This public lecture by Zygmunt Bauman is part of the Academy Colloquium Connected migrants: encapsulation or cosmopolitanism?
Zygmunt Bauman is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Leeds, and he is one of the world's most eminent social theorists writing on a number of common themes, including globalisation, modernity and postmodernity, consumerism, and morality. Well known for his groundbreaking work Liquid Modernity (2000), he is the author of 57 books and over a hundred articles. Publications in recent years include monographs and co-authored books such as Strangers at our door, Babel, Liquid Evil, Practices of Selfhood, State of Crisis, Moral Blindness: The Loss of Sensitivity, and Liquid Modernity, Liquid Surveillance: A Conversation (all published with Polity).
Excerpt from a description of Strangers at our door:
‘Refugees from the violence of wars and the brutality of famished lives have knocked on other people's doors since the beginning of time. For the people behind the doors, these uninvited guests were always strangers, and strangers tend to generate fear and anxiety precisely because they are unknown. Today we find ourselves confronted with an extreme form of this historical dynamic, as our TV screens and newspapers are filled with accounts of a “migration crisis”, ostensibly overwhelming Europe and portending the collapse of our way of life. This anxious debate has given rise to a veritable “moral panic” – a feeling of fear spreading among a large number of people that some evil threatens the well-being of society.
In this short book, Zygmunt Bauman analyses the origins, contours and impact of this moral panic – he dissects, in short, the present-day migration panic. He shows how politicians have exploited fears and anxieties that have become widespread, especially among those who have already lost so much – the disinherited and the poor. But he argues that the policy of mutual separation, of building walls rather than bridges, is misguided. It may bring some short-term reassurance but it is doomed to fail in the long run. We are faced with a crisis of humanity, and the only exit from this crisis is to recognize our growing interdependence as a species and to find new ways to live together in solidarity and cooperation, amidst strangers who may hold opinions and preferences different from our own.’
In recent interviews, Prof. Bauman has reflected on such issues as social media, diaspora, the European project, identity, and multiculturalism.
For example in this El País interview ‘Social media are a trap’ Prof. Bauman argued:
‘I think we’re still following the principles of Versailles, when the idea of each nation’s right to self-rule was established. But that’s a fiction in today’s world, when there are no more homogeneous territories. Today, every society is just a collection of diasporas. People join the societies to which they are loyal and pay their taxes, but at the same time, they do not want to give up their identity. The connection between where you live and identity has been broken. The situation in Catalonia, as in Scotland or Lombardy, is a contradiction between tribal identity and citizenship. They are Europeans, but they don’t want to talk to Brussels via Madrid, but via Barcelona. The same logic is emerging in almost every country. We are still following the same principles established at the end of World War I, but there have been many changes in the world.’
‘The question of identity has changed from being something you are born with to a task: you have to create your own community. But communities aren’t created, and you either have one or you don’t. What the social networks can create is a substitute. The difference between a community and a network is that you belong to a community, but a network belongs to you. You feel in control. You can add friends if you wish, you can delete them if you wish. You are in control of the important people to whom you relate. People feel a little better as a result, because loneliness, abandonment, is the great fear in our individualist age. But it’s so easy to add or remove friends on the internet that people fail to learn the real social skills, which you need when you go to the street, when you go to your workplace, where you find lots of people who you need to enter into sensible interaction with. Pope Francis, who is a great man, gave his first interview after being elected to Eugenio Scalfari, an Italian journalist who is also a self-proclaimed atheist. It was a sign: real dialogue isn’t about talking to people who believe the same things as you. Social media don’t teach us dialogue because it is so easy to avoid controversy…’