘Low pay, no pay’ Britain Laurie Taylor talks to the sociologist, Tracy Shildrick, about her prize winning study of individuals and families who are living in or near poverty. The research was conducted in Teesside, North East England, and focuses on the men and women who’ve fallen out of old working class communities and must now cope with drastically reduced opportunities for standard employment. To my mind, this is a good in-dept illustration of what life is really like for a section of the Precariat (although Shildrick would be more cautious).


The research is based on the book (published in 2012) – Poverty and insecurity Life in low-pay, no-pay Britain by Tracy Shildrick

This book explores how men and women get by in times and places where opportunities for standard employment have drastically reduced and where people exist without predictability or security in their lives, the book shows how poverty and insecurity have now become the defining features of working life for many.

Work may be ‘the best route out of poverty’ sometimes but for many people getting a job can be just a turn in the cycle of recurrent poverty – and of long-term churning between low-skilled ‘poor work’ and unemployment.

Based on unique qualitative, life-history research with a ‘hard-to-reach group’ of younger and older people, men and women this research challenges long-standing and dominant myths about ‘the workless’ and ‘the poor’, by exploring close-up the lived realities of life in low-pay, no-pay Britain.

Below is a summary of the main points of the podcast

  • The low-pay no-pay cycle is much more common than long-term unemployment. Most people intreviewed were committed to work, even though the jobs they did were not ‘comfortable’ jobs. This was one of their most consistent findings…. which in part explains why these people go back time and time again. This of course is the opposite to what we here in the media about people ‘languishing on benefits’.
  • It is not a guarantee that taking up employment will mean an individual is going to better off than on benefits. Most people were ashamed at having to claim benefits.
  • Jobs typically did not last long enough to take workers away from poverty.
  • In work-poverty is – 66% of poverty live in households were at least one person is in-work.
  • The types of work include factory jobs, bars, customer service, often run through agencies.
  • For the people interviewed these type of jobs are not stepping stones to something better – they get one foot on the rung of the ladder, get knocked off, and have to climb back on again.
  • Shildrick is not convinced that the term ‘Precariat’ is accurate enough to describe adequately the experience of all people who are sometimes put into this category. She argues that the experiences of the people she interviewed are different to those of a graduate working for a few years in similar jobs (although the people she interviewed do seem to fit into the definition of the Precariat used by the GBCS below)
  • In response to the idea that better training is the solution to helping people in these jobs, Shildrick suggests we need to look at the bigger picture – society needs these jobs – we need to think ahout how to reward them more appropriately.

Shildrick suggests that it is ultimately employers who have the power to help people out of this cycle. Unfortunately, the trend seems to be of employers being increasingly inflexible while demanding that employees be more flexible.

Links -

1. This seems to be a good in-dept illustration of what life is really like for a section of the Precariat

2. Also a nice illustration of the effects of living in liquid-modernity – The reality is actually bleaker for them than the above research might suggest – As Zygmunt Bauman reminds us (in Liquid Modernity)- ‘The bottom category are the easeist to replace, and  now they are disposabe and so that there is no point in entering into long term commitments with their work colleagues…..  this is a natural response to a flexibilised labour market. This leads to a decline in moral, as those who are left after one round of downsizing wait for the next blow of the axe.

Winner of the British Academy Peter Townsend Prize for 2013 How do men and women get by in times and places where opportunities for standard employment have drastically reduced? Are we witnessing the growth of a new class, the ‘Precariat’, where people exist without predictability or security in their lives? What effects do flexible and insecure forms of work have on material and psychological well-being? This book is the first of its kind to examine the relationship between social exclusion, poverty and the labour market. It challenges long-standing and dominant myths about ‘the workless’ and ‘the poor’, by exploring close-up the lived realities of life in low-pay, no-pay Britain. Work may be ‘the best route out of poverty’ sometimes but for many people getting a job can be just a turn in the cycle of recurrent poverty – and of long-term churning between low-skilled ‘poor work’ and unemployment. Based on unique qualitative, life-history research with a ‘hard-to-reach group’ of younger and older people, men and women, the book shows how poverty and insecurity have now become the defining features of working life for many. – See more at:
Winner of the British Academy Peter Townsend Prize for 2013 How do men and women get by in times and places where opportunities for standard employment have drastically reduced? Are we witnessing the growth of a new class, the ‘Precariat’, where people exist without predictability or security in their lives? What effects do flexible and insecure forms of work have on material and psychological well-being? This book is the first of its kind to examine the relationship between social exclusion, poverty and the labour market. It challenges long-standing and dominant myths about ‘the workless’ and ‘the poor’, by exploring close-up the lived realities of life in low-pay, no-pay Britain. Work may be ‘the best route out of poverty’ sometimes but for many people getting a job can be just a turn in the cycle of recurrent poverty – and of long-term churning between low-skilled ‘poor work’ and unemployment. Based on unique qualitative, life-history research with a ‘hard-to-reach group’ of younger and older people, men and women, the book shows how poverty and insecurity have now become the defining features of working life for many. – See more at:
Winner of the British Academy Peter Townsend Prize for 2013 How do men and women get by in times and places where opportunities for standard employment have drastically reduced? Are we witnessing the growth of a new class, the ‘Precariat’, where people exist without predictability or security in their lives? What effects do flexible and insecure forms of work have on material and psychological well-being? This book is the first of its kind to examine the relationship between social exclusion, poverty and the labour market. It challenges long-standing and dominant myths about ‘the workless’ and ‘the poor’, by exploring close-up the lived realities of life in low-pay, no-pay Britain. Work may be ‘the best route out of poverty’ sometimes but for many people getting a job can be just a turn in the cycle of recurrent poverty – and of long-term churning between low-skilled ‘poor work’ and unemployment. Based on unique qualitative, life-history research with a ‘hard-to-reach group’ of younger and older people, men and women, the book shows how poverty and insecurity have now become the defining features of working life for many. – See more at:

Pointillist Time, Blase Attitudes and Anomic Melancholy – why today’s students struggle to see the relevance of education


Zygmunt Bauman: Liquid modern challenges to education. Lecture given at the coimbra group annual conference – Padova, 26 may 2011

This lecture mostly focusses on outlining the ways in which young people today experience life in a profoundly different way to previous generations, and how this experience is inseperable from consumer culture and hyperculture. The specific implications for educators are left almost wholly untouched, so I’ve drawn my own conclusions along the way (getting individuals to do just this – for themselves – is, I imagine, one of the intentions behind Bauman’s ambivalence). On final analysis, I think the point Bauman is trying to make is that an educational paradigm rooted in a ‘linear notion of preparing students for the future’ is completely out of sync with the way in which young people experience the world via a consumer oriented hyperculture. Towards the end of the lecture, Bauman also questionswhether the decision to go to university is a rational one, given the insecurities in the labour market which may well limit students actual life-chances in the future.

