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doi: 10.1111/j.1467-954X.2008.00774.

Not all that was solid has melted into air (or liquid): a critique of Bauman on individualization and class in liquid modernity

Will Atkinson
Abstract
Whilst theories of individualization are usually perceived as posing a severe challenge to the oft-disputed concept of class, the recent work of postmodernist-turnedliquid-modernist Zygmunt Bauman in this vein has generally escaped the attention of faithful class analysts keen to defend their object of study. Indeed, in places Bauman has been mobilised to critique the cognate ideas of Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens, despite the fact that the intellectual afnity between the three is patent and has been rightly agged by others. This paper seeks to remedy the treatment of Bauman thus far by tracing his precise views on class as they have developed over his extended career and clarifying his current position on its decline in the face of the sweeping individualization brought by liquid modernity. It then provides a critique of his views by pulling out the contradictions and errors besetting them and, in the process, attempts to render less credible his claim that class is no longer a signicant sociological tool.

Introduction: a curious silence


As sociological concepts go, few have been subject to the same level of continual contestation over not only their nature but their very utility as class. Every decade since the war, it seems, has played host to its own collection of challengers declaring the much-maligned concept bankrupt, a trend that intensied in the twilight of the twentieth century alongside the proliferation of claims that a new period of social history or particular set of processes postmodernity, the information society, globalisation have been set in motion. Within the current motley crowd of class antagonists, however, there seems to be one strain of thought that has garnered swathes of critical commentary, approving references and erce rebuttal of late: the theory of individualization forwarded by Ulrich Beck (1992) in which people are said to have been disembedded from their old communal modes of life by welfarestate policies and processes and re-embedded in new ones in which they must
The Sociological Review, 56:1 (2008) 2008 The Author. Journal compilation 2008 The Editorial Board of The Sociological Review. Published by Blackwell Publishing Inc., 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, 02148, USA.

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reexively assemble their life paths and identities themselves and the kindred ideas of Anthony Giddens (1991) on the reexive project of the self. Whilst it has been argued elsewhere that a comprehensive critical response to these two thinkers, or even a proper clarication of their arguments as they bear on class, has been surprisingly absent within class analysis (Atkinson, 2007a, 2007b), it cannot be denied that Beck and Giddens put in regular appearances on the pages of those keen to cite detractors of class. Strangely, however, the same cannot be said for another important and inuential social theorist forwarding very similar ideas on individualization that are just as consequential for class analysis: Zygmunt Bauman. Take, for example, the special issue of Sociology dedicated to class at the end of 2005 Beck and Giddens were paraded by several contributors as exemplary anti-class theorists, but Bauman, though admittedly not missing altogether (see Hey, 2005; Stenning, 2005), played a rather more low-key and ambivalent role. Or again, take Goldthorpes (2007: 91116) focussed attack on those heralding the decline of class with the onset of extensive globalising forces. Here Beck and Giddens,along with others within the same broad stable such as Manuel Castells, were taken to task repeatedly for their scandalous lack of engagement with serious social scientic research, whilst Bauman, despite having penned an inuential tract on globalisation overowing with analogous ideas, evaded critical attention completely.Finally,take the response to individualization from the so-called cultural class analysts. Savages (2000) well-known work on the individualization of class, for example, in which class reproduction, identities and cultures are said to persist but in an individuated form, was constructed in close dialogue with the perspectives put forward by Giddens and Beck, but Bauman, while making several appearances in a number of contexts, did so only in an unelaborated way and was even, in places, mobilised to criticise individualization on the basis of the depiction of intellectuals seeking aggrandizement in Legislators and Interpreters a book in which Baumans lack of faith in the concept of class was clearly communicated.To be fair to Savage, this decision to let Bauman escape consideration was not the product of some myopic oversight on his behalf but, rather, a consequence of the fact that Baumans views on individualization solidied only contemporaneous with and subsequent to his inuential monograph. The same excuse cannot be so readily extended to the more recent work of Skeggs (2004: 54), however, which also bundles Beck and Giddens together as theorists of individualization and reproduces Savages application of Bauman but refrains from taking issue with the liquid modernist himself. There are, as always, exceptions. Brannen and Nilsen (2005), for instance, have rightly recognised Baumans afnities with Beck and others on class, even if their coverage of his precise views was slight, whilst Warde (1994) explicitly grouped together and chided Giddens, Beck and Bauman on consumption, though this treatment, being over ten years old, targets an outdated snap-shot of a body of thought that underwent a considerable restyling at the turn of the millennium. Still, the general trend has been to attack or at least 2
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cite Beck and Giddens whilst remaining curiously silent on the position of the otherwise inuential Polish thinker. Why this is so is not entirely clear, but a couple of likely contributing factors spring to mind. To begin with, though Beck and Giddens hardly claim the social world is harmonious and egalitarian there is perhaps some sense in which Bauman is seen as being more critical of the entrenched inequality, poverty, degradation and power differentials produced by the noxious union of neo-liberalism and consumerist individualism, and thus as more in line with those devoted to the concept of class who take the same issues as objects of analysis. Added to this is the fact that Baumans views on class in liquid modernity have never been set out in a systematic way in a few key texts, but are instead spread fairly thinly through a range of works, often only between the lines of his central theses and with a fair helping of ambiguity to encourage multiple interpretations.1 With all this in mind, then, it seems that some kind of clarication of Baumans current position, along with steps toward a critical evaluation, is overdue. In what follows, I intend to go some way towards achieving this task, starting rst by piecing together Baumans scattered remarks, particularly those pertaining to his theory of individualization within liquid modernity which stands as a culmination and nuancing of much of his earlier work, pinning down their location within his intellectual trajectory and revealing them to be just as challenging to class analysis as the allied thoughts of Beck and Giddens. Once this has been accomplished, I will attempt to sketch some of the chief contradictions, inconsistencies and weaknesses that riddle his propositions and gnaw at their credibility with the aim of enfeebling his provocative claims that class is no longer a relevant sociological category. The assessment will thus be one primarily of the logical coherence and consistency of the liquid modernists position on class rather than its empirical soundness, though the latter will not be altogether absent, and therefore forms only one prong of what should be a pincer movement a comprehensive scrutinization of Baumans perspective, as I will suggest in the concluding section, requires the conduct of original research as well.2

