‘The Activating Presence’ —What Prospects of Utopia in Times of Uncertainty?
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Aalborg University, Denmark
Publication date: 2006-09-30
Polish Sociological Review 2006;155(3):337–356
The work of Zygmunt Bauman is often classified by commentators and critics as either representing the thoughts of a proponent of postmodernism or as those of a valiant defender of a humanistic variant of Marxism. This article, however, focuses on a specific and often neglected leitmotif—sometimes hidden, sometimes explicit—running through Bauman’s work from the early years until the most recent publications, the utopian mentality. Bauman’s work is dissected along the lines of its contribution to utopian thought, however without it ever proposing a sketch of an ‘ideal society’ or ‘the common good’ as so many other utopian writers. Bauman is classified among the band of critical social thinkers—including the likes of Ernst Bloch and Leszek Kołakowski—for whom utopianism is an undying motif in human life, but who also, in varying degrees, fear the detrimental consequences of an actual implementation of Utopia. Moreover, they all, and especially Bauman, insist that the currently lived-through version of (in)human reality is not the only one possible and that we may still muster and imagine alternatives to the stubborn present.
Certain excerpts of this paper are extracted from Michael Hviid Jacobsen (2006): “Solid Modernity, Liquid Utopia—Liquid Modernity, Solid Utopia: Ubiquitous Utopianism as a Trademark of the Work of Zygmunt Bauman,” in Anthony Elliott (ed.): The Contemporary Bauman—Critical Debates. London: Routledge (forthcoming). This, however, is a revised and abridged version.