As I said above, and I say it again for emphasis in case anyone wants to read it, despite the title this is really a lecture on ‘what the experience of living in a hyperreal consumer culture is like’ (worth a read for its own sake), and it doesn’t start to focus in on (the seeming pointlessness) of education until the final section.

What’s offered below is my summary and interpretation of Bauman’s ideas about the basic characteristics of the experience of life in a liquid modern (consumer oriented, hyperreal culture). My own contributions are mainly twofold – Firstly, I’ve added in a few illustrations to make this material less abstract, and secondly I’ve added in some thoughts on how this experience might be at odds with the way students experience education today (which is what I thought the lecture would’ve been about in the first place!). I will add in critique later, for now I’m exploring the utility of Bauman’s analytical framework by ‘rollling with him’. (And wierdly I’m actually quite enjoying the experience.). This is very much explorative, and drawn from my own experience of teaching for 16-19s for 12 years. (Only 27 years to go…. roll on that lottery win).

This post is just my initial summary of the lecture, more detail to follow in future posts…

Young people today grow up in a liquid-modern, consumer-oriented, hyperculture which encourages the following –

1. An experience of time as  ‘pointillist’ – in which every moment is pregnant with infinite possibilities, although most of these possibilities remain unrealised. Pointillist time is the experience of many things going on at the same time, and one in which ‘now’ matters more than the future, because ‘if you miss it it’s gone’.

2. The anomic feeling of drowning in an information deluge, in which individuals are bombarded with too much information and have to deselect the majority of information, but lack the capacity to make decisions about which information is most worthy of attention (not least of all because of the pressure to make decisions quickly, meaning there is little time for reflection).

3. A ‘disposable attitude‘ to the products and experiences consumed: life appears as something which is about consuming and disposing, experiencing and forgetting, and all at a forever quickening pace.

At the emotional-intentional level, consumer culture accelerated via hyperculture, tends to lead to a blase and/ or melancholic experience of life. Blase in the sense that commitment to anything seems irrational when continued happiness rests on the ability to forget and move on to the next experience, and melancholic because although hyperculture is pregnant with possibilities, most of these possiblities are never realised. As far as I can see this experienc is also anomic, characterised by both an anxious uncertainty and a gnawing disaffection. (There may be a reason why Bauman doesn’t actually use the word anomie, but unless I’m mistaken, this is basically what he’s driving at.)

Bauman does not say it explicitly, but it is relatively easy to see that the experience of young people, socialised into an anxious, nowist orientation to time, a blase, disposable attitude towards consumption, all underscored by a melancholic/ anomic uncertainty about what it is that they should actually be doing is completely out of sync with many aspects of today’s standard, educational paradigm which asks students to defer gratification and make a long-term commitment to the progressive accumulation of knowledge and skills that will be useful to a future life, which this paradigm further seems to mistakenly assume will also involve some level of life-world security (an experience which is alien to today’s youth).

Bauman finishes off his lecture by delivering a final kick in the teeth to education’s relevance to today’s students: given the relentless downgrading of grades it is far from certain that a university degree you will lead to a well-paying job at the end*, it could actually be the case that today, that if your goal is a good salary and a (relatively) stable career, non-graduates have as much chance of achieving these things as graduates.

(*although this does not apply to the wealthy who can afford to attend the very best universities and have a greater capacity to network their way into the best jobs.)

NB – There are plenty of other threads in this lecture, and the related lectures, to pick up on… this is just one, elaborated on by me!

More detailed summary to follow. Just one question in the meantime… If all of this is actually true – what an earth are we doing as educators? My own prefered strategey right now, is to go buy cake and just try not to think about it, it’s just a question of figuring out what cake?

Related Links

The Bauman Institute - Liquid Modern Challenges to Education (another version of the talk)

Liquid Modern Challenges to Education – Journal Article

Summary of Liquid Modernity Chapter Three – Time/ Space

With a few comments…

Summary of Chapter Three of Liquid Times by Zygmunt Bauman – Time/Space

In the first section Bauman provides an overview of some of the key features of contemporary urban areas.

Firstly, that modern urban areas are increasingly gated – To illustrate this he offers a description of Heritage Park, a new 500 acre gate community about to be built not far from Cape Town in South Africa, complete with high-voltage electric fencing, electronic surveillance of access roads and heavily armed guards. Within the fortifications, Heritage Park contains several amenities – from shops to salmon lakes, but the most significant feature for Bauman, is the assumption that lies behind the project – that in order to build a spirit of community, we can only do so if we exclude others.

Secondly, he illustrates that a fear of strangers is common by pointing out that increasing amounts of people think they are victims of stalkers and, although there is a long-historical trend of people looking for the source of their misery outside of themselves, this fear of stalkers is just the latest manifestation of a society-wide fear of the ‘mobile vulgus’, the inferior people who are always on the move (stalkers are not generally of the places which they stalk).

He rounds of this section by drawing on Sharon Zukin’s description of LA to provide an overview of the current evolution of urban life which can be described as the ‘institutionalization of urban fear’ the key features of which include…

  • ‘defence of the community’ translated as the hiring of armed gatekeepers to control the entry.
  • Stalker and prowler promoted to public enemy number one.
  • Paring public areas down to defensible enclaves with selective access (thus reducing freedom to move about).
  • Separation in lieu of the negotiation of life in common.
  • The criminalisation of residual difference.

This is actually a very tame section for Bauman on this particular topic. There is a much stronger commentary in ‘Liquid Times’ in which he comments on ‘Fortress cities’, talking about how, for the marginalised, cities are increasingly becoming full of places where they cannot go.

(94) When strangers meet strangers

Drawing on Richard Sennet (which he does often), Bauman points out that ‘a city is a human settlement in which strangers are likely to meet’ – the encounters are likely to be without a past or a future, and such encounters require a particular set of skills which Sennet calls civility.

