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From Pilgrim to Tourist: or a Short History of Identity

Zygmunt Bauman describes the fluidity and instability of contemporary society as “liquid modernity.” Living in a “liquid” society means that our identities are no longer grounded in long-standing social norms and meanings but are instead transforming at a rapid pace, making us “tourists” in search of many fly-by-night social experiences. Answer the following questions after completing the reading.


1. Why, according to Bauman, has the question of identity become an issue for people in the modern and postmodern social world? And how does he characterize the differences between the modern and postmodern “problem of identity”?

2. How has the world become “inhospitable” to pilgrims? Provide two examples of such inhospitality and discuss how it makes building a pilgrim identity more difficult.

3. Bauman seems rather ambivalent (if not downright pessimistic) about whether the proliferation of strollers, vagabonds, tourists, and players is good or bad for morality and democracy. What do you think? Are these more “liquid” identities good or bad for democratic politics? What about for understanding and meeting our moral obligations to others?

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