The trouble with being human these days

Identity by Zygmunt Bauman
In Identity, a short book based on an email exchange between Zygmunt Bauman and Italian journalist Benedetto Vecchi, the sociologist discusses the question of identity in the context of what he calls ‘liquid modernity’. Bauman’s thesis, set out in his book of that name (2000), is that we have moved from a solid to a fluid phase of modernity, in which nothing keeps its shape, and social forms are constantly changing at great speed, radically transforming the experience of being human.

The idea of liquid modernity could be seen as Bauman’s attempt to resolve the tension that exists in much social theory between explaining social phenomena as aspects of modernity, and accounting for their appearance only recently. After all, the modern condition, with its overturning of tradition, has dominated the past two centuries. Liquid modernity seems perhaps to be the late realisation of a tendency that has characterised modernity from the start. What remains at issue is whether the ’solid’ institutions of prior modernity were merely the residue of tradition, or pointed towards a more enduring potential of modernity itself. Most pertinently, is the rational self-determining subject of modernity any more than an illusion that has had its day?

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