From modern Marxism to the individualized society


Someone whose earliest works in English include a defence of a modern, humanistic version of Marxism apt for modern times (Bauman, 1969), analyses of the British labour movement (Bauman, 1972) and socialism as a utopia and counter-culture to capitalism (Bauman, 1976), and an explicit identication of class, dened in terms of relation to the means of production, as a key source of inequality in socialist (let alone capitalist) societies (Bauman, 1974), might seem an unlikely candidate to feature in todays inventory of anti-class theorists. Yet through the eighties Baumans vision of the social world changed, leading him to draw the conclusion, worked out in Memories of Class (1982), Legislators and Interpreters (1987) and Freedom (1988), that class was no
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longer a salient feature of society. Not only had the demands of the working class been successfully integrated into the corporatist capitalist system, he argued, but the steady decline of industrial workers through automation had induced rounds of economic restructuring and created a new system of division between permanent, full-time workers on the one hand and the new poor of casual workers and the unemployed on the other (Bauman, 1987: 178). Moreover, Bauman declared, because capitalism no longer engages society as producers in its reproduction, centring work and class as the principle axes of struggle and identity, but as consumers, it is now the freedom to consume and to choose which symbols of self-identity are to be appropriated that constitute the central stratifying principle of society, with the new poor being seen through the lens of consumerism as awed consumers. Not only was the working class on the way out (Bauman, 1987: 179), then, but viewing the world in terms of class at all now clouds rather than claries vision (Bauman, 1982: 193). Many of these ideas culminated in and were elaborated through Baumans conversion to postmodernism, signalled by Modernity and the Holocaust (1989) and Modernity and Ambivalence (1991), at the turn of the nineties. Expanding his theoretical vocabulary, individuals were now claimed to be engrossed in an unceasing and apparently unconstrained self-constitution and self-assembly of their identities, achieved through the adoption of symbolic tokens of belonging (Bauman, 1992: 1915; cf. 1991: 206). No longer was identity, as it was in the modern age, much like a pilgrimage committed to a single destination, solid, stable and progressive through time (eg the identity constructed out of ones lifelong job or career). Instead, in the era of postmodernity, it now centred around avoiding xation and keeping the options open (Bauman, 1996: 18), that is, the refusal of long-term commitments to any one place or vocation, personied not by the pilgrim but by the tourist, stroller, player or, if one is less fortunate, the vagabond (Bauman, 1996; cf. 1995: 80104). Recently, however, Bauman has rebranded his thought, leaving behind his image as the prophet of postmodernity (Smith, 1999) to become the herald of liquid modernity (see especially Bauman, 2000). Sure enough, many of the themes that established him as an original diagnostician of the postmodern condition, and indeed that he rst set out twenty-ve years ago, are retained and elaborated especially the underpinning premise of the shift from a production society to a consumer society. But in this latest batch of writings Bauman has further extended the transience he identied in the consuming self to social structures themselves and, in so doing, has become more generalising and xed on the theme of epochal change than ever. Pride of place, furthermore, now belongs to the Beck-inspired concepts of disembedding, individualization and the individualized society, and it is with these that the decline and fall of class in liquid modernity, to echo the provocative claim of Robert Nisbet (1959) half a century earlier, is conveyed. Essentially, Baumans central proposition, modifying Becks thesis, is that the condition of liquid modernity is characterised by a process of 4
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disembedding without re-embedding (Bauman, 2001: 4156, 14052; cf. 2000: 327). Modernity, he argues, has always been characterised by disembedding that is, the socially sanctioned (Bauman, 2000: 32) deracination of individuals from the plot in which they germinated and from which they sprouted (in Gane, 2004: 32). Yet this was always promptly followed by a process of re-embedding in which individuals had to actively forge their self-identication with one of the beds (broadly equivalent to a collectivity) ready to subsequently house them. When feudal estates were replaced by classes in the transition to capitalism, for example, individuals were uprooted from their ascribed position and forced to re-identify with a social class by actively conforming to emerging class-bound social types and models of conduct, [by] imitating, following the pattern, acculturating, not falling out of step, not deviating from the norm . . . classes, unlike estates, had to be joined, and the membership had to be continuously renewed, reconrmed and tested in day-by-day conduct (Bauman, 2001: 145). Once formed, however, class membership tended to become as solid, unalterable and resistant to individual manipulation as the premodern assignment to the estate. Class and gender hung heavily over the individual range of choices; to escape their constraint was not much easier than challenging ones place in the divine chain of beings. If not in theory, then at least for practical intents and purposes, class and gender looked uncannily like facts of nature and the task left to most self-assertive individuals was to t in into the allocated niche through behaving as its established residents did (Bauman, 2001: 145). Moreover, class membership was by no means freely chosen but, instead, dependent upon access to material resources. Those endowed with fewer resources had fewer options of self-assertion and identication open to them, but, Bauman (2001: 46) argues, their deprivations added up and congealed into collective, class interests whilst their ineffectuality as individuals was compensated through the engagement in communal, class-orientated action: People endowed with fewer resources, and thus with less choice, had to compensate for their individual weaknesses by the power of numbers by closing ranks and engaging in collective action. As Claus Offe has pointed out, collective, class-oriented action came to those lower down on the social ladder as naturally and matter-of-factly as the individual pursuit of their life goals came to their employers (Bauman, 2001: 46). In liquid modernity, however, where social bonds and conditions of action cannot, as in the past, keep their shape for long, and where jobs for life have
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evaporated according to the demands of the evermore dominant market, individualization has assumed a modied form: individuals continue to be disembedded and compelled to take their identity as a task rather than a given, but no longer are there any rm beds waiting to accommodate their selfidentication. Instead, individuals must remain chronically disembedded, on the move, searching out and choosing their exible identities as they go from the vast array of options available, all the while feeling incomplete, insecure and unfullled. As Bauman (2000: 334; cf. 2001: 146) puts it: No beds are furnished for re-embedding, and such beds as might be postulated and pursued prove fragile and often vanish before the work of re-embedding is complete. There are rather musical chairs of various sizes and styles as well as of changing numbers and positions, which prompt men and women to be constantly on the move and promise no fullment, no rest and no satisfaction of arriving, of reaching the nal destination, where one can disarm, relax, and stop worrying. In other words, it is not only the individual placements in society, but the places to which the individuals may gain access and in which they may wish to settle that are now melting fast, and this affects all equally, unskilled and skilled, uneducated and educated, work-shy and hard working alike (Bauman, 2001: 146). The problem of identity for agents is thus no longer how to obtain the identities of their choice and how to have them recognized by people around or how to nd a place inside a solid frame of social class or category, as it was in the preceding epoch, but which identity to choose and how to keep alert and vigilant so that another choice can be made in case the previously chosen identity is withdrawn from the market or stripped of its seductive powers (Bauman, 2001: 147). Accordingly, the idea of a whole life project is no longer desirable; instead, a exible identity, a constant readiness to change and the ability to change at short notice, and an absence of commitments of the till death do us part style have become not only attractive options but prerequisites for survival (Bauman, 2002: 356; cf. 2007a: 4). Of course, Bauman (2001: 50) adds, this implies there is a greater freedom for an ever growing number of men and women to experiment with their identity and self-assert in liquid modernity, realised in the consumer market, but the necessary accompaniment is an unprecedented level of insecurity, the underside of freedom. A corollary of all this, Bauman argues, is that problems generated by social organization or, more specically, by deregulated markets and extraterritorial capital, have come to be seen as personal failings and responsibilities that must be dealt with individually.3 For example, if people . . . stay unemployed, it is because they failed to learn the skills of gaining an interview, or because they did not try hard enough to nd a job or because they are, purely and simply, work-shy; if they are not sure about their career 6
