The anthropology of becoming can be understood through three distinct, though related, dimensions. First, it emphasizes the plastic nature of human-nonhuman interactions and acknowledges that people belong simultaneously to multiple systems that themselves are made up of people, things, and forces with varying degrees of agentive capacity. 2 Attuned to “the mutual constitution of entangled agencies” and the unstable nature and malleability of all social fields and subjectivities, the anthropology of becoming acknowledges how power and knowledge form bodies, identities, and meanings, and how inequalities disfigure living, while refusing to reduce people to the workings of such forces.

Instead of viewing people in terms of core principles or as fully bounded by structure or form, the anthropology of becoming attends to people’s transformations and varied agencies, and to the ways in which power itself is shifting and contingent—less a solid, stable entity than a product of manipulation, systematic falsehood, and ongoing struggle, and constantly punctured and put to flight by people’s becomings. In this way, anthropology makes space for unfinishedness, and bodies, power, and things do not remain frozen in place.

The second dimension has to do with experiences of time, space, and desire. Lived time is not reducible to clock time, and people inhabit multiple temporalities at once. Becoming occupies its own kind of temporality that unfolds in the present: a dynamic interpenetration of past and future, actual and virtual. Distinct from potentiality and not reducible to causality or outcomes, becoming is characterized by the indeterminacies that keep history open, and it allows us to see what happens in the meantimes of human struggle and daily life. Becoming also attunes us differently to the shifting cultural and material particularities of the spaces our interlocutors must traverse: cartographic rather than archaeological, becomings “belong to geography, they are orientations, directions, entries and exits.” 4 The very materialities of space affect and impinge on the subject, encouraging or constraining possibilities for movement and adding further texture to lived experiences.

These meantimes and interstitial spaces are not stagnant vacuums: they overflow with shifting aggregates of desire and power, the emerging sociopolitical fields and intersubjective entanglements produced as people imagine and attempt to make real what they need and long for. Desire does not seek a singular, decontextualized object, but a broader world or set of relations in which the object is embedded and becomes meaningful. 5 Attending to this aggregating capacity and the operative fields in and through which institutions and social processes combine and collapse, the anthropology of becoming approaches the interplay between the motions of becoming different and moments of impasse or plateaus of stabilization.

The third dimension involves an attentiveness to the unknown, both as a critical feature of people and material worlds and as a productive force in research and conceptual work. Through its relentless empiricism and radical analytical openness, anthropology creates the conditions of possibility for moments of surprise and the sustained, open-ended engagements that wonder, itself always historically and locally situated, precipitates.

(2106-02-06T22:28:15). Joao Biehl, Unfinished (Kindle Locations 258-281). Duke University Press. Kindle Edition.

Kyla Tompkins