A World of Becoming

A World of Becoming

a John Hope Franklin Center Book

More about this series

Book Pages: 224 Illustrations: 3 photographs Published: January 2011

Politics > Political Theory, Religious Studies, Sociology > Social Theory

In A World of Becoming William E. Connolly outlines a political philosophy suited to a world whose powers of creative evolution include and exceed the human estate. This is a world composed of multiple interacting systems, including those of climate change, biological evolution, economic practices, and geological formations. Such open systems, set on different temporal registers of stability and instability, periodically resonate together to produce profound, unpredictable changes. To engage such a world reflectively is to feel pressure to alter established practices of politics, ethics, and spirituality. In pursuing such a course, Connolly draws inspiration from philosophers such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Alfred North Whitehead, and Gilles Deleuze, as well as the complexity theorist of biology Stuart Kauffman and the theologian Catherine Keller.

Attunement to a world of becoming, Connolly argues, may help us address dangerous resonances between global finance capital, cross-regional religious resentments, neoconservative ideology, and the 24-hour mass media. Coming to terms with subliminal changes in the contemporary experience of time that challenge traditional images can help us grasp how these movements have arisen and perhaps even inspire creative counter-movements. The book closes with the chapter “The Theorist and the Seer,” in which Connolly draws insights from early Greek ideas of the Seer and a Jerry Lewis film, The Nutty Professor, to inform the theory enterprise today.


A World of Becoming is a remarkably rich and rewarding work, and Connolly a thinker whose claims demand serious reflection and thought. His work does not shy away from the vexing philosophical and political questions of our time. Such thoroughgoing examination of the concrete challenges humanity currently faces is admirable. Furthermore, he offers a strong foundation upon which we might begin to build a practical orientation for affirming political life in a world of disequilibrium and disorder.” — Robert W. Glover, Philosophy in Review

“[F]or those interested in the intersection of religion and politics or those exploring critical theory or pluralism, Connolly’s text offers a lot of fodder for thought. It is a highly imaginative, well thought out piece that can expand our understanding of the world in which we live.” — Nathan Crawford, Reviews in Religion and Theology

“Although Connolly’s impressive work draws freely from a remarkably diverse group of philosophers, literary figures, theologians, and scientists, there is no doubt that he is constructing something original in our late-modern spiritual and political-theoretical landscape. . . . Connolly makes a deeply affecting case for affirming a world of becoming, knowing all the while that its attractions may gain some power only after long cultivation.” — Stephen K. White, Journal of Religion

“Connolly certainly opens a path for those wishing to make such a positive contribution in political theory and philosophy. This complexly crafted reinvigoration of a Deleuzean approach to Nietzsche's closure of metaphysics is sure to inspire further engagement with the topics covered. The strength of this new approach by Connolly is his engagement with recent advances in neuroscience and mathematics, and his emphasis on positive outcomes. While not for the faint-hearted, those looking for inspiration may find it in this exciting new work.” — Alexander C. Karolis, Critical Horizons

“In A World of Becoming Connolly identifies the question of the relationship of subjectivity to authenticity as an element of what he calls the human predicament. From that perspective, he enables us to start seeing things differently, to join in describing a world of becoming in which a predicament, as opposed to a condition, allows us to think more complexly about the directions we may take as we either bide our time or make it.” — Thomas Dumm, Theory & Event

“[T]he research agenda Connolly has been developing for the last decade or more on the political implications of alternative ontologies should not be missed by anyone concerned with the practices of governance. These books are an invitation to affirm a care for the world based on a very realistic and critical understanding of the human predicament without resorting to either resentment or utopics.”  — Margaret Stout, Administrative Theory and Praxis

"[A World of Becoming] speaks to the rise of postmodernism’s neo-materialist offshoots today.... By inviting us to be and thus become becoming itself, the book enacts what it both requires and describes."  — Stanimir Panayotov, International Dialogue

A World of Becoming continues William E. Connolly’s project of a ‘positive’ pluralism: one unafraid of the ‘messy fecundities’ of a complex world tense with unresolved tendencies yet effervescent with emergent potential. Against the politics of resentment so dominant today, he argues for an ethos of radical ‘interinvolvement’ affirmative of becoming, with all its promise and all its loose ends. To counter the otherworldly lure of final transcendent solutions in which the politics of resentment too often takes refuge, he proposes the meeting ground of a non-doctrinal faith that amplifies attachment to this world as a work-in-progress and collective adventure. Written in flowingly accessible prose that sacrifices nothing of the complexity it charts, and as passionate as it is conceptually precise, A World of Becoming is a political and philosophical statement of foremost importance for our times.” — Brian Massumi, author of Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation

A World of Becoming is a deeply original and timely book drawing together a series of ideas, discoveries, and concepts from a wide range of fields into a coherent image of a new way of responding to what William E. Connolly understands as the human predicament. It suggests many practical guidelines, forms of action, types of ethos, and modes of interaction directly applicable to some of the most intractable social and political problems we face today. It is a brave and engaged work.” — James Williams, author of Gilles Deleuze’s Logic of Sense

“William E. Connolly has not so much written about a world of becoming as he has enacted it, energized it, opened it into language limpid and alive with the temporal pulsation he narrates. A leading political philosopher here takes politics and philosophy somewhere other than where they have been, somewhere densely enmeshed in the Deleuzian and Whiteheadian philosophies of open-ended process, somewhere strangely hospitable to any thinking—even theological—respectful of its own uncertainty. With him we ‘enter into moments of suspension to allow creative thoughts to gestate when a new fork in time is underway.’ The book is brilliant with metamorphosis.” — Catherine Keller, author of The Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming


Availability: In stock
Price: $25.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

William E. Connolly is Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. His most recent books include Capitalism and Christianity, American Style and Pluralism, both also published by Duke University Press. His classic study The Terms of Political Discourse won the Benjamin Lippincott Award in 1999. Connolly is an advisory editor of the journal Theory & Event, a co-editor of the blog The Contemporary Condition, and a former editor (1980–86) of the journal Political Theory.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Prelude 1

1. Complexity, Agency, and Time 17

2. The Vicissitudes of Experience 43

3. Belief, Spirituality, and Time 68

Interlude 93

4. The Human Predicament 97

5. Capital Flows, Sovereign Decisions, and World Resonance Machines 124

6. The Theorist and the Seer 148

Postlude 176

Acknowledgments 178

Notes 181

Bibliography 199

Index 205
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4879-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4863-4
Publicity material