I’m not sure if it is fair to say this, but … we all know that Zygmunt Bauman is a considerable force in contemporary social theory. I was first turned onto his work when reading his small tome on globalization. I was impressed by his ability, at times, to tackle seemingly insurmountable issues such as the space/time relationship and so on.
Today I got a promotional e-mail from Polity Press celebrating Bauman’s work on liquidity. This was part of the advertisement.
So, Bauman has been developing this notion of liquidity for more than a decade (although, from what I can gather the quality of writing, the tone, and the style change little between the books). Bauman published Liquid Modernity in 2000, Liquid Love in 2003, Liquid Life in 2005, Liquid Times in 2006, and Culture in a Liquid Modern World in 2011. These pieces should be lauded for developing the same concept so slowly over such a long period of time. Obviously, there is some repetition within the titles, which will undoubtedly annoy some readers. I grabbed the titles from our library here at Penn State and started to page through them …
- In Liquid Love, Bauman decries increasingly unfixed relational ties that bond us together, leaving the average person to connect to others with whatever resources they have at their disposal.
- In Liquid Life, Bauman describes how we live in a world of stubborn uncertainty, perpetual self-re-creation, and which is marked by a need to rid ourselves of the worthless junk we accumulate.
- In Liquid Modernity, Bauman in the years following the Second World War, a period of expanding wealth and commercialization in the West,
- In Culture in a Liquid Modern World, which, while containing the liquid metaphor in the title of the book, seems not to develop the concept further within the book … at any rate, Bauman describes the history of the term culture and its failure to help or aid those cultures it was supposed designed to describe.
In the end, it is Bauman’s Liquid Times, the 4th title he published in the ‘liquid series’ that has the most insight about what a ‘liquid infrastructure’. The dust jacket reads:
Zygmunt Bauman’s brilliant writings on liquid modernity have altered the way we think about the contemporary world. In this short book he explores the sources of the endemic uncertainty which shapes our lives today and, in so doing, he provides the reader with a brief and accessible introduction to his highly original account, developed at greater length in his previous books, of life in our liquid modern times.
In Liquid Times, Bauman goes on to describe the un-fixity of social institutions, which he sees as too fluid to count and a poor base on which to plan for the future, which leaves individuals to scrape along the best they can to find alternative or innovative ways to organize themselves, their lives, and our times. Indidividuals, living under such conditions mirror them; uncertain times and unstable institutions require individuals to flexible and reactive; consequently, ever-readiness for change and personal adaptability become the hallmark of this liquidity Bauman uses to describe many facets of contemporary living.
This is perhaps the point to harvest to get some leverage on liquid infrastructure; hybrid-infrastructure, custom infrastructure, adaptable infrastructure … all seems like directions I’ve seen developed over the last few years. For example, Kathryn Furlong’s work on hybrid infrastructures or Govind Gopakumar’s work on flexible water and transportation infrastructure, both of these scholars are already dealing, to some extent, with many of the notions that Bauman is working with. My intuition is that ‘liquid infrastructure’ would be a fitting umbrella term to bring together these lines of thought. Might also make a snazzy book title.