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Zygmunt Bauman (1925-2017)

Zygmunt Bauman

Professor of Sociology, 1972-1990

Emeritus Professor, 2004

Zygmunt Bauman is internationally celebrated as one of the greatest social thinkers of our times. Though a Professor of Sociology (and later, Emeritus), his work transcended conventional disciplinary boundaries, embracing social and political theory, philosophy, ethics, media/communications studies, cultural studies, psychology and theology. As the author of dozens of highly original books and just as many academic papers, his influence and intellectual energy were phenomenal.

Bauman's life before Leeds was lived through the great events of mid-20th-century Europe. Born to non-practising Polish-Jewish parents in provincial PoznaƄ, he and his parents escaped to the Soviet Union in 1939 following the Nazi invasion of Poland. He served in the Polish division of the Red Army, being awarded the Military Cross of Valour in 1945. Still enlisted, he studied at Warsaw University and married in 1948 - Bauman had noted the irony that he owed both his education and his marriage to the war. His personal insights into the Holocaust came from his beloved wife Janina, who had survived the war in hiding, losing most of her family.

Anti-Semitism impeded Bauman's academic progress and led to his discharge from the Army in 1954. These factors, when added to his disillusionment with communism in Poland, if not with communism itself, formed his decision to leave Poland in 1968. His first destination was Israel but, never a Zionist, he soon moved on - to his Chair at Leeds in 1972.

By then Bauman could have chosen an eminent academic position anywhere, but Leeds suited him. It offered a stable place to think, write and teach as he wished with congenial colleagues, devoted family and friends, and able students. Astonishingly, since his "retirement" in 1990, he had published some 40 substantial books and lectured worldwide. He was awarded the European Amalfi Prize for Sociology (1992), the Theodor W Adorno Award (1998) and the Prince of Asturias Award (2010).

The University created The Bauman Institute in his honour in 2010, dedicated to the study of his concerns - consumerism, globalization, ethics, power, and the analysis of modernity. The Library is developing a unique Zygmunt Bauman Archive which he was generously assisting with until his death.