Civility is not an easy skill to learn, it involves putting on a mask to shield others from having to deal with the private burdens of one’s own self, and we expect the same from others. In other words, civility is based on the mutual withdrawal of the ‘true self’ – we don’t expect to be cajoled into expressing our inner most feelings to others in public spaces, instead we put on a ‘public persona’ and expect others to do the same and this is what enables us to share space with masses of other people. This, in short is civility, which the city requires. Something else Bauman says later in the chapter (to my mind this is the important bit, obscured by his artistic efforts to define the concept) is that civility is hard-work – it involves making the effort to get on (and I assume work with) people that are not like you! In order to work effectively, the city requires civility.

Bauman doesn’t go into too much depth here about what ‘civility’ actually is btw, but crucially it clearly doesn’t involve just doing whatever you want, it involves restraint, and not just of your actions, but of your ‘true’ self-expression

BC – I’m not at all comfortable with the analytical divisions stopping with the distinction between ‘public-persona’ and ‘true (private?) self’ – I’d me much happier with a distinction between ‘public-persona’ and ‘that confluence of aggregates which people in their ignorance label their true-selves’

Bauman then argues that there are two general types public space which are removed from the above ideal-type model of civility –

The first of these categories of public-yet-not-civil spaces are public squares such as La Defense on the right bank of the Seine which are designed to be kept empty by their inhospitable architecture.

The second category is meant to serve the consumer – the most obvious example of which is the shopping mall in which the primary task to be performed is individualised consumption with a minimum of human interaction. In such spaces, encounters are kept shallow and strangers are kept out to minimise the disruption to consumptive acts

On this note, something interesting to explore further are how successfully counter-movements devoted to subvert the logic of such consumer-spaces. Reverend Billy and The Church of Stop Shopping is the most obvious example of this, and some aspects of the UK Uncut protests here in Britain might also be read in the same way.

(98) Emic places, phagic places, non-places, empty spaces

Our consumer spaces, such as shopping malls, are completely ‘other spaces’ – the temples of consumption may be in the city, but they are not of the city. The temple of consumption, like ‘Foucault’s boat’ maintains a distance from daily life, it is anchored out at sea. Temples of consumption are also purified spaces in that diversity and difference are cleansed of all threats to us, unlike the more threatening and potentially disruptive differences in daily life (such as the increasing likely threat of losing your job!), and so these unreal spaces offer us the near perfect balance between freedom and security.

I’m reminded of two things – the contrast to the relative lack of purity and increased uncertainty when shopping in markets in developing countries, and the attendant requirement to pay close attention to the dynamics (and it is more dynamic) of barter – this contrast is useful for criticising western notions of development; secondly, the fact that such purity really is lulling consumers into a very false sense of security because the ‘security’ gained through the act of shopping is so very short-lived.

In such places as shopping malls we also find a sense of belonging, in that we are all there for the same purpose, and so it is here that we find (a very limited idea of) community. The problem with this, as Sennet points out, is that any idea of community, of sameness is a fantasy… it is only achieved through ignoring differences. However, inside the temples of consumption, fantasy becomes reality and we find a sense of belonging for a few hours in a ‘community’ of shoppers. In these ‘egic’ spaces, for a short-time we can ignore differences because we are all united by the urge to shop, we all share a common purpose. The problem is that this is a shallow community that does not require empathy, understanding, bargaining or compromising.

From personal experience, he may as well be describing every sit-down cup of coffee I’ve ever had in a Cafe Nero or Costa Coffee… Such an EASY feeling of non-community. At some point I must try and work out the average cost per hour per table, I’d like to put a figure on the cost of non-community.

Bauman now turns to Claude Levi-Strauss, who suggested that just two strategies were deployed in human history whenever the need arose to cope with the otherness of others:

Anthropoemic strategies – which traditionally involves vomiting out strangers, which today takes the form of deportation and incarceration.

Anthropophagic strategies – ingesting strangers, which traditionally takes the form of cannibalism, but today takes the form of enforced assimilation.

The first strategy was aimed at the exile or annihilation of the others, the second aimed at the suspension or annihilation of their otherness.

Bauman now brings the above threads together to argue that the public square is the emic stragey, the shopping mall the egic straegy, both are a response to our having to live with strangers combined with our lack of skills with civility. Rather than learn the skills, our urban spaces are designed to either exclude others or nullify otherness.

Quick Commentary – I think Bauman might be the world master in dualistic constructions (no wonder he likes Levi-Strauss.)

Bauman rounds off this section by (much more briefly) outlining two other types of space found in cities (I think the idea is that they also prevent the development of civility, although I’m not sure what his opinion is on the later)

Non-spaces, such as airports and hotel rooms, are those which discourage settling in, and share some features of the first kind of space. These are uncolonised, free of all identity markers.

This is an eerily accurate description of my one (and never to be repeated) experience in a Travel-lodge. As if the sterility of the room wasn’t enough, the final straw was having to pay for breakfast first and then showing the receipt to collect a plate, bowl and cutlery set, although they did give us unrestricted access to the plastic cups.

Finally, there are empty spaces – Those which are unmapped, to which no meaning is ascribed. These are basically the poorer and unknown bits of the city.

(104) Don’t Talk to Strangers

The main point about civility is the ability to interact with strangers without holding their strangeness against them and without pressing them to surrender it or to renounce some or all of the traits that made them strangers in the first place.

All of the above four places are designed to strip out any of the challenges of togetherness by rendering strangers as invisible as possible and minimising interaction with them.

However, even though we have arranged our public places so we minimise the risk of having any meaningful interaction with them, they are still full of strangers. (Bauman argues that our preferred is to try and organise our lives so we do not have to interact with them at all, but for most of us this is simply not possible.)

And so, following Sennet again, we have arranged our cities into ethnic enclaves where we mix with people ‘just like us’ and we end up with little islands of people bound together by a shared sense of ‘being like these people, but not like other people’ – We have avoided the difficulties of forging relationships with and negotiating how to live with people who are different to us, and this creates a self-fulfilling prophecy – because we avoid dealing with people ‘not like us’, those people are more distant, so they appear more dangerous, and the idea of constructing an ‘ideal-society’ of shared interest in the midst of cultural difference becomes ever more fanciful. Or, to summarise all of this succinctly in the words of Sharon Zukin (again) – ‘No one knows how to talk to anyone anyone else’.

Ethnicity is the first and foremost way we retreat from the difficult realm of the heterogeneous society out there, the society which requires negotiating and effort to get along in. In ethnic groupings, we don’t need to talk to people, we just feel the same, our sameness is heteronomous, it is given, our right. Identity is about who you are, not about what you do.

