Liquid Modernity/La modernité liquide - Zigmunt Bauman

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(traduction française ci-dessous)

Liquid Modernity is a way of describing contemporary culture, as opposed to the “solid culture” of the past. Previously, the idea of “culture” signified a certain elite or stratification of society; it was used to separate the classes, and to give a model to which “cultured” people would conform – culture meant high culture, it was Beethoven and Mozart, not folk music. The contemporary cultral ethos is, by contrast, one of eclecticism – being “cultured” means selecting from and enjoying cultural artefacts regardless of their source.

Bauman links this to three periods of global migration in modern times. The first was the colonial expansion of European powers; Westerners moved to the colonies and brought their culture with them, working to rebuild London or Berlin wherever they may be on the globe, and filling the “unoccupied” lands with (their) culture.

The secone is the reverse – the colonized moving to the West. Arriving in European metropolses, the only cultural trajectory open to them was that of assimilation; culture was still solidly “rooted” to place.

The third period is that of the diaspora – people from everywhere, migrating to and living everywhere, in global cultural archipellagos. Culture is no longer rooted to where you are, but is rather anchored to where you consider to be “home”. The expectation to assimilate has been replaced by the right to be different.

Solid modernity is further melted through consumerism; cultural curators are no longer seeking to create permanent cultural fixtures, but to create ever new needs and desires to drive consumption of cultural products that are ment to have a short lifespan and be quickly replaced.

So the overall idea of liquid modernity is the movement from stability to constant change.

(Research notes are quick, semi-formatted (or not) summaries of texts I’ve read for my PhD research that I think will be interesting or helpful)

source: Zigmunt Bauman, « Liquid-modern adventures of an idea  », dans Handbook of Cultural Sociology, Paperback ed., Routledge International Handbooks, London, Routledge, 2012, p. 326-334.

La modernité liquide

La modernité liquide est une façon de décrire la culture contemporaine, par opposition à la “culture solide” du passé. Auparavant, l’idée de “culture” signifiait une certaine élite ou une stratification de la société ; elle était utilisée pour séparer les classes et donner un modèle auquel les personnes “cultivées” devaient se conformer - la culture signifiait la haute culture, c’était Beethoven et Mozart, pas la musique folklorique. L’éthique culturelle contemporaine est, par contraste, celle de l’éclectisme - être “cultivé” signifie sélectionner et apprécier des artefacts culturels quelle que soit leur source.

Bauman relie ce phénomène à trois périodes de migration mondiale dans les temps modernes. La première a été l’expansion coloniale des puissances européennes ; les Occidentaux se sont installés dans les colonies et ont apporté leur culture avec eux, travaillant à la reconstruction de Londres ou de Berlin, où qu’ils se trouvent sur le globe, et remplissant les terres “inoccupées” de (leur) culture.

La seconde est l’inverse : les colonisés se déplacent vers l’Ouest. En arrivant dans les métropoles européennes, la seule trajectoire culturelle qui leur était ouverte était celle de l’assimilation ; la culture était encore solidement “enracinée” dans le lieu.

La troisième période est celle de la diaspora - des gens de partout, qui émigrent et vivent partout, dans des archipels culturels mondiaux. La culture n’est plus ancrée là où l’on se trouve, mais plutôt là où l’on se considère comme “chez soi”. L’attente d’assimilation a été remplacée par le droit à la différence.

La modernité solide se fond encore davantage dans le consumérisme ; les conservateurs culturels ne cherchent plus à créer des installations culturelles permanentes, mais à créer des besoins et des désirs toujours nouveaux pour stimuler la consommation de produits culturels destinés à avoir une courte durée de vie et à être rapidement remplacés.

Alors l’idée principale de la modernité liquide est le déplacement de la stabilité vers le changement constant.

(Les notes de recherche sont des résumés partiellement (ou peu) organisés de textes que j’ai lu pour mes recherches de PhD, pour partager des idées que je trouve intéressantes ou utiles

Traduit avec (version gratuite)


That redundancy was the outcome of several processes contributing to the passage from the “solid” to the “liquid” form of modernity (the term “liquid modernity” denotes the presently prevailing state of the modern condition, also called by other authors by the names of “postmodernity,” “late modernity,” “second modernity,” or “hypermodernity”). What makes modernity “liquid” is the compulsive and obsessive, unstoppably accelerating “modernization,” through which—just like liquids—no forms of social life are able to retain their shapes for long. “Melting of solids,” an endemic/defining feature of all modern forms of life, continues—but melted solids are no longer intended, as before, to be replaced by “new and improved,” “more solid” solids, hoped to be immune to all further melting (330)

Most seminal impacts of globalization (above all, the divorce of power from politics, and in its consequence the progressive surrender of its traditional functions by weakening states and their ensuing exemption from political control) have been by now thoroughly investigated and described in great detail. I will confine myself therefore to one aspect of the globalization process—too seldom considered in connection with the paradigmatic change in the study and theory of culture—namely, the changing patterns of global migration (331)

of migration followed the logic of the tri-partite syndrome: territoriality of sovereignty, “rooted” identity, gardening posture (subsequently referred to as TRG). That was the emigration from the “modernized” center (read: the home of order-building and of economic-progress—the two main industries turning out and off the growing numbers of “wasted humans”), ca. 60 million people altogether, to “empty lands” (read: lands whose native population could (331)

The second wave of migration can be best modeled as an “Empire emigrates back” case. With the dismantling of colonial empires, a number of indigenous “people” in various stages of their enlightenment and “cultural advancement” followed their colonial superiors to the metropolis. Upon … earmarked for “assimilation,” that is, a process aimed at annihilation of cultural difference and casting the “minorities” (331)

The third wave of modern migration, now in full force and still gathering momentum, leads into the age of diasporas—a world-wide archipelago of ethnic/religious/linguistic settlements oblivious to the trails blazed and paved by the imperialist-colonial episode and following instead the globalization-induced logic of the planetary redistribution of life resources (ibid)

Present-day migration differs from the two previous phases by moving both ways (virtually no countries are nowadays exclusively “immigrant” or “emigrant”), and privileging no routes (routes are no longer determined by the imperial/colonial links of the past). It differs also in exploding the old TRG syndrome and replacing it with a EAH one (extraterritoriality, “anchors” displacing the “roots” as primary tools of identification, hunting strategy) (332)

The idea of “human rights,” promoted in the EAH setting to replace/complement the TRG institution of territorially determined citizenship, translates today as the right to remain different. By fits and starts, that new rendition of the human-rights idea sediments, at best, tolerance; it has as yet to start in earnest to sediment solidarity (332)

Today culture consists of offers, not norms. As already noted by Bourdieu, culture lives by seduction, not normative regulation; PR, not policing; creating new needs/desires/wants, not coercion … a society in which networks replace structures, where the attachment/detachment game and an unending procession of connections and disconnections replace “determining” and “fixing.” (333)

In pursuing its own emancipation, liquid-modern consumer-focused economy relies on the excess of offers, their accelerated aging, and quick dissipation of their seductive power—which, by the way, makes it an economy of profligacy and waste (ibid)  


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