We live in a world that is increasingly difficult to understand. It is not just changing: it is metamorphosing. Change implies that some things change but other things remain the same capitalism changes, but some aspects of capitalism remain as they always were. Metamorphosis implies a much more radical transformation in which the old certainties of modern society are falling away and something quite new is emerging. To grasp this metamorphosis of the world it is necessary to explore the new beginnings, to focus on what is emerging from the old and seek to grasp future structures and norms in the turmoil of the present.
Take climate change: much of the debate about climate change has focused on whether or not it is really happening, and if it is, what we can do to stop or contain it. But this emphasis on solutions blinds us to the fact that climate change is an agent of metamorphosis. It has already altered our way of being in the world the way we live in the world, think about the world and seek to act upon the world through our actions and politics. Rising sea levels are creating new landscapes of inequality drawing new world maps whose key lines are not traditional boundaries between nation-states but elevations above sea level. It is creating an entirely different way of conceptualizing the world and our chances of survival within it.
The theory of metamorphosis goes beyond theory of world risk society: it is not about the negative side effects of goods but the positive side effects of bads. They produce normative horizons of common goods and propel us beyond the national frame towards a cosmopolitan outlook.
"This book, which its author, one of the most original and perceptive thinkers of our time, was prevented from completing by a sudden catastrophe, reads as a most thorough and exhaustive – indeed complete – description of our world: a world defined by its endemic incompleteness and dedicated to resisting completion."
– Zygmunt Bauman
"This brilliant manifesto is in good part Ulrich Beck having a debate with himself. He comes out winning, because whatever doubts or disagreements he may have with himself, he moves on, never losing sight of the foundational distinction he is after – transformation vs metamorphosis. The text oscillates between deeply engaging philosophical reflections and decisive interpretive outcomes. And there is no need to worry about the unresolved doubts Beck puts on the table: they are certain to become a great research project for future generations."
– Saskia Sassen, Columbia University
"Amid crises, challenges, and startling innovations the world is taking on a new shape and character. Quantitative change gives way to qualitative on dimensions from inequality through climate change. The new reality is by definition not completely knowable, but we can know the path to it better by reading Ulrich Beck's sadly but somehow also aptly unfinished book, The Metamorphosis of the World."
– Craig Calhoun, Director, London School of Economics and Political Science
Introduction, Evidence, Theory
Chapter I Why metamorphosis of the world, why not transformation?
Chapter II Being God
Chapter III How climate change might save the world
Chapter IV Theorising metamorphosis
Chapter V From class to risk-class: Inequality in times of metamorphosis
Chapter VI Where does the power go? Politics of invisibility
Chapter VII Emancipatory catastrophism: Common goods as side effects of bads
Chapter VIII Public bads: Politics of visibility
Chapter IX Digital risk: Failing of functioning institutions
Chapter X Meta-power game of politics: Metamorphosis of the nation and international relations
Chapter XI Cosmopolitan communities of risk: From United Nations to United Cities
Chapter XII Global Risk Generations: United in decline
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Ulrich Beck (1944-2015) was Professor of Sociology at the University of Munich and the LSE and one of the greatest sociologists of the twentieth and early-twenty-first centuries.