Note to self – or question to self – how does this square with the Buddhist notion of transcending the self through ‘non-doing’ and non-identification. What is the difference between ‘doingness’ in Buddhism (ethics) and doingness in Bauman? Also, is Bauman saying that part of being ethical (being responsible) is ‘doing’ in the sense of making the effort to forge meaningful bonds with people who are not like us (in which case this could be a very noble, ideal reading of Habermas’ communicative utopia)… More to come on this…

Bauman sees such a carving out of ethnic niches as a rational response to a legitimately perceived crisis of public life, where the public realm (this is from the last chapter, remember?!) has been narrowed down to private confessions. Politicians in fact give the message that identity matters above all else, it is who you are, not what you are doing that truly matters. Once you have ‘identity’ as the central logic of existence, purging others not like me needs no further rationale.

Bauman now casts our obsession with purity and purging of strangers perceived to be dangerous as a public pathology – a pathology of public space resulting in a pathology of politics: the wilting and waning of the art of dialogue and negotiation, the substitution of the techniques of escape and elision for engagement and mutual commitment.

He finishes by saying…. ‘Do not talk to strangers has now become the strategic precept of adult normality.’ and providing the basic problem with the premise of the gated community…. George Hazeldon Heritage Park (the gated community mentioned at the beginning) would be a place where, at long last, all passers-by could talk freely to each other. They would be free to talk since they would have very little to talk about – except exchanging the routine and familiar phrases entailing no controversy, but no commitment either. The dreamt-of purity of the Heritage Park community could be gained only at the price of disengagement and broken bonds.

By way of commentary on this section – look at the picture below… from my local paper commenting on travellers using a piece of local grassland to graze their horses on. Odd how this is on my regular running route, and I’ve regularly run across this field, people, horses and all, and never felt particularly threatened by any of them.

(110) Modernity as History of Time

Today, if asked how long it will take to get from a to b, we will be asked about what method of transport, because the amount of space we can cross in a given amount of time is very much dependent on the mode of transport we use to get there. It is normal for us today to try to calculate how long tasks will take us given the technology we are using. We are normatively very time-conscious.

However, it has not always been thus. In pre-modern times, people did not think very much about time and space because such thinking was not required given the nature of their lifeworlds. If people were pressed hard to explain what they meant by space and time, they may have said that space is what you can pass in a given time, while time is what you need pass it, but they didn’t think to much about either because their conception of both was limited because their transportation and work techniques (what Bauman calls ‘wetware’) – humans muscle, oxen or horses – which made the effort and set the limits of what amount of space could be travelled in what time.

He now seems to celebrate the efforts of  Enlightenment thinkers such as Newton and Kant (who he calls the ‘valiant knights of reason’) for their efforts in setting apart time and space in human thought and practise – or as he puts it, their efforts in ‘casting time and space as two transcendentally separate and mutually independent categories of human cognition’ –  the distinction between which provides us with the ‘epistemological ground for philosophical and scientific reflection’ and the ‘empirical stuff that can be kneaded into timeless truths’.

Bauman seems to be arguing here that the development of the basic conceptions of time and space have been historically useful, illustrating his modernist roots.

He then argues that it was the construction of such things as vehicles (hardware) that enabled us to travel faster and technologies more generally that enable us to do more in less time that gave rise to this widespread perception of time and space being separate fields of thought.

In Modernity, time came to be seen as something which could be manipulated and controlled, it became a factor of destruction, the dynamic partner in the time-space wedlock, and thus controlling time became crucial to controlling space – Whoever could travel faster could claim more territory. In a nice evocative phrase Bauman says that ‘modernity was born under the stars of acceleration’.

As modernity progressed, time became its central logic: rationalisation was essentially a process designed to make us more productive, to cajole us to do more in less time.

Bauman finishes off this section by saying that the main focus of what the powerful do with time (use their time for?) in modernity is to conquer space. Bauman casts the powerful as those who invade and redraw boundaries, and the faster they can do this, the better, whereas the the weak are those who must defend their territory, for them and their world, time is experienced as something which is ‘running out’.   (The very last line is my interpretation, but I’m 99% sure it’s accurate.)

I’m not sure how far Bauman takes his analysis of the differential experience of time in his later works, but one fairly obvious interpretation is that the wealthy, have time on their side, most obviously in the form of privileged access to high speed rail and air networks, the fastest broadband, and also their ability to employ people to do things for them. In contrast, middling people experience time as something that is scarce, and frequently have too much to do in the limited time available, especially where family and work need to be balanced. In addition, it is worth noting that those on the margins have ‘all the time in the world’ and are free to use this time as they see fit, according to their limited means, but if they are hooked on the synopticon, then much of that time will be spent watching the money-rich, time-rich worlds of the elite who take up such a disproportionate amount of media air-time.

I’m further reminded here of another two things – Firstly the 1960s futurologists such as Toffler who predicted a 4 hour working day once we were properly ‘teched up’ (whatever happened to that?!) and secondly I think there’s utility in developing a methodology for calculating how much of our time we give away in surplus value, most horrifyingly in the form of interest payments on our mortgages. The utility of this would lie in being able to calculate how much time we would gain if gave up these things.

NB – At some point in this section Bauman also makes the point that the conception of our place in physical space seems to have ontological significance in modernity – when he suggests that at the individual level we could replace Descartes’ well known ‘I think for I am’ with ‘I occupy space therefore I exist’ and the meaning would remain the same. This didn’t seem to flow with the rest of his argument but I quite liked the point so I thought I’d make a note of it!

(p113) From Heavy to Light Modernity

This section deals with one of Bauman’s most well-known dualisms

The term Heavy Modernity refers to the era of hardware, or bulk obsessed modernity, where size is power and volume is success. This is the era of ponderous rail engines and gigantic ocean liners. To conquer as much space as one could hold,and then guarding the boundaries was the goal.
In heavy modernity wealth and power were firmly rooted or deposited deep inside the land, empty space was seen as a threat, and heroes were made of those who penetrated the hearts of darkness.

In terms of production Modernity meant the factory, and the bigger, more routinised, more homogeneous the logic of control and the clearer the boundaries in many respects of the word,  the better.  Daniel Bell described the General Motors Willow Run plant in Michegan as one of the best examples.

Heavy modernity also involved the neutralising and co-ordination of time; in this eara, time, and what one could achieve in a given amount of time, became the measure of progress.