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prospects and agonize about their future, it is because they are not good enough at winning friends and inuencing people and failed to learn and master, as they should have done, the arts of self-expression and impressing the others (Bauman, 2001: 47). Personal troubles, to deploy C. Wright Mills (1970) phraseology, may appear similar but are no longer considered to be connected to public issues or collective interests, like those of class, and in fact the company and advice of others assumes the form of little more than a reassurance that ghting the troubles alone is what all the others do daily (Bauman, 2001: 48; see also Bauman, 1999). In Baumans (2004a: 35) words, capital and labour no longer seem to offer a common frame inside which variegated social deprivations and injustices can (let alone are bound to) blend, congeal and solidify into a programme for change. Instead individuals are cast as autonomous, responsible individuals de jure, even if they remain, as they do in liquid modernity, far from autonomous individuals de facto. To secure the latter, ironically, requires collective work (Bauman, 1999: 7), and this can only be achieved through a revitalisation of the agora, that is, the space where private and public issues meet and mutually translate. Despite all this, however, issues of stratication, polarisation and inequality have never disappeared from Baumans work.4 Whether conceived in terms of the freedom to consume and experiment with ones identity versus exclusion as awed consumers and bearers of unshakeable, stigmatising identities (Bauman, 1998a, 2004a: 38), in terms of freedom to move around the globe at will (tourists) versus either those who have to move because of the inhospitality of the world (vagabonds) or those who can not move for lack of resources (Bauman, 1998b), or simply in terms of a polarisation of wealth, income and life chances (Bauman, 2001: 115), there are, in Baumans vision of society, always winners and losers. In fact, the latter are, in their function of offsetting the otherwise repelling and revolting effects of the consumers life lived in the shadow of perpetual uncertainty by reminding the former of what may befall them if things go awry (Bauman, 2001: 116), crucial to the reproduction of liquid modern social order, whilst the winners constitute not adversaries against which the losers shall struggle until the nal dnouement, as Marx put it, but the idols they yearn to become (Bauman and Tester, 2001: 118). However, because of Baumans frequent appeal to the differences in economic resources in dening whether individuals are winners or losers, some have argued that despite his rhetoric of uidity and his rejection of class as an axis of inequality, his ideas on the stratication of freedom are in fact nothing but a theorisation of rigid class differences (Gane, 2001a, 2001b). But Bauman has replied to this charge, emphatically arguing that not only do the losers stand outside of any class hierarchy, thereby eroding the class-based order of society itself (2007b: 123), but more importantly the two actual, feared or desired social conditions of freedom and un-freedom are not classascribed (in Gane, 2004: 34, some punctuation removed). Instead, he claims,
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. . . freedom and un-freedom are realistic prospects for each and every resident of a liquid modern society. None of the currently privileged and enjoyable situations is guaranteed to last, whilst most of the currently handicapped and resented positions can be in principle renegotiated using the rules of the liquid modern game. There is, accordingly, a mixture of hope and fear in every heart, spread over the while spectrum of the emergent planetary stratication (in Gane, 2004: 345). Bauman rarely states it this baldly, but in a society where structures that limit individual choices no longer keep their shape for long (2007a: 1), where individuals are granted a new freedom to annul and disable the constraints imposed by the past so that what one was yesterday will no longer bar the possibility of becoming someone totally different today (2007b: 104), and where assignment to waste becomes everybodys potential prospect rather than a misery conned to a relatively small part of the population (2005: 32) because endemic exibility and insecurity in the world of work mean that everyone is potentially redundant or replaceable and every position, however elevated and powerful it may seem now, is in the long run precarious and its privileges fragile and under threat (2001: 52), the logical result, he holds, is that class divisions are cancelled (2005: 101).5 As regards class analysis, then, Baumans views appear no less consequential than those of Beck or Giddens, even if, as theories of individualization and related processes go, his is without a doubt the most critical of contemporary capitalist societies and the enduring poverty and inequality they produce, bristling as it does with insights into the deleterious operations and effects of consumer markets, the exibilisation of work patterns and, even if it is no longer held to t the mould of class, the plight of the poorer denizens of liquid modernity. Nevertheless, Baumans perspective suffers from a multitude of deciencies and inconsistencies that seriously undermine what he has to say. Some of these are relatively minor and need not be explored in any depth for example, his abstract, generalising style, his dependence on scraps of others research or anecdotes as his primary source of evidence and his questionable characterisation of the transition to classes at the dawn of capitalism. Others, however, are rather more substantial and, as such, require rather more attention.

