Anthony Elliott

With the possible exception of Jean Baudrillard or Anthony Giddens, it is difficult to think of a contemporary sociologist who has rivalled the international intellectual standing, as well as global fame, of the late Zygmunt Bauman. In his subtle, worldly intelligence, his interdisciplinary engagement, and his poetic cast of mind, Bauman stands out as one of the most influential social thinkers of our time. A distinguished heir to the tradition of radical Marxist criticism, his writings tracked the political contradictions, cultural pressures, and emotional torments of modernity with a uniquely agile understanding. With his scathing critical pen and brilliant socio logical investigations, Bauman unearthed major institutional transformations in capitalism, culture, and communication in a language that disdained all academic boundaries, crossing effortlessly from Marx to mobile phones, from Gramsci to globalisation, and from postmodernism to the privatisation of prisons.

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It is now approaching eighty-five years since Freud published his seminal book, Civilization and Its Discontents (1930). A foundational work of psychoanalytic cultural criticism, Freud’s focus was repression and its cultural consequences. He argued that sexual repression, and its associated guilt, had become the fundamental problem of modern societies. Freud understood society as a kind of trade-off: unfettered sexual pleasure is sacrificed for a sense of collective security. Freedom of the self is limited in the name of social order. ‘Civilization,’ Freud wrote, ‘is a process in the service of Eros, whose purpose is to combine single human individuals, and after that families, then races, peoples and nations, into one great unity.’

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Writings on globalisation have so far been of three principal types. First came the fables of discovery: bold, confident and romantic. Next came the stories of resistance: variously decrying the consequences of the new order, or denying that there was anything particularly novel about this globalisation malarkey. More recently, however, we have entered the age of elaboration. These fresher writings extend the now familiar idea of globalisation onto new terrains. Just as concepts such as ‘space’, ‘postmodernism’ and ‘the body’ were once taken up by earnest specialists, so the idea of ‘globalisation’ is now used to revive tired topics and to attract jaded publishers. Bookshelves groan under the weight of fresh volumes promising to disclose the secrets of ‘globalisation and food/sport/religion/sex/politics etc.’. Thus the concept has itself been exported and capitalised on a remarkable, networked industry. Some of this work is opportunistic and shallow. Fortunately, however, Anthony Elliott and Charles Lemert’s entry to the field (which might be retitled ‘Globalisation and Individualism and Emotions’) attempts to say something new, serious and important.

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