The relationship between labour and capital was like a marriage, until death do us part, because the factory tied both labour and capital to the ground. Neither could survive without the other which meant conflict, but a conflict born of the rootedness.

This is now changed, as evidenced by Daniel Cohen in the example of Microsoft: whoever begins a career there has not the slightest idea where they’ll end up. Today’s management is concerned with loser organisational forms, with adaptability, and as a result of thisthe idea of a ‘career’ seems out of place.

Behind this watershed change is the new irrelevance of space, masquerading as the annihilation of time. Space no more sets limits to action because of the instantaneity of communications. The instantaneity of time devalues space. Since all parts of space can be reached in an instant, no space has special value, and thus there is less reason to bear the cost of perpetual supervision of such spaces, given that they can be abandoned and revisited in an instant.

This might make sense when we are talking about software development, but in many other areas of work this just doesn’t apply. Surely we still have heavy modernity in places? The mining sector for example, and even supermarkets, which are at the centre of our nexus of consumption, are rooted physically to one place.

(p118) The Seductive Lightness of Being

In this section Bauman contrasts power in heavy modernity with power in liquid modernity.

He uses Muchel Crozier’s Bureaucratic Phenomenon to illustrate how power worked in the heavy period. Crozier pointed out that people who manage to keep their own actions unbound, norm-free and so unpredictable, while normatively regulating the actions of their protagonists rule: the freedom of the first is the main cause of the unfreedom of the second, while the undfreedom of the second is the ultimate meaning of the freedom of the first.

In Liquid modernity, while this basic relationship remains the same, it is those who come closest to the momentariness of time rule. Today Capital does not concern itself with managing labour; surveillance and drill are no longer necessary. Labour (because it either has little interest or choice in the matter, dealt with at more length in the next chapter) allows capital to travel light and engage only in short term contracts, in hopeful search of opportunity, of which there appear to be many. In Liquid Modernity, domination consists in one’s capacity to escape, to disengage, to be ‘elsewhere’ and the right to decide the speed with which all this is done, stripping the people on the dominated side of their ability to resist their moves or slow them down. The contemporary battled of domination is waged with the weapons of acceleration and procastination.

The bit below is actually at the beginning of this section in the book, but I thought it made much more sense at the end…where he deals with how we are possibly beginning to view time differently.

In the extreme case of the liquid modern, the software world, time appears as Insubstantial and instantaneous, and so Bauman argues this is also an inconsequential time, in which we demand on the spot fulfilment , but which is also characterised by immediate fading of interest. Today, given that space and time are closer together, we have only ‘moments’ – points without dimensions.

Bauman provides two qualifications to the above –

Firstly, he questions whether this way of conceiving time (time with the morphology of an aggregate of moments) is still time as we know it.

Secondly, he says that the above only describes the developmental horizon of late modernity – the ever to be pursued yet never to be reached in full ideal of its major operators. It is a tendency towards rather than a state reached.

(p123) Instant Living

Bauman starts with Sennet’s observation that Bill Gate’s is very  willing to destroy that which he had created in order to bring into being the next best thing, representing the trend for Liquid modernity to devalues the long term, (possibly because instanteity makes every moment infinite?)
Bauman next spends another couple of pages outlining how, in modern society, we valued the long-term more, and there was basically a balance between stability and change.

Today the balance has shifted towards an incredulity towards the value of stability/ immortality and there has been a culture shift towards constant revolutionising of many aspects of life.

Rational choice in this culture means to pursue instant gratification while seeking to avoid the consequences. This ushers both culture and ethics into unexplored territory. Today’s generation is living in a present that wants to forget the past and no longer seems to believe in the future…. but the memory of the past and trust in the future have been thus far the two pillars on which the cultural and moral bridges between transience and durability,  human mortality and the immortality of human accomplishments, as well as taking responsibility and living moment by moment, all rested.

C.V. building – another individualised ‘solution’ to systemic contradictions

As part of our college tutorial programme I was recently required to show my students this ‘monster guide to writing a C.V.’


I’ve been reading way to much Bauman recently to not subject this to some Baumanesque analysis, and from this perspective, writing a C.V. appears as a strategy for ‘middling people’ to avoid becoming ‘surplus people’ (or ‘waste’ to use another of Bauman’s terms).

A summary of the Advice in the Monster C.V. video with Baumanesque commentary

1. The purpose of the CV – ‘Your CV should tell a propsective employer why you’re the ideal canditate to invest time and money in….Essentially it’s a sale’s brochure, pinpointing the unique selling points which make you stand out from the crowd’

This is a nice illustration of how individuals have to turn themselves into commodoties, and market themselves. Bauman says in Consuming Life: ‘People today are…. ‘enticed, nudged or forced to promote an attractive and desirable commodity, and so to try as hard as they can, and using the best means at their disposal, to enhance the market value of the goods they sell. And the commodity they are prompted to put on the market, promote and sell are themselves. The activity in which all of them are engaged (whether by choice, necessity, or most commonly both) is marketing. The test they need to pass in order to be admitted to the social prizes they covet demands them to recast themselves as commodities: that is, as products capable of catching the attention and attracting demand and customers’. (who in this case are the employers.)

2. The content of the C.V. – ‘Your contact details so a prospective employer can contact you immediately; a paragraph that captures the attention of your reader and entices them to find out more about you, but don’t cram this with too much information; a bullet-pointed list of your work experience and qualifications so that an employer can match your skills to those of the job specification; your ‘key skills’ such as IT packages you’ve used, and the level you’ve achieved.’

This is a supreme example of the process of Individualisation – In Liquid Modernity, Bauman defines the process of Individualisation as follows…. how one lives today becomes a biographical solution to system contradictions – risks and contradictions go on being socially produced; it is just the duty and the necessity to cope with them which are being individualised. He goes on to say that we…. ‘are now expected to find individual solutions to our problems ….. gone is the ideal of the just society. No longer are we to solve our problems collectively through Politics (with a capital P) but it is put upon us to look to ourselves.’

3. A final word of warning – ‘Spelling and typographical erroz (lol!) – any errors are your responsibility and are one of the first things employers use to weed out weaker candidates.’

