Bauman Institute Symposium: Modernity and the Holocaust: 30 Years Later

August 2019 will mark the 30th anniversary of Zygmunt Bauman’s monumental book Modernity and the Holocaust.

The Holocaust, the late sociologist famously argued, was not the polar opposite of modernity or a pathological deviation from modernisation processes. Rather, it was a possibility of modernity, ‘born and executed in our modern rational society, at the high stage of our civilization and at the peak of human cultural achievement and for this reason … a problem of that society, civilization and culture’. The book contained critical messages – concerning the limitations of sociology, the condition of modernity and the consequences for morality – that challenged central foundations of the social sciences and humanities.

As well as considering its enduring relevance for the discipline of sociology, the event will also incorporate reflections on the book’s significant transdisciplinary appeal and will provide a space for critical dialogical extensions of the work to theoretical traditions and historical trajectories outside of its scope.

Moreover, it will consider how the more specific arguments developed in the book speak to contemporary debates and concerns related to ethnic relations, racism and anti-Semitism; about how the Holocaust ought to be understood vis-à-vis other instances of genocide and mass violence; and about what Zygmunt Bauman later termed ‘moral blindness’ or ‘liquid evil’. The event will also recognise the profound influence of Janina Bauman on Modernity and the Holocaust and will provide a space for honouring her own writings.


Monday 9 September, 2019 - Social Sciences Building 12.21/25

9.00-9.30 - Registration and Refreshments

9.30-10.00 - Opening Address

  • ‘Through the Window Again’ – Dr Jack Palmer (University of Leeds)

10.00-11.15 - Organisation, Adiaphorisation and Ethics

  • ‘Zygmunt Bauman’s Sociological Compassion: Beyond Modernity and the Holocaust’ – Dr Jerzy Kociatkiewicz (University of Sheffield) and Prof. Monika Kostera (Jagiellonian University, Kraków)
  • ‘Darkness at Noon: Adiaphorization and Humiliation in the Neoliberal University’ – Dr Michal Zawadsky (Jagiellonian University, Kraków) and Dr Tommy Jensen (Stockholm University)

11.15-11.30 - Refreshments

11.30-12.45 - Plenary

  • Modernity and the Holocaust in the light of Bosnia and Rwanda’ – Prof. Arne Johan Vetlesen (University of Oslo)

13.45-15.00 - Plenary

  • ‘Modernity or Decivilization? Bauman’s thesis after 30 years’ – Prof. Larry Ray (University of Kent)

15.00-15.15 - Refreshments

15.15-16.30 - Administration, Obedience and Perpetration

  • ‘Visual Representations of Modernity in Documents from the Lodz Ghetto’ – Pawel Michna (Jagiellonian University, Kraków)
  • ‘Rationality, Shame and Morality among the Auschwitz Sonderkommando’ – Dr Dominic Williams (Northumbria University)

Tuesday 10th September, 2019 - Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery; Parkinson Court

9.00-10.15 - Social Theory after Modernity and the Holocaust

  • ‘Subjectivity, Proximity and Responsibility in Zygmunt Bauman’s Thought’ – Prof. Spiros Makris (University of Macedonia)
  • ‘Between Structure and Event: Slow Catastrophe in Bauman’s Modernity and the Holocaust’ – Jonathon Catlin (Princeton University)

10.15-10.30 - Refreshments

10.30-11.45 - ‘That world that was not his’: On Janina Bauman

  • ‘Janina and Zygmunt Bauman as a Case Study of Inspiring Collaboration: From Ethnography to Theory’ - Prof. Izabela Wagner-Saffray (University of Warsaw & Institut Convergences Migrations, Paris)
  • ‘Writing to Remain Human in Inhuman Conditions: From the Wartime Diaries of Janina Bauman’ – Lydia Bauman

11.45-13.00 - Plenary

  • Modernity and the Holocaust as Symptom of History as Trauma: the case of Bauman’s Modernity in the Arts and Humanities’ – Prof. Griselda Pollock (University of Leeds)

14.00-15.15 - Entanglements of History and Memory

  • ‘How does Modernity reflects its responsibility for disabled people as victims of the NS-Mass Murder? Relevance for the participation of disabled people in society today’ – Prof Marianne Hirschberg (University of Applied Sciences, Bremen)
  • Modernity and the Holocaust and Colonial Genocide’ – Prof. Tom Lawson (Northumbria University)

15.15-16.30 - Plenary

  • Modernity and the Holocaust and Concentrationary Memories’ – Prof. Max Silverman (University of Leeds)

16.30-16.45 - Closing reflections

Register to attend