What are the key differences between "solid modernity" and "liquid modernity" as described by Zygmunt Bauman in Liquid Modernity?

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Some differences between "solid modernity" and "liquid modernity," as described by Zygmut Baiman in Liquid Modernity, relate to the (1) resistance of the abstract idea of modernity (i.e., "the present stage of the modern era")  to stress; (2) modernity's relationship to time and space; (3) and modernity's ability to hold a shape with "spatial dimensions." Bauman's thesis is that the present stage of the modern era has deviated from an historical manifestation of essential characteristics. While past historical eras may be seen to have been habituated in their socio-economic and cultural ways, the modern era actively initiates shifts in paradigm to the past unyielding "mould" of historic ambitions.

It is in this sense that "solid modernity" and "liquid modernity" arise as suitable metaphors for the two types of manifestations: solid modernity for past eras that resist paradigm shifts and dislodge habituation and liquid modernity for the present stage of the modern era in which paradigm shifts and dislodgement of habituation are courted. Solid modernity is said to resist stress and to continue in the same shape with historically defined spatial parameters and dimensions. Liquid modernity is said to produce flow, like the flow of liquids, when encountering socio-economic stress and to flow into new social/cultural shapes with no historically defined spatial parameters and dimensions.

It can be said that while solids are best defined by space, liquids are best defined by time. Time is fulfilled in flow: liquids flow from one resting place to the next when encountering force stress in a continual progression of change. Shape with spatial dimensions is not a characteristic of liquids. Shape is measured in space and time, though the time element is static. Applied to the modern era, this understanding describes past modernity, solid modernity, as continuing for long periods of time with the same habitual socio-economic shape as formerly; time is an unimportant [relatively unimportant] element. On the other hand, as a liquid flows ceaselessly when encountering any kind of force, liquid modernity is measured in time as its shapes are always in flux and changing. These are some of the critical differences between Bauman's concepts of unchanging solid modernity and changeable liquid modernity.

lit24 | Student

Zygmunt Bauman (born 19th November 1925) in his book "Liquid Modernity" (2000) explains his concept of 'Liquid' and 'Solid' Modernity. In page six of that book he remarks that fluid or liquid modernity occurs when "the bonds which interlock individual choices in collective projects and actions are melted down." It is characterized by

"the dissolution of forces which could keep the question of order and system on the political agenda."

Bauman asserts that the present condition of human life is 'liquid' in contrast to the previous era which was 'solid.' Society,according to Bauman, has moved from being a 'producer' to a 'consumer' and that this  passage from "solid" to "liquid" modernity has created a new and unprecedented setting for individual life pursuits, presenting individuals with a series of challenges never before encountered. Social forms and institutions no longer have enough time to 'solidify' and cannot serve as secure frames of reference for human actions and long-term life plans, so individuals have to find other ways to organise their lives. Individuals have to graft together a whole series of short-term projects and episodes that don't add up to the kind of sequence to which concepts like "career" and "progress" could be meaningfully applied. Such fragmented lives require persons  to be flexible and adaptable — to literally think on their feet and to be constantly ready and willing to change their strategies  at short notice and to abandon commitments and loyalties without the slightest regret and to exploit opportunities according to their current availability. In liquid modernity the individual must act, plan actions and calculate the likely gains and losses of acting (or failing to act) under conditions of pathological uncertainty.