Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty

Hamid Yeganeh (College of Business, Winona State University, Winona, Minnesota, USA)

Society and Business Review

ISSN: 1746-5680

Article publication date: 4 October 2011



Yeganeh, H. (2011), "Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty", Society and Business Review, Vol. 6 No. 3, pp. 292-295.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


In Liquid Times, Bauman (2007) offers a profound, lucid, and especially pessimistic analysis of globalization and its implications at the individual and societal levels. The author coins the term Liquid Times to underline the insecurity and uncertainty facing the citizens of a modern world. According to Bauman, a liquid globalized society is marked by change, uncertainty, flux, conflict, and revolution.

More specifically, Bauman identifies five main dire consequences of globalizations that are changing our lives. The chief consequence of globalization is described as the passage from the “solid” to the “liquid” phase marked by instability, ambiguity, and fear. The second consequence of globalization is about the separation between politics and power. Prior to globalization, each individual country could satisfy local political issues, but due to globalization, the nation states are losing the capacity to manage their domestic affairs. The third outcome of globalization is the creation of nebulous, random networks of people. The fourth issue is about the prevalence of short sightedness which may be attributed to the fast pace of technological innovation. Finally, the fifth consequence of globalization is the daily challenge of individuals in dealing with an ever‐changing environment.

Liquid Times

In Chapter 1, Bauman elaborates on the concept of fear in a globalized society, and describes those business leaders and politicians who capitalize on the people's fear to offer a wide range of temporary reliefs (p. 12). For instance, politicians and the media, especially after the September 11th have been amplifying the fear of global terrorism to push their agendas (p. 15). According to Bauman, the major task of the modern state is becoming management of fear rather than distribution of wealth.

In Chapter 2, Bauman elaborates on the implications of negative globalization and describes how human waste and the waste of humans themselves are affecting the world. While globalization apparently leads to lower barriers among countries, Bauman blames it for a wide range of vicious effects such as deregulation, poverty, injustice, conflict, and violence (p. 7). In his view, the capitalist globalization is consolidating wealth and power by the rapid integration and structuring of national economies into one global economic order through trade liberalization, privatization, and deregulation. Bauman maintains that capitalism produces:

[…] the acute crisis of the human waste disposal industry, as each new outpost conquered by capitalist markets adds new thousands or millions to the mass of men and women already deprived of their lands, workshops, and communal safety nets (p. 28).

Under these circumstances, refugees and job seekers move around the world. Bauman nicely uses the metaphor “humanity waste” to describe the miserable conditions of those undesired individuals without state, identity, property, and documents.

Chapter 3 discusses the role of the state and the value of democracy in the management of the “liquid modern” fears. Bauman believes that individualism is another result of globalization and people are often left to deal with highly complex problems without the necessary capacity or tools (p. 14). Furthermore, he argues that due to globalization, nation states are losing control over their domestic affairs and consequently, power and politics are moving away from each other, meaning that ultimately democracy and freedom are compromised.

In Chapter 4, Bauman examines the implications of globalization for our physical environment namely our architecture and urban centers. He explains that cities originally represented relatively safe places, but nowadays are filled with fear and insecurity. He compares the modern city to a war zone and maintains that “sources of danger have now moved almost wholly into urban areas and settled there” (p. 72). The modern cities are creating separations from the high class and the low class because of the insecurities people hold when dealing with strangers. Homes are no longer built to integrate people and communities; they are built to serve protection to the people who live in them. He also explains how the elites are globally connected and have much more familiarity with remote places than with their local communities. He reflects on the main features of urban areas and argues that our cities “have become the dumping ground for globally conceived and gestated problems” (p. 83). He uses two terms “mixophobia” and “mixophilia” to discuss the contradictory feelings of city life.

In Chapter 5, Bauman discusses the prospects of utopia in the age of uncertainty. He maintains that in liquid times the utopia is out of reach since globalization has created much instability and insecurity. Individuals are feeling anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. Moreover, since things are more and more changing, individuals are forced to constantly adapt themselves to new ways and redefine their identities. Most people have to focus on the fight against losing. They have to try to stay among the hunters; otherwise they will become one of the hunted. Hunting consumes a lot of energy and attention and leaves little time for anything else. Under these circumstances, Bauman views consumerism as an illusory utopia in an endless pursuit of self‐realization which may divert our attention and provide a momentary relief from our malaise. He cynically mentions that measures such as changing job or residence, promiscuity, alcohol or drug consumption, travel and vacation, and even psychoanalysis cannot bring us peace of mind.

Concluding remarks

Bauman's views are similar to those of other authors who maintain that we are living in a new era marked by spatial and temporal dismemberment (Giddens, 1991, 1998; Beck, 1992, 1998; Harvey, 2005; Nowotny, 1994; Sennett, 1998; Zoll, 1989), but he clearly paints a much bleaker picture of the globalized world. The major causes of these profound changes may be attributed to globalization as a whole and the new information technologies which replace experiences of linearity and spatiality by simultaneity and hyper reality.

