Miscellaneous Notes IV: Bauman

[I’m so sorry about all these trash images, but god I’m tired and can’t be bothered finding suitable ones. Anyway, here’s the obligatory trash video I made about Derrida which has nothing to do with Bauman ( .-.)\ ]

In Liquid Modernity and Power, Bauman argues that there has been a shift in the exercise of power from solid to liquid modernity, and that the dominant technique of power is no longer discipline but rather seduction (111).

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We can see this shift through a material analysis of the factory and corporation. The line managers of the factory floor were essentially suppressors of individual autonomy, hired to discipline the working class through regimentation and supervision so that they could be transformed into precise instruments of capital (116). This technique, however, was expensive, for it generated alienation, resentment and boredom—the conditions for class struggle.

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With the birth of the corporation and the experience economy, the suppressing effects of discipline could no longer be utilised in a competitive environment that demanded creativity (in addition to efficiency). The manager no longer managed, but rather, demanded self-management from each worker (117). Each worker became an entrepreneurial subject (in competition with every other worker), capitalism commodified spontaneity in the form of creative labour, and one’s job security became tied to one’s ability to ‘one-up’ the colleagues around oneself.

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While less alienating (if not more exploitative), such a state returns us to anomie—a state of perpetual uncertainty and a self-worth ever fleeing the present moment. As Haugaard (the interviewer of the article) states, without object permanence, routinisation or habitus, there can be no ontological security (118). The only regularity found is in compulsive behaviours (115).

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We can witness this shift on an ideological level as well. Whereas the old elites differentiated themselves from the masses through cultural capital (through their uniqueness, and thus, their legitimacy to rule), the new bourgeoisie emphasise their similarity with the masses, thereby creating a fantasy of equality and meritocracy (we’re just like you) (122).

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From solid to liquid modernity, culture shifts from a source of enlightenment, to a source of entertainment (124-125). Rather than interpellated into a norm, one is interpellated into fantasies, each one appearing more exciting than the previous, pesudo-novelties that lock us into consumptive loops through the affective bankruptcy engendered from their fleeting joys.

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In summary, the anxiety produced within production is ameliorated through the compulsion of consumption. Consumption, however, by providing a wealth of offers without any standards, generates only further anxiety (125). There is, essentially, no foundation to build regularity upon—no standard to judge oneself to. Thus in liquid modernity, both production and consumption leave us deeply anxious, never sure of our own worth, except through our own spectacularisation, an ecstatic chase of ever multiplying productive and consumptive subject positions, all captured within an ideology of hyper-individualism.

Bauman, Z. & Haugaard, M. (2008). Liquid modernity and power: A dialogue with Zygmunt Bauman. Journal of Power 1 (2): 111-130.

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