Ambiguous freedoms
A rst niggling but persistent problem in Baumans theory of individualization is his ambivalence and contradiction on the characterisation of freedom in liquid modern societies. As seen above, the general thrust of his argument would seem to be that the lack of solid beds in which to be re-embedded has allowed a new level of freedom and autonomy for an ever growing number of people class and other such beds, after all, no longer hang heavily over 8
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the individual range of choices as they once did. This new found freedom, this emancipation from constraints (Bauman and Tester, 2001: 103) or being free of chains, is, Bauman adds, indispensable for decent human life (in Gane, 2004: 32), though so too is security, a casualty of the increase in freedom that can only be rescued and restored alongside it through a decoupling of earning entitlement from earning capacity (Bauman, 1998a, 1999). However, Bauman then seems to utterly contradict this conception of freedom when he goes on to contend, like Adorno and Horkheimer (1944/ 1997) half a century earlier, that, in fact, the freedom on offer in liquid modern consumer society is a false freedom; that the new form of privatised individuality so prevalent today means, essentially, unfreedom (Bauman, 1999: 63). No longer are the majority of the populace deemed to have attained something indispensable for decent human life: de facto freedom and autonomy the ability to gain control over [ones] fate and make the choices [one] truly desire[s] (Bauman, 2000: 39) that looks uncannily like the emancipation from constraints achieved more or less across the board above now remains a distant reality and de jure autonomy autonomy by right all the bulk of the populace have. Then again, Bauman is hardly consistent on the de jure/de facto dualism either. In some places, for example, he claims that only a collective translation of private troubles into public issues will sufce to make de facto autonomy a reality for most individuals (eg Bauman, 1999), yet, elsewhere, we are told that the passage to de facto autonomy, though littered with obstructions and difcult to sustain, is achievable by individuals, especially if they are endowed with money (Bauman, 2005: 23ff). In fact, his model of the stratication of freedom is, it seems, measured in terms of de facto freedom it would be senseless to describe the elite as privileged, as he often does, if this was not the case with the elite free to pick and choose their identities and travel at will at the top, the immobile and stigmatised at the bottom, and most of us struggling to balance freedom and security in the middle, never sure how long our freedom to choose what we desire and renounce what we resent will last, or whether we will be able to keep the position we currently enjoy for as long as we would nd it comfortable and desirable to hold it (Bauman, 2004a: 38). It may be insecure, but now the majority in the middle do have more than de jure freedom after all.