Bauman solely chooses to reflect on the modern ills, to ask questions, and to criticize the consequences of the negative globalization. He does not provide any possible solutions or even alternatives. His propositions are abstract, gloomy, and sometimes inflated. Indeed, readers could benefit from some moderate positions. For instance, the dissatisfaction with the modern world is not a direct consequence of globalization; rather it may be considered as an inevitable characteristic of human nature. In his previous writings, Bauman (2001) himself emphasized this issue by citing Pascal that “all unhappiness comes from one thing – the inability of human beings to stay quietly in their rooms”. Similarly, Bauman agreed with Montaigne that “of all the pleasures we know of, their pursuit is the most pleasurable” (Bauman, 2001). Previously, the author had argued that the dissatisfaction with life stems from our human condition as mortal and miserable (Bauman, 2001). Therefore, considering globalization as the main cause of desolation in the modern world seems untenable and unjustified. By the same logic, the argument that consumerism and its implications are the direct results of globalization can be refuted. We may argue that consumerism is a consequence of wealth creation that can exist with or without globalization. The author blames the liquid modern society for creating change, uncertainty, and fear, but we may view it as a source of excitement and happiness as well.

Likewise, Bauman does not see any substantial positive effects in globalization. He blames globalization for creating poverty, unemployment, injustice, inequality, and waste. While globalization is the cause of many ills, it has led to many other positive consequences that have been overlooked in Bauman's analysis. For example, it is difficult to deny that globalization has led to job creation in many developing countries such as China, India, Brazil, and Bangladesh. Hard evidence indicates that as a result of globalization and outsourcing, the standard of living in these countries has risen dramatically. Globalization is a complex phenomenon with many dissimilar and even contradictory implications. Therefore, a well‐managed globalization process can be a powerful force for economic growth and prosperity (Stiglitz, 2003).

Similarly, the Bauman's criticism with regard to insecurity and anxiety could be moderated. Indeed, we do not have any objective yardstick to gauge the level of anxiety of individuals during our time and compare it with that of previous generations. It is true that news stations such as Fox News and CNN are injecting insecurity in our daily lives and show live stories about terrorist groups. However, we should keep in mind that, as Bauman himself has mentioned these practices have been very common through history (pp. 18‐19). In other words, capitalizing on fear has always been an effective strategy in business and politics and it cannot be considered as a characteristic of globalization.

Overall, Bauman's Liquid Times represents a highly insightful, stylish, and intellectually enriching book that can be beneficial for all scholars in different areas of social sciences such as business and cultural studies. In a time when we are bombarded with superficial accounts of globalization, Bauman's standpoint is much needed. He paints a gloomy picture of the globalization, but perhaps this striking pessimism makes his writing even more attractive and elegant. After all, as the French writer Paul Valéry noticed, optimists are not good writers[1] and the great literature is often a result of great pain.


Les optimistes écrivent mal.

About the reviewer

Hamid Yeganeh is Assistant Professor of International Management at Winona State University in Minnesota, USA. His research focuses on cross‐cultural/comparative management and organizational theory. His work has appeared in the leading journals such as International Journal of HRM, International Journal of Cross‐Cultural Management, International Journal of Commerce & Management, International Journal of Conflict Management, Gender in Management, Personnel Review, and Cross Cultural Management: An International Journal. Hamid Yeganeh can be contacted at:


Bauman, Z. (2001), “Consuming life”, Journal of Consumer Culture, Vol. 1 No. 9, pp. 929.

Bauman, Z. (2007), Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty, Polity Press, Cambridge, MA.

Beck, U. (1992), The Risk Society, Sage, London.

Beck, U. (1998), “The politics of risk society”, in Franklin, J. (Ed.), The Politics of Risk Society, Polity Press, Cambridge, MA, pp. 922.

Giddens, A. (1991), Modernity and Self‐identity, Polity Press, Cambridge, MA.

Giddens, A. (1998), The Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy, Polity Press, Cambridge, MA.

Harvey, D. (2005), A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford University Press, New York, NY.

Nowotny, H. (1994), Time: The Modern and Postmodern Experience, Polity Press, Cambridge, MA.

Sennett, R. (1998), The Corrosion of Character, W.W. Norton, New York, NY.

Stiglitz, J.E. (2003), “Globalization and growth in emerging markets and the new economy”, Journal of Policy Modeling, Vol. 25, pp. 50524.

Zoll, R. (1989), Nicht so wie unsere Eltern! Ein neues kulturelles Modell? (Not as Our Parents! A New Cultural Model? ), Westdeutscher, Opladen.

Further Reading

Valéry, P. (1941), Mauvaises pensées et autres, Les Cahiers du sud: Librairie JoséCorti, Dijon.

Related articles