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Wasted Lives: Modernity and Its Outcasts 1st Edition

4.8 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0745631653
ISBN-10: 0745631657
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Editorial Reviews


"This is a rather brilliant, dense and chaotic meditation on ideas of waste in our time of what Bauman terms "liquid modernity" ... A sparkling and highly suggestive read." The Guardian

From the Back Cover

The production of ‘human waste’ – or more precisely, wasted lives, the ‘superfluous’ populations of migrants, refugees and other outcasts – is an inevitable outcome of modernization. It is an unavoidable side-effect of economic progress and the quest for order which is characteristic of modernity.

As long as large parts of the world remained wholly or partly unaffected by modernization, they were treated by modernizing societies as lands that were able to absorb the excess of population in the ‘developed countries’. Global solutions were sought, and temporarily found, to locally produced overpopulation problems. But as modernization has reached the furthest lands of the planet, ‘redundant population’ is produced everywhere and all localities have to bear the consequences of modernity’s global triumph. They are now confronted with the need to seek – in vain, it seems – local solutions to globally produced problems. The global spread of the modernity has given rise to growing quantities of human beings who are deprived of adequate means of survival, but the planet is fast running out of places to put them. Hence the new anxieties about ‘immigrants’ and ‘asylum seekers’ and the growing role played by diffuse ‘security fears’ on the contemporary political agenda.

With characteristic brilliance, this new book by Zygmunt Bauman unravels the impact of this transformation on our contemporary culture and politics and shows that the problem of coping with ‘human waste’ provides a key for understanding some otherwise baffling features of our shared life, from the strategies of global domination to the most intimate aspects of human relationships.


Product Details

  • Paperback: 152 pages
  • Publisher: Polity; 1 edition (December 30, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0745631657
  • ISBN-13: 978-0745631653
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #163,696 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Michael Steinberg on March 15, 2005
Format: Paperback
I haven't had time to catch up with all of the amazing number of books that Bauman has been writing in his 70s, but the others aren't likely to be any better than this one. Here is a great scholar, a passionate critic, and a deeply committed humanist--someone with lots of now-possibly-outmoded virtues--writing with the freedom of an old man and the fire of a youth, tackling the character of life in the last stages of its transformation by the universal market. It is a dark picture of fragmentation and the collapse of meaning, and of the hubris of a drive towards order that suffocates on the disorder it manufactures. Bauman's argument passes seamlessly from the plunder of globalized capitalism through international refugees, urban ghettos and banlieus, and closes with some surprising connections with the world of speed dating and "Survivor." Some of the keenest bits of insight and social criticism are tossed in as parentheticals, and along the way there are extended excurses addressing even larger considerations.

It is a visionary text rather than a piece of social science; Bauman's citations are more commonly to Cavino or Borges than they are to Durkheim or Parsons. (His picture of a contemporary world aestheticized by commodities is quite close to my own account in chapter 7 of "The fiction of a thinkable world," a book nobody would call sociology.) It's all the better for that. One comes away from this book with a book of one's own taking shape in thought.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Dystopian science-fiction visions of the future are nothing new. Non-fiction treatises of an uncertain but almost certainly unpleasant future awaiting humanity are nothing new. Zygmunt Bauman, at first glance, seems to be just another sociologist who happened to write some books about the effects of modernity on human beings. What makes his reading so vitally relevant is that there are few people in the world who can so seamlessly unite sociology, economics, politics, psychology, ecology, geography, history, and anthropology the way Bauman does. All of these fields are of course related, and yet they are usually studied rather separately. Few people can claim expertise in all of them, and a person who can think, speak, and write authoritatively on all these subjects at once in a manner that is quite lucid and understandable by any "average" person is among the most precious of treasures of humanity.

Bauman's ability to convey his vivid ideas concisely makes him yet more valuable. This book is less than 150 pages long, but easily contains more key ideas than most books two or three times as long. The book reads quickly, but the ideas stay with you long after the reading is done. Bauman is a man of ideas, and has that most rare and precious gift of non-fiction writers: The ability to come up with a new idea on nearly every page and thus write a book full of ideas, instead of doing what most contemporary non-fiction writers do, which is very nearly the opposite: Come up with one good idea and somehow pad it out to fill a 300-page book.

I've read several books by Bauman, and almost everything he has written is of surpassing importance, but this book is arguably the most important he's written, and therefore probably my favorite among them.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I almost quit reading this book after the first chapter. I initially found it full of language that was overly general and that was "fuzzy" in the sense that it was abstract and could have multiple meanings. And at times, the author does make strong statements of his personal belief as if they were fact. But even so, this book is haunting and mind opening in a way that few are. Bauman's writing and ideas takes one out of the normal, habitual frame of reference that many of us have and help us consider the world and human institutions and behavior in a new light. This book has changed my sense of reality more than a bit and I am glad that I bought it and read it. I will be reading more of his work.

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Format: Paperback
I must begin by stating that I don’t agree with everything (nor even necessarily with most) of what’s expressed in this book, but I still found it a stimulating and interesting read, with ideas worthy of further inquiry.

In this book, Bauman postulates that an inevitable by-product of society’s current model of constant economic progress and modernization is waste.

He starts by addressing the way on which we’re compelled to throw away “old”/“obsolete” appliances to make way for newer “better” ones thus creating rubbish and a need to find a dump-site to dispose of it… he follows this line of thought to imagine what happens when the dumps fill up and there’s no place to put our trash out of sight: we have live with it in plain view amongst us.

Then he goes on to state that just like rubbish, our way of life inevitably produces “human waste”, people who have been deemed redundant and thus “don’t belong” in society and have been earmarked to be dumped... and how once someone has been thus labeled, the prospects of being “recycled” back into society are extremely dim.

A factor compounding on the problem, Bauman ascertains, is that the world is “full”, there’s no possible local solution to a global problem, no place to dump the redundant, no colonies, no places in need to be modernized left, so we have to have those wasted humans among us… thus the destitute and the criminal.

The author also explores the role the State plays on setting the rules that define what, and who, is included/excluded from “legitimacy”, and that in today’s globalized de-regularized world this role is one of its few if not its only claim to sovereignty and exemption.

The book closes with an invitation to assume the challenge we’re confronted with and search for an alternative feasible global paradigm to reshape society.
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