The new stratication order


This leads us to consider a second area of difculty in Baumans perspective, namely his take on the composition of the new stratication order of liquid
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modernity that supposedly serves as a replacement for classes. It is obvious that, most of the time, Bauman envisages this order in terms of a polarised dichotomy between the winners and losers, seduced and repressed, tourists and vagabonds (see eg Bauman, 1987: chaps 10 and 11; 1998b: chap 4; Gane, 2004: 23ff). This is a powerful image, no doubt, but one that suffers from at least two problems. First of all, who exactly constitutes the minority and who the majority in the polarisation varies considerably across Baumans writings. In some places, for instance, the losers the new poor, awed consumers or underclass are seen very much as the minority (Bauman, 1998a), counterposed to John Kenneth Galbraiths ever freer contented majority of consumers (Bauman and Tester, 2001: 154). Elsewhere, however, the dividing line of the polarisation is suddenly said to have moved up the hierarchy in liquid modernity, with the elite of extraterritorial global actors at one end and, at the other, the great majority for whom effective therapy (apparently higher education) against the afictions of liquid modernity has been lifted beyond reach (Bauman, 2004b: 14; cf. Gane, 2004: 23ff). In yet other places, though much more rarely, the dichotomy is, as indicated above, thrown out completely and most are said to reside in the middle. Such inconsistency, especially when added to the oscillations on freedom, makes it difcult to take any one of his positions seriously who might now be judged a winner and who a loser may change dramatically over the page, so to speak and, ultimately, chips away at the credibility of Baumans overall perspective. Secondly, it has to be said that Baumans tendency to draw a single dividing line between winners and losers in liquid modernity is incredibly simplistic and detached from the intricacies of daily life, bunching together in each camp a myriad of heterogeneous actors and failing to recognise any internal modes of division and differentiation (cf. Savage et al., 2005: 205). Doubtless such a binary view of society stems from Baumans Marxist roots he often depicts the global elite/localised masses division of today as an outgrowth of the capital-labour relation (eg Bauman, 2001: 25; Gane, 2004: 26; cf. Bauman, 1987: chap 11), and even, in some places, still refers to the elite as (extraterritorial) capital.6 But an undifferentiated binary division loses its justication when the Marxist categories are jettisoned. After all, there is no necessary nexus between Baumans winners and losers like there is between Marxs bourgeoisie and proletariat, no relation of exploiter and exploited, no sense that each group depends on the other for its existence yet stands utterly opposed to it on the plane of interests to the extent that the ensuing struggle between the two will inevitably result in the dramatic conclusion of historys dialectic especially in those instances where the winners are held to be the consuming majority rather than the elite minority. Having said that, even Marx was faithful to the complexities of the social world in a way that Bauman clearly is not, recognising the existence of multiple class fractions, as Poulantzas (1978) called them, in his more detailed analyses, as are the more sophisticated Marxist writers on class today (eg Wright, 2005: 15ff). 10
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The conception of class


Evoking Baumans Marxist background raises a further, basic aspect of his position: he has a very particular conception of class and, thus, what it takes to kill it off. Only when labour ceased to provide a meaningful frame for action (Bauman, 2004a: 345; cf. 1982), that is, and when capital qua capital money which serves rst and foremost to turn out more money rather than simply income and wealth ceased to confer a position of advantage and dominance (Bauman, 1998a: 31), did the concept of class pass away in Baumans eyes. Now this is all ne and well as a case against Marxism, but such claims would hardly perturb a neo-Weberian, for example, for whom the elements Bauman cites are irrelevant to the measurement and substantiation of classes. As Goldthorpe and Marshall argue explicitly taking in their crosshairs Baumans Memories of Class and other ex-Marxists who, having lost faith in the Marxist class analysis that once commanded their allegiance, or at least sympathy, now nd evident difculty in envisioning any other kind demolishing the Marxist project scarcely provides the quietus of class analysis tout court (1992: 3812), for [v]arious objections that may be powerfully raised against Marxist class analysis the lack of class-based collective action, the inadequacy of exploitation as a concept, the poverty of historicism, and so forth simply do not apply to the version of class analysis they champion (1992: 393). All that is needed to demonstrate the promising future of class analysis is, for them, empirical evidence that an agents position in employment relations impacts on their life chances, social identity and social values in some way something they feel they have no problem producing. Similarly those who, like me, are sympathetic to Bourdieus theoretical framework have little to fear. In fact, with a modicum of conceptual manoeuvring much (though not all) of what Bauman has to say can be readily assimilated to the late French thinkers perspective. For Bourdieu (1984),7 let us remind ourselves, there is the objective social space of objective positions distributed relationally according to the volume and composition of capital ie whether it is predominantly economic (money, wealth) or cultural (educational qualications, knowledge) held by individuals and the symbolic space of tastes and practices which, because they are the product of dispositions built out of the material conditions furnished by the possession of capital, are homologous with the social space. Whilst agents generally cluster in regions of social space, forming theoretical classes or classes on paper, the actual ways of carving up the spaces in perception and the labelling of groups said to exist are not automatically given, as they are for Marxists or Goldthorpe, but struggled over dependent on the interests and experiences of agents and the differential distribution of the symbolic power to name, represent and mobilise specic sets of agents (see especially Bourdieu, 1984: 46684; 1987, 1991b).8 Now, from this point of view Baumans above denition of capital is obviously
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far too narrow, yet, it could be argued, his continued underscoring of the rigid stratication of society in terms of freedom can be read as nothing other than an insistence on the continued potency of the social space which, of course, maps the stratication of freedom from necessity conveyed in a different conceptual terminology. Reinforcement for this view is provided by Baumans (2004b: 14) stress on not just the continued inuence of economic resources in shaping this hierarchy, but also educational qualications, that is, the institutionalised form of cultural capital. His prevarications over the pertinent dividing line can then be seen as simply his own inconsistent imposition of principles of division on this space devoid of rigid dividing lines in reality depending on his purpose at hand. Further weight is added to this reworking by the fact that, unlike Beck for whom it entails a transguration of objective life chances, Baumans remarks on disembedding construe it largely as a subjective process whereby individuals can no longer identify with xed groups but are instead forced to construct and revise their identities themselves, which, taken together with his assertion that individuals are increasingly cast in liquid modernity as either awed consumers or autonomous individuals responsible for their own lot, can be reinterpreted as a perfectly plausible description of the decline of old ways of cutting up the social space in perception and the emergence of new ones with certain social changes and possessors of symbolic power for example, deindustrialisation and the emergence in the political sphere of the individualist Thatcher government of the eighties and its patent residue in New Labour. Rethinking one of Baumans dualisms, de jure freedom could then be understood as the widespread construction of social space as composed of autonomous, atomised individuals, with de facto freedom referring to the real degree of freedom granted by ones position in social space, in essence testifying again to the continued salience of (theoretical) classes. The upshot of this, then, is not that Baumans ideas should be rejected out of hand or that they can be safely ignored by those not loyal to the Marxist vision of class, but that his explicit claims on class are actually extremely limited in scope and that many of his central propositions, mutatis mutandis, are not necessarily antithetical to the enterprise of class analysis. Of course it is probably not too outlandish to suggest that Marxist class analysts, if they were to acknowledge them, would object to Baumans claims too and, if Wrights (1996) response to Pakulski and Waters (1996) controversial funeral oration for class is anything to go by, would probably try to point to all kinds of conceptual clarications and empirical trends in so doing.

