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Zygmunt Bauman. Photo: Eloy Alonso / Reuters.

Zygmunt Bauman (1925–2017)

Vanessa Gera of the Washington Post writes that sociologist and philosopher Zygmunt Bauman, the author of more than fifty books, including Culture as Praxis (1973), Freedom (1988), Modernity and Ambivalence (1991), The Individualized Society (2001), and Consuming Life (2007), has died. Bauman was a moral thinker who advocated for the impoverished and disenfranchised, criticizing the dehumanizing effects of capitalism and globalization. He spent his life writing about ethics and human dignity.

Bauman was born to a poor Jewish family in Poznan, Poland. They were often the victims of brutal anti-Semitism. The writer spoke about his troubled childhood and “the humiliations which my father, a man of impeccable honesty, had to suffer from his bosses to feed his family.” The Baumans fled Poland for the Soviet Union at the start of World War II, surviving the Holocaust. There, as a teenager, Bauman joined a Soviet-led Polish army troop. He ended up receiving a Military Cross of Valor from Poland for his courage in battling the Nazis. He rose quickly within the ranks of the Polish army and became a communist, but he lost his army position in 1953, a casualty of the Soviet Union’s stance against Israel.

Bauman studied sociology and philosophy at the University of Warsaw and taught there until the communist regime forced him out of his job. He relocated with his family to the UK, where he taught at the University of Leeds until his retirement in 1990. He continued writing prolifically until his death.

Bauman was the recipient of many awards and honors, such as the Theodor W. Adorno Award in 1998, the European Amalfi Prize for Sociology in 1992, and the Prince of Asturias Award in 2010. The University of Leeds created the Bauman Institute, a think tank “inspired by the sociological imagination of Zygmunt Bauman and critical responses to his work . . . launched to develop new insights and new directions of interdisciplinary social science research with a particular focus upon rethinking global society in the light of shared social, economic, environmental and political challenges in an age of modernity seemingly dominated by financialized capitalism,” per its website.

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