The above two process go on in a culture of fear and anxiety – To quote Bauman (LM) ‘The modernising impulse means the compulsive critique of reality, and the privatisation of that impluse means compulsive self-critique, and perpetual self-disafection. It means that we look harder and harder at how I can improve myself.’ In another section of LM – ‘Individualisation consists of charging actors with the responsibility for performing that task and for the consequences (also the side effects) of their actions.’ – If we fail in this system it is because of our poor spelling

Of course what the C.V. doesn’t remind us of are the systemic contradictions that make C.V. writing a necessity for anyone wishing to play the game of climbing the career ladder…

For such a reminder, we can again turn to Bauman – who reminds us that society is still ‘obsessed with modernising, with creative destruction… but in its liquid modern phase the drive to privatisation and deregualation have lead to even more phasing out, cutting out, merging, downsizing and dismantling’…. Today Capital moves from place to place, enterprise to enterprise, quicker than ever, and this means that capital is freer than ever to pick and choose its labour force from any part of the world…. which means decreasing job security and increasing competition, which sets the context for the necessity of constructing a ‘C.V, and career-biography’ (a cviography?) – A C.V. becomes a necessity to achieve a decent job.

Furthermore, something which the video fails to mention … ‘The New Capitalism has a strong preference among employers for free-floating, unattached, flexible, ‘generalist’ and ultimately disposable employees’ – this means that that C.V. you’ve just spent the last two weeks ‘perfecting’ isn’t perfect, it’ll be out of date by this time next year and will need updating!

However, as Bauman says in ‘Liquid Modern Challenges to Education’ the C.V. and the educational history it summarises are no guarantee of a good a job:

‘Nothing has prepared them for the arrival of the hard, uninviting and inhospitable new world of downgrading of grades, devaluation of earned merits, doors shown and locked, volatility of jobs and stubbornness of joblessness, transience of prospects and durability of defeats; of a new world of stillborn projects and frustrated hopes and of chances ever more conspicuous by their absence. Today, the throngs of the seduced are turning wholesale, and almost overnight, into the crowds of the frustrated.

For the first time in living memory, the whole class of graduates faces a high probability, almost the certainty, of ad-hoc, temporary, insecure and part-time jobs, unpaid “trainee” pseudo-jobs deceitfully re-branded “practices” − all considerably below their acquired skills and eons below the level of their expectations; or of a stretch of unemployment lasting longer than it’ll take for the next class of graduates to add their names to the already uncannily long job-centres waiting lists.’

Of course a sixth form college like mine would never subject its students to this type of analysis… that would just kill aspiration. Instead of wasting time pondering this fruitless line of analysis further, students are advised to dismiss immediately any thoughts that there may be any grain of truth in such an analysis.

Instead , you are advised to go engage in voluntary work, do D of E, learn the saxophone take up gymnastics, set up a debating society, establish your own mini-enterprise (make sure it’s a good one!), learn Greek, brush up on your IT skills, read all of the major works of English Literature written between 1831 and 1869, and basically work 26 hours a day to make sure you get 4 A*s… Well go on then, get going.. it’s ALL DOWN TO YOU!

Summary of Liquid Modernity – Chapter Two – Individuality


blueI’m presently enjoying re-reading Bauman’s major works – I thought offering up my summaries might be useful to some students. I will eventually further summarise/ comment/ critique, but in the meantime.. the raw summary of chapter two of Liquid Modernity….

 Bauman begins by pointing out that Huxley’s and Orwell’s dystopias were very much products of their time. Although they clearly had their differences, what they both shared in common was a fear of individual freedom being reduced to a sham ; both felt the world was heading in the direction of an ever increasing split between remote controllers and the controlled. Just like Plato’s inability to imagine a utopia without slaves, Huxley and Orwell could not imagine a world without a supreme controller’s office. Today’s Liquid Modern society, the type of dystopia imagined by Orwell and Huxley makes no sense.


Capitalism Heavy and Light

 In this section, Bauman introduces his by now classic concepts of heavy and light (or liquid) modernity.

 He casts ‘heavy capitalism’ as being a like Nigel Swift’s notion of the ‘Joshua discourse’ – centrally organized and rigidly bounded. In heavy Capitalism, order is all important, and to be seen as having legitimate existence, something must serve a purpose that fits the overall end. In such a ‘modern’ system – the system is like God, it is the reason for its existence, and its perpetuation is the goal. Under such a discourse, it was the capitalist managers of business who controlled things – who decided what was rational and what was not, thus determining the range of viable alternatives available to actors.

The world sustaining the Joshua discourse was the Fordist world, which in its heyday was simultaneously a model of industrialisation, of accumulation and of regulation. At a deeper level, the Fordist model was also an epistemological building site – It was about binary oppositions such as manager and managed, design and execution, freedom and obedience.

Heavy Capitalism was fixed to the ground , tied to one place (as in the Fordist factory), it seemed set to stay and it seemed as if there was no alternative to it. Despite the seemingly oppressive nature of this heavy period of history, this at least gave people a sense certainty, predictability and rootedness, and people generally had jobs for life, they knew where they stood, labour could ‘dig in’ and make deals.

All of this solidity is gone under Light Capitalism. NB Bauman here doesn’t actually say much about this concept, possibly in an attempt to mirror the ‘ambiguous nature’ of this current mode?

He limits himself to saying that nowadays capital travels light, it can stop-over almost anywhere, and is no longer has to stay put. Labour, on the other hand, remains as immobilised as it was in the past – but the place it was once fixed to has lost its solidity. Bauman characterises the passengers of ‘Light Capitalism’ as being on an aircraft who have discovered that….

 ‘to their horror the pilot’s cabin is empty and that there is no way to extract from the mysterious black box.. any information about where the plane is flying, where it is going to land, who is to choose the airport, and whether there are any rules which would allow the passengers to contribute to the safety of their arrival.’

 (p59) Have car, can travel

In Heavy Modernity, we new what the ends were, although there may have been some level of uncertainty over the means whereby we should achieve those ends. However Liquid Modernity introduces a new level of uncertainty as we no longer know what the ends are. Furthermore, in the absence of a supreme office, it is now up to the individual to decide what these ends should be.

Since there are now more life experiences than we can experience in a lifetime, even when we achieve something, there is still more to be achieved, and thus in the Liquid Modern society, are always becoming something but never finally arriving finally.

On this note, Bauman offers up a nice quote by Zbyszko Melosik and Tomasz Szudlarek:

‘living amidst apparently infinite chances offers the sweet taste of ‘freedom to become anybody’. This sweetness has a bitter after-taste, though, since while the ‘becoming’ bit suggests that nothing is over yet and everything lies ahead, the condition of ‘being somebody’ which that becoming is meant to secure, portends the umpire’s final end of game whistle: ‘you are no more free when the end has been reached; you are not yourself when you have become somebody’.