Spurious uidity
Perhaps with all this in mind Baumans statement above in response to Nicholas Gane that whilst freedom and un-freedom are indeed delegated by 12
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material wealth they are by no means ascribed according to classes in liquid modernity can be seen in a new light there is, after all, nothing Marxist about such a position (Gane, 2004: 27). Yet there is more to this crucial statement, one of the most explicit rebuttals of class as a meaningful concept in Baumans recent work, than that, and, when examined further, it reveals itself as a major source of serious error. On the one hand, Bauman makes the point that, given the intensied insecurity and exibilisation of employment across the occupational spectrum, none of the privileged positions is bound to last (in Gane, 2004: 35). This kind of statement, highlighting the shift in employment culture under neo-liberal capitalism toward incessant redundancy, downsizing, streamlining and so on in both the private and the public sector, is relatively commonplace in social science today, with versions propounded by Beck (2000), Bourdieu (1998b, 2001) and Richard Sennett (1998) three thinkers with whom Bauman professes intellectual afnity. It has not, however, been without its challengers. Goldthorpe and McKnight (2006), for example, use statistical analysis based on Goldthorpes class schema to demonstrate that the experience of frequent and long-term unemployment, despite claims to the contrary, remains a misfortune visited predominantly upon the working class, particularly those at the lower end of this category, not least, they argue, because of the form of employment contract, that is, the spot contract carrying little expectation of continuity, supposedly dening their class membership. The measurement of class and proffered explanation aside, Goldthorpe and McKnights argument provides an effective reminder that Baumans statement cannot, despite its general currency, be accepted as a truism. On the other hand, Bauman also claims more overtly than either Beck or Giddens that the reverse of this scenario also holds: that the currently handicapped and resented positions can be in principle renegotiated using the rules of the liquid modern game (in Gane, 2004: 35). It is not entirely clear whether Bauman is actually referring to the prospect of upwards mobility here or just the ability to renegotiate ones identity using consumer products, but either way it is perhaps one of the most contradictory and supercial comments in his entire oeuvre. It goes against all that he has said on the predicament of the immobile or vagabond, stigmatised poor in liquid modernity, described throughout his work as permanently excluded (Bauman, 2004b: 78; 2007a: 69) or made permanently redundant by the global economy (Bauman, 1999: 175), unable and not allowed to shed their stereotyping, humiliating, dehumanizing, stigmatizing identities (Bauman, 2004a: 38) and pushed only deeper into the precipice of indignity (Bauman and Tester, 2001: 154). Furthermore, the appeal to the rules of the liquid modern game seems a little out of place with all that he has said before on the falling apart of any hard and fast rules in liquid modernity (Bauman, 2001: 11), adding weight to the suspicion that the statement is little more than an ad hoc response to a well-targeted question with no rm reasoning behind it.
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Will Atkinson

