Zygmunt Bauman, Polish-Jewish sociologist and philosopher, dies at 91


WARSAW, Poland (JTA) — Zygmunt Bauman, a Polish-Jewish sociologist and philosopher who authored more than 50 books, has died.

Bauman, who wrote on subjects ranging from the fluidity of identity in the modern world to consumerism, died Monday at his home in Leeds, England. He was 91.

His work focused on the outcasts and the marginalized, and dealt with modernity and globalization.

Bauman believed that the genocide of the Holocaust and totalitarian systems were unnatural but the logical consequence of modernity. They were the culmination of the idea of progress and purity which, according to Bauman, were of crucial importance for the dynamics of modernity.

Bauman was born in 1925, in Poznan, to a family of poor Polish Jews. After the outbreak of World War II he fled with his parents to the Soviet Union. In 1944 he joined the Polish army; he fought in the Battle of Berlin the following year.

In the years 1945 to 1953, Bauman served as an officer in a Stalinist-era military organization, the Internal Security Corps, a communist counterespionage organization. He acknowledged in 2006 that he worked for the organization but only in a desk job, though others who worked for the corps reportedly killed resisters to the regime.

He was viewed by many in Poland as an enemy of the country and in 2013 was booed off the stage during a debate in Wroclaw, after which he never returned to the country.

Following World War II, Bauman studied philosophy at the University of Warsaw. As a member of the philosophy faculty at the university, he taught Marxism. After October 1956 he became one of the first sociology scholars in Poland.

As a result of the communist regime’s anti-Semitic campaign, in March 1968 he was fired from the University of Warsaw, where he was head of the Department of General Sociology, and was forced to leave Poland.

From 1969 to 1971 he lectured at universities in Tel Aviv and Haifa. In 1971 he moved to the United Kingdom, where he became involved with the University of Leeds, becoming head of the sociology department until his retirement in 1990.

In recent years he became an outspoken critic of Israel’s government for its treatment of the Palestinians.

In his recent book “Strangers at Our Door” he analyzed the refugee crisis, the panic it caused and the narrative built around it by politicians and the media.

In a 2009 interview, Bauman was optimistic about the Jews’ place in the Diaspora and the possibilities for societies to embrace pluralism.

“Now, however, it looks like that diasporic context of our living will not go away — it will be there forever, so learning how to live with strangers day in, day out without abandoning my own strangeness is high on the agenda,” he said. “You are a stranger, I am a stranger, we all remain strangers, and nevertheless we can like or even love each other.”

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