This state of unfinishedness, incompletenesss and underdetermination is full of anxiety and risk, but its opposite brings no unadulterated pleasure either, since it forecloses what freedom needs to stay open.

Bauman uses a Buffet Table analogy to describe this world of possibilities….

the world full of possibilities is like a buffet table set with mouth-watering dishes, too numerous for the keenest of eaters to hope to taste them all. The diners are consumers and the most taxing and irritating of the challenges consumers confront is the need to establish priorities’ – which dishes to forgo that have never yet been experienced… the means are obvious, but the question of ‘have I used my means to the best advantage’ remains.’

Bauman rounds off this section by pointing out that (or this might be inferring it!) Liquid Modern Capitalism requires consumers…. and there is no objective function of the consumer other than to carry on making choices. To make the choice between what to consume is the telos, the purpose the end goal. This means the consumer can never be wrong. If we accept this role of consumer, this means consigning ourselves to a life of perpetual choice and uncertainty.

(63) Stop Telling Me Show Me

Heavy Fordism had clear authority figures. However, in the new capitalism, these don’t disappear, it’s just there are more of them and none of them hold their power for long.

Bauman now makes the distinction between Heavy Modernity’s authorities as ‘leaders’ and Liquid Modernity’s authorities as ‘counsellors –



A by-product and necessary supplement to the world which aimed at the ‘good society’.

Are to be followed, demanding and expecting discipline.

Act as two way translators between individual good and the ‘good of us all’ (between Mill’s private worries and public issues).

Politics with a capital P.

Use the word ‘we’ – offers the possibility of collective solutions to social problems.

Exist in a Liquid Modern World in which there is not only no commitment to the hope of agreeing on the ‘characteristics of the good society’, but where people generally believe that there is no such thing as society.

Are to be hired and fired. Need to earn the right to be heard by currying favor with would-be listeners.

Are wary of stepping beyond the closed doors of the private, and so offer only therapeutic means to fight off private worries – life-politics

politics with a small ‘p’.

After counseling, the private individual is as alone as when he started.


The crucial thing about advice offered by counsellors is that the counselled is always referred to things he can do himself to put him in the right situation. The source of one’s unhappiness is always diffuse, never rooted in society. Solutions offered to personal worries typically come in the form of individual examples…

What people today want is a living example of how they can solve their own problems, rather than a leader to tell them. Bauman provides the case of Jane Fonda as an example of one of these ‘examples’. Fonda took responsibility for her own body, treated it like a project, and made her own way, through her own efforts. The message here is ‘I am to blame and to shame if I err.’

Other examples of popular examples are celebrities and Bauman also casts the chat show in a similar light – On chat shows, it is people ‘like me’ who explain their stories. He explains the popularity of chat shows because they are closer to me, and there are more examples to be learnt from. Ultimately, however, chat shows legitimise filling public space with private concerns (that never become public issues).

The current definition of the public sphere seems to be the right of the public to play out their private dramas and the right of the rest of us to watch. As an example of this Bauman reminds us of how we are interested in the private lives of politicians, and much less interested in their political careers and policies.

 (p72) Compulsion turned into addiction

Blue Water shopping centre

Looking for counsel, guidance and examples becomes an addiction, because no matter how much of these we receive, none ever deliver on their promise of fulfilling us, they all have their use by date, and so we must move onto the next fix. This is similar to the short-lived satisfactions gained through the consumption of products, the satisfaction gained through each materialistic attachment eventually fades, and so we move on to the next one. As a result, we become ‘content’ that we can simply ‘stay in the race’, and abandon any attempt to reach the finish line.

The archetype of staying in the race is shopping – and today this doesn’t just mean going to the mall – pretty much anything we do today takes the form of shopping if, by shopping, we mean scanning the assortment of possibilities, testing, touching, comparing and finally choosing.

To quote Bauman directly…

‘ the avid and never ending search for new and improved examples and recipes for life is also a variety of shopping, and a most important variety, in the twin lessons that our happiness depends on our competence but that we are personally incompetent, or not as competent as we could or should be if we only tried harder.

(On a personal note this sounds like the message we give out to our students on a daily basis at our sixth form college!)

There are so many areas of life in which we now need to be more competent and Bauman now lists the type of things we can shop around for such as job skills; numerous aspects of advice to do with relationships; how to save money; how to cook (cheer’s Jamie); and how to use our time more efficiently (the discourse of time-management is probably the one I find the most irritating.)

Bauman now distinguishes between ‘need’, ‘desire’ and ‘the wish’ to describe how the nature of consumption has changed. He suggests that consumerism has for a long time been more than about just satisfying needs, but has been (for many decades) about satisfying consumers’ self-generated desires. Bauman casts needs as having some kind of objective basis, while desire is subjective, and required considerable resources to be employed by producers to generate. Desire, however, although flightier and shorter-lived than needs had specific objects as its focus, and it was at least rooted in something, but today consumerism has moved beyond this – it is now focused on what Bauman calls ‘the wish’ – which is much more gaseous and spontaneous and rooted in fantasy rather than reality.

To ‘elucidate’ the difference between the desire and the wish –

Desire – is fluid and expandable, based on half-illicit liaisons with fickle and plastic dreams of the authenticity of an ‘inner self’ waiting to be expressed. The facilitation of desire is founded upon comparison, vanity, envy and the ‘need’ for self-approbation.

The Wish – completes the liberation of of the pleasure principle, purging and disposing of the last residues of the ‘reality principle’ impediments… Nothing underlies the immediacy of the wish. The purpose is casual, unexpected and spontaneous. It has a dream like quality of both expressing and fulfilling a wish, and like all wishes, is insincere and childish.

(p76) The Consumer’s Body

The seminal difference between post-modern and modern society is that post-modern society engages its members primarily as consumers rather than producers.

Life organised around the producer’s role tends to be normatively regulated… There are bottoms lines outlining what one needs to survive as a producer, and there are realistic upper limits to ambition which one ‘s peers will make sure are kept within. The major concern in a society of producers is then that of conformity, of settling securely between the upper and lower limits.