Conclusion
What all this hopefully shows is that, as it stands, the vision of the waning relevance of class embedded in Baumans depiction of liquid modernity cannot be readily accepted: it is, in a nutshell, an intellectual edice constructed out of acutely unsound materials the contradictions over the characteristics and possibilities of freedom, the damaging prevarications over the composition of the new stratication order, the narrow conceptualisation of class in play that severely circumscribes the scope of his claims and the spurious comments on the uidity of the social world. The exact consequences of this conclusion for the rest of Baumans project are unclear his is a body of work, after all, with multiple facets but given that the shaky supporting pillar of his current views on class, individualization, occupies a prominent position within his recent thought on the maladies of contemporary societies in general, it is certainly not encouraging. On the other hand, however, there is a sense in which theoretical critique of the type presented here itself perhaps only indicative and a rst step towards a more comprehensive conceptual assessment is not, on its own, enough to refute Baumans cogitations outright, for there remain many themes running through them which, when extricated from the conceptual problems highlighted in the foregoing, might yet manifest themselves in the social world in some way. In other words, the specic theorisation may be deeply awed, but the overall spirit of his diagnosis, once viewed through the conceptual lens of whichever class theory one claims allegiance to, might still hold water. Whether agents increasingly see themselves as atomised, self-governing individuals with full responsibility for their actions and no ties to collective frames of meaning and whether identities, lifestyle choices and political orientations have been set aoat from the class docks can thus only be denitively answered by means of a dialogue with the social world itself in the form of detailed empirical work, and whilst there are perhaps shreds of existing evidence that can be collaged together and marshalled against Bauman in one way or another we await research addressed explicitly to his exact contentions.
University of Bristol Received 18 June 2007 Finally accepted 28 September 2007

Notes
1 In fact, even outside the connes of class theory it appears that, amongst social theorists, Bauman is given an easier time than most: he is cited, discussed and made the subject of introductory books and journal special issues, but little in the way of concentrated critical evaluation is ever directed his way (for an exception see Gane, 2001b). Perhaps part of the reason for this and this also contributes to his neglect by class theorists is the fact that Bauman is perceived as more of a sociologically-minded social commentator these days with

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Not all that was solid has melted into air a broad audience and, as Therborn (2007: 106) puts it, an unusual life wisdom, a trained observers eye, and a uent pen than as a mainstream sociologist genuecting to the usual analytical demands of the discipline, and therefore as less in need of critical interrogation. Given his inuence and the challenging implications of his claims, however, this is unfortunate. I am working with the assumption that, as philosophers of science as diverse as Popper and Kuhn would agree, logical coherence and consistency are crucial components of any viable theoretical scheme along, of course, with empirical validation and that an assessment of the former is thus an important endeavour in advancing social scientic knowledge and not simply a vacuous, theoreticist exercise. Bourdieu (1991a: 376), with whose general theoretical and epistemological stance I am sympathetic, has implied as much in his brief remarks on the scientic logic (which unfortunately, he argues, competes with the political logic revolving around rhetoric and the power of numbers) of the sociological eld (see also Bourdieu et al., 1991). To avoid confusion I should perhaps make clear from the outset that I am sympathetic to the endeavour of class analysis, and in particular to a broadly Bourdieusian version, but that because the criticisms forwarded either bear on internal logic and consistency or make reference to more than one standpoint alone the critique is that of Baumans theory in its own terms and is therefore not weighted too heavily by conceptual prejudices. Purging Giddens phrase of its intended positive connotations, Bauman often describes this as a supplanting of politics with life politics (see especially Bauman, 2002). And neither has a commitment to socialism, albeit a liberal variant, disappeared from Baumans political ideals (Bauman and Tester, 2001: 153ff). Hence, and when added to all that has already been said, Beilharzs (2000: 32) assertion that Baumans is not a frame of interpretation within which we encounter the end of class seems a little misplaced. One commentator explicitly dubs Bauman a post-Marxist, arguing that Marx has disappeared into Baumans work like labour into the product (Beilharz, 2000: 49). This is necessarily a brief and thus regrettably crude account of Bourdieus position. It should be pointed out that representations are rmly anchored in the social space and the differences it yields and do not, therefore, take place in a social void or come ex nihilo (Bourdieu, 1998a: 12). Yet, Bourdieu argues, proximity in social space by no means automatically engenders unity (1998a: 11), guarantees symbolic and discursive articulation or gives rise to mobilised groups as Wacquant (1991: 57) puts it, classes at the symbolic level are largely underdetermined at the structural level.

3 4 5

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