This is an open letter to Keith Hamon. Since it is open anyone is welcome to respond, but the thoughts here have been prompted by contact with Keith.
Hi Keith – I have been thinking about your invitation to discuss some of the ideas around rhizomatic learning with you further.
I am still finding it difficult to get my head round it – but maybe that’s because I haven’t read enough of ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. On one level it all seems so obvious
- learners need to have autonomy to make their own choices about which paths to follow,
- life is full of uncertainty and will be more so as the pace of change and information overload increases,
- there is so much information out there at the moment that there is no point in re-inventing the wheel – we need to share, aggregate, remix, repurpose and share again
- the shelf-life of knowledge is ever diminishing; there is an increased urgency to be ever critical and questioning of what we know.
These ideas have been around for a few years now.
I’m not even sure that the rhizome metaphor is that new. You yourself have been writing about it since 2009 or before (?) and then of course ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ has been around for much longer.
I have been enjoying your posts and those of Cath Ellis. Cath’s posts in which she is presenting models for rhizomatic learning make sense. She has presented two models.
- Learning environments which are designed to take a rhizomatic approach are multi-path – for me the tube map has its limitations, but does make me think of multi-path possibilities. In our work on emergent learning, we have identified multipath as one of the factors needed to promote emergence.
- Learners in these multipath environments are nomadic.
Tim Raynor writes in ‘Lines of Flight’:
‘Nomadism is a way of being. It involves refusing to be tied down by set categories and definitions. It is driven by a desire to experiment and explore, to learn, grow, and boldly venture forth on creative lines of flight’.
Not only does this relate to learner agency (one of the clusters of factors we have in our work on emergent learning) but also to learner identity. Learning, meaning, identity and community are ‘deeply interconnected and mutually defining’ (Wenger 1998, p.5).
In our work on emergent learning we have also discussed how ambiguity and liminality might affect possibilities for emergent learning. For us we have always considered that an ‘all or nothing’ approach is not the learner experience. As you have said certainty is important, just as important as uncertainty. In all the factors we have considered that might influence emergent learning, we think of them as being on a continuum between prescriptive and emergent learning, but it is – as you have described it – a complex dance. We have however, through the workshops we have run where we have asked people to draw their own footprints of emergence, realised that the scale is not from negative to positive. Both prescriptive and emergent learning can be positive, just as they can both be negative depending on the context.
I think this idea of ‘push and pull’ has come out in your writing. I particularly like what you have written about creating space. That really resonated with me. In our emergent learning work we have struggled with the notion of ‘open/structure’ – the idea that we need to consider both structure and the spaces between the structure. What are those spaces and how do we recognise them? Structure seems easier to recognise?
You have written:
‘Rhizomatic learners ‘enjoy’ the tensions between closed, defined spaces where the ball is currently (what we know) and the open-ended, undefined spaces where the ball can go (what we don’t know).’
I’m not sure that I would know how to distinguish a ‘rhizomatic learner’ from other learners. As you have suggested, we all ‘dance’ (love that!) between certainty/uncertainty, open/closed, and so on. You have written that ‘the space holds all the possibilities’, which has made me wonder what possibilities the structure holds. Just a thought – I’m in thinking aloud mode!
I think this also relates to the idea of striated and smooth space, of which Sian Bayne has said both are good. Deleuze and Guattari have written that:
‘State space is ‘striated’ or griddled. Movement in it is confined as by gravity to a horizontal plane, and limited by the order of that place to preset paths between fixed and identifiable points.’
I actually equate this to Cath Ellis’ tube map model, but I don’t think this is what she intended. D &G go on to say
‘Nomad space is ‘smooth’, or open-ended. One can rise up at any point and move to any other.’
I find it more difficult to visualise this. I’m not sure what they mean by rise up. And this brings us to the question of what ‘open-ended’ means. D & G have also written:
‘A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo.’
I don’t know what to think of this. My past experience has suggested that there are always boundaries that we come up against. Etienne Wenger writes a lot about boundaries and that has influenced my thinking. His thinking is that boundaries are valuable – its where the best learning can take place (he often includes this when talking about ‘landscapes of practice’). In our emergent learning framework we have zones, rather than boundaries, but it is possible to fall off the edge of chaos in our framework. And in your wonderful blog post about spaces on a football field you point out that there is a boundary. Do we need boundaries for structure? Is that what we mean by structure? I think that up until now in our emergent learning research we have been thinking of structure in terms of scaffolding or support.
Final question: If a rhizome is ‘always in the middle’ – how does that equate to there being no centre? I think this question relates to the important points that Frances Bell has been making about power. I haven’t yet read what D & G have to say about power in a rhizomatic learning environment. Where does it fit? How does it fit? Does it fit?
So, with respect to rhizomatic learning, I feel comfortable with the notion of nomadic learners in multi-path environments. I’m less clear about the topography of this environment and the relationship between the horizontal and vertical at various levels of understanding, such as the structure of the learning landscape and the power relations within it.
I would welcome your thoughts on some of these questions.
Bell, F. (2013). Dimensions of power, knowledge and rhizomatic thinking.
Bayne, S. (2004). Smoothness and Striation in Digital Learning Spaces. E-Learning. Vol 1, No. 2.
Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus. Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi, University of Minnesota Press
Ellis, C. (2013). Model one: maps
Ellis, C. (2013). Model two: nomads
Richard Giblett (2009). ‘Mycelium Rhizome’. Pencil on paper. 120 x 240 cm, $11,000 incl gst, unframed Retrieved from: http://aymed.wordpress.com/
Hamon, K. (2013). Encouraging Autonomy is #rhizo14
Hamon, K. (2013). Uncertainty in #rhizo14
Rayner, T. (2013). Lines of Flight. Deleuze and nomadic creativity.
Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Williams, R., Mackness, J., & Gumtau, S. (2012). Footprints of emergence. IRRODL.