Totalitarian bureaucracy and Bauman's sociological imagination
in defence of the ivory tower
This year marks the anniversary of two classic sociological texts. It is the fiftieth anniversary of the original publication date of C. Wright Mills' The Sociological Imagination (1959), and the 20th anniversary of Zygmunt Bauman's Modernity and the Holocaust (1989). In the first of the above quotations (a point that could just as easily have come from Mills) — Bauman states his book's key contribution to, and further demand for, sustained reflexivity, not just in sociology, but in social science more generally. This chapter argues that the joint anniversary of these works is a particularly appropriate time to re-emphasize the continued relevance of their profoundly critical analyses to the current state of academia in which reflexivity is honoured more in the breach than the observance despite the reasonable assumption that it should form an integral aspect of genuinely intellectual enquiry. These two works share a critique of the Ivory Tower's shortcomings embodied in both their explicit content and their inspiring mode of delivery of that content. Thus, using a combination of style and substance, they argue and illustrate, by strong example, a range of methodological and conceptual gaps that social science needs to address. In this chapter, a close reading is given of Mills and Bauman's texts. In particular, it is argued that Bauman's interrogation of the Holocaust's true historical meaning encapsulates the best aspects of a truly sociological imagination — or what Arendt defines as "the power of narratives to release new meanings", "thinking without a banister", "enlarged thought" and "training the imagination to go visiting" (Arendt cited in Taylor, Barr and Steele 2002: 48).
Taylor, P. (2010)., Totalitarian bureaucracy and Bauman's sociological imagination: in defence of the ivory tower, in M. Davis & K. Tester (eds.), Bauman's challenge, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 148-171.
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