‘Life organised around consumption, on the other hand, must do without norms: it is guided by seduction, ever rising desires and volatile wishes – no longer by normative regulation’ – Luxuries make little sense in the society of consumers because the point is to turn today’s luxuries into tomorrows necessities, and to take the waiting out wanting. There is no norm to transform luxuries into needs, and thus the major concern in a consumer society is that of adequacy, or being ever ready to rise to the opportunity as it comes, to be able to respond to new desires as they arise, and get more out of new consumer experiences.

Health was the standard of modern society, while fitness is the standard in the society of consumers.

Health implies coming up to a normative standard that is required to do the work required of you in a society. Being fit, on the other hand requires having a flexible, adaptable body, it means being ready for new, testing experiences. Whereas health is about sticking to the norms, fitness is about smashing through those norms to set (temporarily) new ones.

‘Life organised around fitness. promises a lot of victorious skirmishes but never the final victory. There is no final goal in the pursuit of health. The pursuit of fitness is the state of perpetual self-scrutiny, self-reproach and also self-deprivation, and so continuous anxiety.

The consequences of a society organised around ‘fitness’

  1. Ever new states of the body become the target for medical intervention

  2. second the idea of disease (dis ease) becomes blurred. It is no longer a one off by a perpetual fight.

  3. Finally the meaning of a healthy life never stands still!

(p80) Shopping as a rite of exorcism

This never ending quest calls upon the consumer to be active in their pursuit of maintaining their health. Being healthy does not require abstinence, rather it requires ever more shopping around and staying on top of the latest ‘health trends’.

Common interpretations of shopping around are that this activity is a manifestation of dormant materialistic and hedonistic instincts, but another part, and a necessary complement of all such explanations is that the shopping compulsion-turned-into-addiction is an uphill struggle against acute, nerve-breaking uncertainty and the annoying, stultifying feeling of insecurity.

People shop because they want security, they want certainty, but it is not in the final product they seek security, it is in the very act of shopping, of picking and choosing itself.

(p82) Free to shop – Or so it seems

People think they cannot own the world fully enough, but it appears to them that other people’s lives are fuller than theirs. Distance blurs reality, and other people’s lives seems like works of art, and so we try to make our lives appear as works of art too.

That work of art which we want to mould out of the friable stuff of life is called ‘identity’. Whenever we speak of identity, there is at the back of our minds a faint image of harmony, logic, consistency, all those things which the flow of our experience seems – to our perpetual despair – so grossly and abominably to lack. The search for identity is the ongoing struggle to arrest or slow down the flow, to solidify the fluid, to give form to the formless. We struggle to deny or at least to cover up the awesome fluidity just below the thin wrapping of the form; we try to avert our eyes from sights which they cannot pierce or take in. Yet far from slowing the flow, let alone stopping it, identities are more like the spots of crust hardening time and again before they have time to cool and set. So there is need for another trial, and another – and they can be attempted only by clinging desperately to things solid and tangible and thus promising duration…. In the words of Deleuze and Guattari: ‘Desire constantly couples continuous flow and partial objects that are by nature fragmentary and fragmented.’

Today our identities are volatile, and because of this we increasingly see the ability to shop around in the supermarket of identities and hold it as long as I desire as desirable.

The experienced, lived identity can only be held together with the adhesive of fantasy… and fashion fits the bill here especially well… just the right stuff, at it provides ways of exploring limits without commitment to action. The ultimate freedom is the freedom to have an identity, to be different, with a nod and wink to the idea that we are all playing the game, but because this game requires us to buy into things, we need stuff to express our identities, we are not really free.

And in today’s world the fashions we use to identify ourselves have built in obsolescence, and so we are required to keep on top of things- more effort. (Lasch) As a result we have moved from a Panotopicon to a Synopticon – where spectacles take the place of observers without losing any of the disciplinary power of their predecessor. NB the few used to watch the many, now the many watch the few. This appears in the guise of freewill but it is really not!

In society we and celebrities and experts, we all construct and present fake identities – but sometimes we see interviews (possible on chat shows) which aim to get to the ‘real person’ – this is equally as nonsense, this is a myth…..

In our society notions of authenticity and inauthenticity are moot, because what is more important is the ability to choose, to be on the move, and in such a society.

There are consequences of living in such a society – on the one had there is the uncertainty and anxiety, on the other your ability to shop around depends on your local in society, which is especially bad for the poor, because in a synoptic society of shopping/watching addicts, the poor cannot avert their eyes.

(89) Divided we shop

In a consumer society with an ever faster turnaround of products -each product’s appeal is shorter-lived, this is more of a problem for the poor who cannot afford to keep up with consumer trends, less of a problem for the wealthy. Being wealthy also means you are more able to avoid the negative consequences of your consumption.

He now uses Gidden’s concepts of plastic sexuality, confluent love and the pure relationship to illustrate this – these fluid forms of relationships, when they come to an end, are clearly going to have some who come out of them better than than others, especially where children are involved.

To sum up – the mobility and flexibility of identification which characterises the shopping around type of life are not so much vehicles of emancipation as the instruments of the redistribution of freedom. They are for that reason mixed blessings.

Comments to follow…


Sociology on TV – The 1970s

The first in this four part series took a relatively in-depth look at the very early years of the 1970s, examining the cultural shifts taking place in the context of Britain’s adaptation to a globalising economy.

I don’t teach it, but I imagine the show will be extremely useful for the SCLY1 culture and identity module.

The show starts with Heath’s success in getting Britain into Europe and uses this as context to chart the growth of UK consumer culture – pointing out that the number of people holidaying abroad doubled in ten years to the early 1960s.

There is also a good deal of coverage of shifting gender identities – as new masculinities become increasingly acceptable following the stardom of The likes of T Rex and Bowie. This spread across glass lines and there’s lots of nice images of working class lads with long hair accompanying this.

The show also deals with the influx of 25000 Asian Ugandans and their extraordinary efforts to get themselves jobs after arriving in the UK having lost everything to Amin’s regime. This is contrasted to the ‘send them back’ marches in the East of London

The episode finishes with Heath’s humiliation following the 1972 miner’s strike… The later being cast as an indication of Britain shifting right – the miners after all were simply demanding higher wages after a decade of wage stagnation so they could afford more than ‘a few pints at the weekend’ and actually take part in the UK’s new consumer dream

I think the show I watched was a relatively politically neutral historical analysis, although I’m not sure because it was hard to disentangle thought from the nostalgia – next week’ll be even worse as episode two will be dealing with my birth year – 1973 – And momentous though this event was somehow I think the show might kick off with something else…!?

Related blogs

By the show’s presenter –