Optimism and agency in the sociology of Zygmunt Bauman

Dawson, M. (2012) Optimism and agency in the sociology of Zygmunt Bauman. European Journal of Social Theory, 15(4), pp. 555-570. (doi: 10.1177/1368431012437480)

Full text not currently available from Enlighten.


Zygmunt Bauman’s sociology has often been seen as a bleak worldview; he has been called the ‘sociologist of misery’. This paper argues assigning pessimism and misery to Bauman’s work relies on a reading which doesn’t fully consider his sociology of morality. When this is accounted for Bauman can be seen to have a very optimistic worldview. The significance of such an observation rests on where Bauman’s optimism lies, namely in the hands of inevitably moral individuals who can acquiesce to, reject, or modify the demands of liquid modernity. This paper argues, with reference to G.H. Mead’s concept of the ‘genius’, that this is where the potential for agency lies in Bauman’s conception of liquid modernity. This is given a political dimension by both Mead and Bauman’s advocacy of democratic forms to help realise this agency. Democracy operates as a ‘societal’ form of morality which builds upon Bauman’s ‘pre-societal’ discussion.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Dawson, Dr Matt
Authors: Dawson, M.
Subjects:H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Sociology Anthropology and Applied Social Sciences
Journal Name:European Journal of Social Theory
ISSN (Online):1461-7137
Published Online:29 February 2012

University Staff: Request a correction | Enlighten Editors: Update this record