Head's Blog

The Liquid Society

I am experimenting with a rotation in my reading habits, reading fiction, then research on education (in the widest sense covering both teaching, learning and caring, the last one being Understanding How We Learn: A Visual Guide) and then a book on something else (I am taking my time reading carefully Kahneman’s Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment).

Last night I turned back to one of my intellectual heroes, Umberto Eco. The Italian sage is probably best known for the novel The Name of the Rose, famously adapted in the movie with Sean Connery in the role of William of Baskerville.

The book I picked up is Chronicles of a Liquid Society, in which he uses Zygmunt Bauman’s concept of “liquid” as a theme to group together some of his columns in the Italian weekly magazine L’Espresso.

This blogpost’s title comes from the title of the first text in the book, from which I will quote now:

"The crisis in the concept of community gives rise to unbridled individualism: people are no longer fellow citizens, but rivals to beware of. This “subjectivism” has threatened the foundations of modernity, has made it fragile, producing a situation with no points of reference, where everything dissolves into a sort of liquidity. The certainty of the law is lost, the judiciary is regarded as an enemy, and the only solutions for individuals who have no points of reference are to make themselves conspicuous at all costs, to treat conspicuousness as a value, and to follow consumerism. Yet this is a consumerism aimed at the possession of desirable objects that produce satisfaction, but one that immediately makes such objects obsolete. People move from one act of consumption to another in a sort of purposeless bulimia: the new cell phone is no better than the old one, but the old one has to be discarded in order to indulge in this orgy of desire. (p.2)"

Eco penned these words in 2015, and they are as valid today (if not more) than then. They touched a deep fibre in me as I can see the impact that this is having in our communities. A community such as ours, intentionally diverse, means that there is a constant exchange of ideas, an ongoing dialogue, and what I have noticed (this is subjective and therefore possibly biased) is that often there is a focus on the “me” rather than on the community. 

When I studied postmodernism I was impressed  by Jean-François Lyotard’s concept of the grand narrative (“totalizing narratives or metadiscourses of modernity which have provided ideologies with a legitimating philosophy of history”, Oxford Reference). It impressed me because I could immediately see how the crisis of confidence in such narratives (which in Lyotard’s meaning covers from religions to political views) leaves a vacuum, and it is understandable that, in the absence of such narratives, the individual’s views move to fill that gap.

One could argue that UWC is a grand narrative built around our mission and the belief that education can have a transformative effect instead of being just a conveyor belt toward the workplace. Being a community of humans, any changes in our societies is reflected on our campus, and  would venture to suggest that our communities are at their best when the “we” is put ahead of the “me”. My next post will celebrate an occasion of “the power of we”.