Zygmunt Baumann is a keen observer of the concept of modernity and the brilliant mind behind the idea of liquid society; a perfect symbol of our world’s present situation in which uncertainty, individualism, and insecurity are prominent factors. He has provided the concept of the liquid society which involves the examination of the relationship between power and politics. Power and politics are considered to be at the center of the issues experienced by societies and the evolution of communities. In his presents specific features that influence the way we perceive and interact with the world. This paper looks at four of the features that Bauman discussed in his book and how in his view, these features impact our worldview.
Although consumption is an activity that individuals in society engage in, sociology scholars perceive consumerism to be a characteristic of the collective society and a dominant principle that formulate entire worldview, relationships, behaviors, identities, behaviors, and values (Morawski 29). Consumerism drives individuals to engage in consumption, and to search for fulfillment and happiness thus it serves as a significant part of the capitalist society which focuses on mass production and continuous sales growth (Bauman 23). Zygmunt Bauman asserts that consumerism is the one that brings together social integration, systemic reproduction, and social stratification. It brings about the formation of human identities and plays a significant role in personal and group policies.
By this definition, Bauman implies that consumerism when individual demands, longings, and desires for consumer products determine what happens in the society, and when these factors become primarily responsible for formulating or shaping the entire social structure in which people exist (Bauman 15). He adds that consumerism habits define how people understand themselves and relate with others, as well as the extent to which they fit in society and valued at large. Consumerism shapes individual desires and demands in a manner that people do not merely purchase goods because they are useful to them, but because these goods say something about them (Morawski 31). We desire to have the best for us to fit in and outdo other consumers, and this leads to an ever-increasing desire and consumption quantity.
However, Bauman says that consumerism thrives on the production system’s inability to satisfy human needs and desires. Though consumerism promises to meet these needs, it only does this for short periods. Instead of the practice producing happiness, it cultivates the fear of not being able to fit in, not having the right things, and not being accepted in society. For this reason, therefore, consumerism is significantly defined by a constant drive of non-satisfaction.
During an interview named Identity, Bauman talks about the concept of identity shaping our perception and view of the world. He argues that identity stems from a desire to have a sense of security and belonging, and that identity only exists in a modern liquid society that is continuously transforming and evolving. According to Bauman, identity is a new problem and duty because it was never an issue before the emergence of modernity (Bauman 75). Bauman argues that before identity becoming a problem in society; it was the uppermost actualization of cohabitation in society and was equal to the neighborhood. Initially, people used to identify themselves with their neighbors because the neighborhood was where one lived and belonged. The mere thought of one leaving their neighborhood felt like one was abandoning their roots.
However, Bauman says that the development of infrastructure and transport systems started facilitating the movement between cities and neighborhoods. This revolution ensured that one could travel further away from their neighborhood more efficiently and with it came the problem of identity (Bauman 77). With this revolution, identity became tied with the idea of belonging nowhere and everywhere, and people started feeling at home everywhere. Bauman further argues that identity is something that is invented rather than discovered because it is something that a person needs to develop from scratch, struggle for it, and still struggle to protect it.
Identity is a mixture of one’s past, and because people nowadays are widely traveled and exposed to multiple cultures, a person’s identity, therefore, becomes a part of their traits. Bauman says that identity defines one as an individual but it is a by-product of advancements in humanity and thus it has become the most dominant factor in shaping our worldview (Bauman 82). Today, Bauman argues that identity is defined by the ability of a person to adapt to new environments and get out of their comfort zones and get in to safe spaces (Morawski 33). Identity is now not tied to a person’s neighborhood or place of birth; rather it is linked to life experiences and how one can interact with the world and continuous evolution.
Bauman talks about liquid love and the fragility of modern relationships in a liquid society. To Bauman, it is not a surprise that modern relationships have become more and more fleeting because of the social tendency to lean towards one-time consumerism and the desire to fulfill our immediate needs. Bauman is not only talking about relationships with other people but also about the relationships that we form with ourselves; what he calls the liquidity of self-love (Bauman 152). He argues that often it becomes hard for people to get in to committed relationships because immaturity and fear make it impossible for them to think about solid, authentic, and stable relationships that go beyond the future.
Bauman explains that for many people today, relationships are more of connections that are established through social networks and the internet. He says that we live in an ever-changing world where many times reality mixes with virtual imaginations in a liquid society where many things bypass us (Bauman 177). The present society advocates and values flexible relationships and therefore people tend to create and build unstable relationships. These relationships are not just between intimate partners but instead even with our children.
Many parents offer incentives such as toys and other gadgets to reward their children for good behavior or passing exams. By doing this, parents let their children enter in to a consumer society that lacks values and real connections, thus creating a generation of people who do not realize where limits exist and they end up also giving back the same fleeting conditional love (Morawski 35). Today, friendships and relationships are created and established on social networks, and people forget about them when they lose interest by just clicking a button. Bauman argues that in as much as the world is shaped by liquid love, this kind of love leaves us empty, hungry, and unsatisfied (191). Behind liquid love, there is a lot of insecurity of us not being able to perceive ourselves as worthy enough to maintain stable relationships. Bauman says that, for us to be happy, we have to consider our freedom and security.
According to Bauman, marketing and advertising have made us believe and think that happiness is an unending flow of better and better things (Bauman 12). However, Bauman looks at how liquid modernity has altered the way human beings perceive happiness. According to Bauman, the culture of consumerism has led people to believe that the power purchasing power one has the happier they become. Because of consumerism and liquid modernity, traditional beliefs about happiness are diminishing leaving people with a falsified definition of the word.
People in current societies believe that their status and acceptance in society lead to happiness. Because of this, people have abandoned methods of searching for real happiness and instead they have concentrated on pursuing a higher consumer power to be happy (Bauman 5). Liquid modernity has altered the meaning of happiness even in relationships and the way we perceive the world (Bauman 15). With the rise of the internet, people are looking to form short term relationships online which they can end at any time they feel like it.
People have forgotten about finding happiness in long-lasting relationships and instead focus on individualism. Bauman argues that this is just virtual happiness, but in the long run, liquid modernity leads to more unhappiness and more solitude than we all expect.
In terms of consumerism, this concept shapes the way I view the world. I believe that the more resources I have to purchase good, the better my life is. I always strive to have better and more expensive things, not because I need them but because I want to fit in and identify with people of a specific class. I sometimes feel that as long as a person has enough consumer power and resources to purchase goods, they become much more respected and admired in society. This view does not just apply to me; I believe that the whole society including my peers and parents view their status and happiness in terms of how much they can consume.
When it comes to identity, I agree with Bauman that identity today is not defined by where someone grew up or where they live. I believe identity is shaped by how traveled a person is and how the person can interact with people from different groups and identify with them. For example, my friend is from Mexico but was born in America. The fact that she was born in America does not make her identify as American but rather as Mexican because she can interact with the people from the region. Globalization has changed the way identities are formed and recognized, and that is how people identify with each other today.
As far as relationships and love are concerned, I agree with Bauman that the rise of the internet and liquid modernity has changed the way people form relationships. This concept is real even in my situation. The internet is my safe place when it comes to making friends and developing relationships. I tend to believe that virtual friends are better than real friends because when I get tired of them or when they upset me I can block or report them and move on. Because of liquid modernity, relationships do not hold the same values and worth that they did before. Bauman’s features of the worldview are accurate.
Bauman, Zygmunt. Liquid Modernity. John Wiley & Sons, 2013.
Morawski, Stefan. “Bauman’s ways of seeing the world.” Theory, Culture & Society 15.1 (2016): 29-38.