Contentment and Modernity: A Comparative Critique of Zygmunt Bauman and Jorgen Habermas

Author: Jordan McKenzie

McKenzie, Jordan, 2013 Contentment and Modernity: A Comparative Critique of Zygmunt Bauman and Jorgen Habermas, Flinders University, School of Social and Policy Studies

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This thesis aims to challenge popular conceptions of the 'good life' with an analysis of contentment and happiness through the lens of social and critical theory. As an alternative to empirical and philosophical methods of understanding well-being or virtue, this project will undertake a theoretical analysis of contentment as a form of social experience. My intention here is to understand why it is that with significant technological, political and scientific advances in recent decades, individuals seem to be experiencing increasing levels of discontentment. A crucial element of this project refers to the notion of society as 'post-scarcity' in that the object of inquiry in this thesis involves the maladies of individuals who, on a global scale, are fortunate enough to experience social conditions that do not involve war, famine or poverty. This thesis will focus on individuals who are well placed to enjoy the advancements that modernity has to offer. It is not the intention of this thesis to solve the problem of discontentment, but rather to provide an analysis of the individual's relationship with society and an understanding of why this relationship is not more fulfilling. This daunting task has been scaled down to a comparative critique of Jorgen Habermas and Zygmunt Bauman, two exemplary social theorists who have wrestled with matters of meaning and knowledge for decades. Through the application of Habermas and Bauman's work, the nature of contentment will be explored through a critical evaluation of modernity, whilst at the same time showing how their unique approaches to social theory are ideally placed to engage with questions of this sort. Habermas and Bauman have been selected specifically for their critical dissections of modernity and, despite their significant differences, for their dedication to supporting the autonomy of individuals from oppressive structures.

Keywords: Contentment,Bauman,Habermas,social theory,critical theory

Subject: Sociology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2013
School: School of Social and Policy Studies
Supervisor: Anthony Elliott