This is rather a bold question to which I don’t have any answers, but about which I do have some tentative thoughts.
Metaphors are a powerful tool for helping people to visualize and think about whatever is being discussed differently, in new ways or with fresh understanding. But metaphors have to be used carefully, or at least with the recognition that they might not be able to ‘tell the whole story’.
What is a rhizome? A scientist would say – An underground and horizontal stem with the scientific properties of a stem:
- Support structure – for leaves, flowers and fruits
- Storage of nutrients
- Transport of nutrients to roots and shoots
- Production of new living tissue
So is the ‘rhizome’ a useful metaphor for understanding learning in a digital age? Deleuze and Guattari, used the term “rhizome” and “rhizomatic” to describe theory and research that allows for multiple, non-hierarchical entry and exit points in data representation and interpretation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhizome_%28philosophy%29
They describe the 6 principles of the rhizome as being
|Principle||Meaning (from Deleuze and Guattari)|
|‘Any point of
a rhizome can be connected to anything other.’ ‘A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains’
|Diversity of possibilities|
|‘There is no unity to serve as a pivot in the object, or to divide in the subject. ‘|
|If a rhizome is broken or separated into pieces then those broken pieces can start up again|
|A rhizome is a map and not a tracing. ‘What distinguishes the map from the tracing is that it is entirely oriented toward an experimentation in contact with the real. The map does not reproduce an unconscious closed in upon itself; it constructs the unconscious. It fosters connections between fields, the removal of blockages on bodies without organs, the maximum opening of bodies without organs onto a plane of consistency. It is itself a part of the rhizome. The map is open and connectable in all of its dimensions’|
|The process of transferring designs and patterns from one thing to another e.g. A technique used by some surrealist artists that involves pressing paint between sheets of paper. See Keith Hamon’s blog post for a helpful explanation http://idst-2215.blogspot.com/2011/02/decalcomania-and-cck11.html|
Deleuze, Gilles, Guattari, F. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus. danm.ucsc.edu/~dustin/library/deleuzeguattarirhizome.pdf
So, we can see that Deleuze and Guattari have taken some license with the scientific meaning of rhizome. Despite this the rhizome metaphor has struck a chord with a number of people in ChangeMooc – not least of course with Dave Cormier, who has written some great blog posts this week.
Also well worth reading are:
And interesting although I don’t quite know what to make of it is
and there are others – which Dave refers to in his blog, or can be found in the changemooc blog browser .
My own thinking on this topic has been to consider if and where the rhizome metaphor is limited. This is not to be negative. It must have captured my interest for me to be writing this at all -but questioning an idea helps me to develop my understanding.
There is one key characteristic of a rhizome that I think has perhaps not been given enough attention in how in might affect the whole picture – the fact that a rhizome is a ‘stem’ (usually underground) – it is only part of the whole plant, which still has roots and shoots.
Whilst the way the rhizome grows and develops is, I think, a useful metaphor for thinking about networked learning, can we/should we separate it from the roots and shoots?
The purpose of the rhizome is to support the shoots, leaves, flowers and fruit. (Not sure if purpose is the right word, but it does raise the whole issue of purpose in learning networks which I might come back to another time.) The rhizome cannot exist without shoots, leaves, flowers and fruit, and they cannot exist without the rhizome.
So what is the relationship between the horizontal non-hierarchical rhizome and the vertical hierarchical shoots.
Last week Nancy White referred to the importance of transversal connections – a point made by Etienne Wenger when he talks about the need for communities of practice to be accountable on both horizontal and vertical planes. Each has to work with the other for change to occur – we have to work in landscapes of practice and across boundaries. To what extent does the rhizome metaphor support or limit these considerations? Is it too homogeneous?