Principles for Rhizomatic Thinking

This is the third in a series of posts which outline the thinking and planning Frances Bell and Jenny Mackness have been doing in preparation for their presentation – The Rhizome as a Metaphor for Teaching and Learning in a MOOC – for the ALTMOOCSIG conference on Friday 27th June.

The first post was – The Rhizome as a Metaphor for Teaching and Learning in a MOOC

The second post was – Making Sense of the Rhizome Metaphor for Teaching and Learning

Principles for Rhizomatic Thinking 

Slide 5

(Source of image: Deconstructive Rhizome by Pongtidasantayanon:

Deleuze and Guattari  (D & G) enumerate 6 approximate characteristics of the rhizome. There are others that are also relevant to rhizomatic learning and teaching and may even be more relevant, such as ‘nomadic thought’; ‘wolves, tribes and packs’; ‘smooth and striated space’;  ‘assemblages’; ‘territorialisation’; and ‘lines of flight’ – which we are still unpicking in relation to our data, but don’t have time to discuss here.

So for now we’ll stick with the six principle characteristics, which are on the image above and listed below.

In Week 2 of Rhizo14 a discussion arose in the Facebook Group around some participants’ perception that they were expected to study theory, and that some other participants’ posts were condescending. This has subsequently been labelled within #Rhizo14 as a theorists versus pragmatists divide. There was an attempt at self-healing by Rhizo14 participants but apparently the outcome was not satisfactory to those most affected and some people left the course as a result.  Leaving a MOOC need not be seen as some sort of failure if you have drunk enough from the well, but leaving from a sense of alienation would be more troubling.  Subsequently, ‘pragmatism’ achieved a kind of ascendance in #Rhizo14 and Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas about rhizomatic thinking were discussed less and less during Rhizo14. Recently in the Facebook group there has been a discussion about whether or not the group should now discuss Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas – but the discussion was fairly quickly passed over. A key contributor to Rhizo14, Keith Hamon, had already published a treasure trove of posts on D & G’s rhizomatic thinking and continued to apply their theory and that of others during the MOOC.

There are D & G principles that can be considered in relation to learning in open learning environments and were in evidence in Rhizo14. We do not claim to be philosophers. Neither can we claim to have read or understood all of D & G’s work, but we are finding evidence of some tentative links between D & G’s ‘approximate characteristics of the rhizome’ and learning in Rhizo14.

Big health warning here – these findings/thoughts are tentative

1. Connections – a rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections.

There is evidence of this in Rhizo14 – plenty of connections were made and are still being made, but some survey responses have revealed that this was not the case for everyone. Some people felt excluded or peripheral to what was going on in the course. A feature of Rhizo14 was the core group that gathered in Facebook (originally set up by Dave Cormier) and though a wider range of participants contributed less frequently, the core group persisted and now refer to themselves as ‘die-hard rhizo14ers’. As the contributions to P2PU, the G+ group and blog posts began to tail off in Weeks 4-6, the Facebook group became the main focus of activity on Rhizo14. When the course ended this is largely where discussion continues, although the core group posted topics on P2PU for Weeks 7-12, after the ‘official’ end of the course.

A rhizome has multiple points of entry. One of the most active participants didn’t join until Week 4, and new people still appear in the Facebook group and post to Twitter with the #rhizo14 hashtag. A rhizome also has no beginning and no end and we have evidence that the Rhizo14 course is an example of this.

Alternative perspectives on making connections in Rhizo14 are exemplified by these quotes from two respondents:

I’m also disappointed that it seemed so hard to connect in Rhizome 14

I stayed because of the community – it was great fun. It gave me space to reflect on D&G, collaborative learning, and learning communities and to talk to other like-minded people.

2. Heterogeneity –  any point of a rhizome can be connected to any other and must be.

In relation to Rhizo14 was this characteristic of a rhizome in evidence? – yes and no.  Ultimately there has been a discussion about whether Rhizo14 ended up being a clique and how heterogeneous is the Rhizo14 rhizome; there seems to be a tension between ‘community’ and the principles of a rhizome in D & G terms. This is something we need to explore further.

3. Multiplicity  – A multiplicity is, in the most basic sense, a complex structure that does not reference a prior unity.

There was diversity in Rhizo14 – but was there multiplicity – which requires no central pivot point – being a-centred and de-subjectified?

Holland, p.39 writes: 

There are no pre-determined positions or points within a rhizomatic multiplicity, only lines along with random nodes arising at the haphazard intersections of them (felt).  

This principle seems difficult to achieve in a course. As discussed in the previous blog post Dave Cormier was perceived by some in Rhizo14 as being at the centre. As one respondent wrote:

A big part of being a good facilitator is the weaving and prompting, asking good questions, etc. What I noticed in rhizo14 was a facilitator who appeared to be very much at the centre of the course, and who, while very present and active, stated his own views and conclusions quite (too?) often

But another wrote:

Now, clearly, Dave Cormier was at the centre in the sense of organizing the course and providing intro videos, but the vast majority of the actual course content and activities was made up of what we, the participants did. 

From a technological perspective one could perceive the variety of platforms as ‘multiple’: participants could engage at P2PU, G+, in the Facebook group, posting on their blogs, commenting on others’ blog posts, conversing via the Twitter hashtag, expressing ideas through Zeega. Where the interlinking between these spaces was simple and bi-directional, such as posting a link to an open blog, youtube video or another open web resource this seemed to be like multiplicity in the rhizomatic sense.  Where the interlinking was more inward looking, such as commenting on a Facebook post about a blog post or a link that was not truly open, like a link to a Facebook or G+ group/ community thread, then some of the ‘felt-like’ qualities of the rhizome were lost, and the multiplicity seemed more apparent than real.

(For further discussion of  the ‘felt-like’ qualities of a rhizome and smooth and striated space in a rhizome, see Frances’ blog post – Wandering across smooth and jagged spaces – bring a blanket and beware the Chief ants )

  1. Asignifying rupture. If you break a rhizome it can start growing again on its old line or on a new line. Connections are constantly breaking (deterritorialisation) and reforming (reterritorialisation).

It’s difficult to get evidence for this because once people have taken a line of flight it’s hard to find them or find their new rhizomatic connections. This is an issue in our research – despite our best efforts to reach early leavers, we know that some important voices are missing from our research. However territorialisation in the form of the Facebook group was dominant in the course – but those who took a line of flight will have taken something with them, although as D & G point out a line of flight can become ineffectual and lead to regressive transformations and rigid segments.

Holland, p.39, writes

‘…. rhizomes are philosophically defined at the limit by their outside, by the “lines of flight” that connect them outside of themselves and transform them.’

Lines of flight were evident in Rhizo14 in the sense that some participants went off on their own paths, but in D&G’s terms these are supposed to remain connected to the rhizome – some did, some didn’t. As one respondent wrote:

There was a point at which engagement in rhizo14 was over for me and I left the facebook group, which had been my main point of contact (I still enjoy following people on Twitter). There was no reason other than it had served its time for me (for now) and this has helped me be less controlling [in my own community]

There were also lines of flight within the Rhizo14 course. Participants were looking for lines of flight from traditional ways of thinking and working – taking their classes out onto the Internet, away from canonical texts, valorising cheating, etc.

One can also identify people whose lines of flight brought them into Rhizo14, for example Dave Cormier and a few participants who had already applied rhizomatic thinking to teaching and learning contexts.

5 & 6. Cartography and decalcomania – the rhizome is like a map and not a tracing.

You can enter a rhizome at any point. Maps are always unfinished and subject to revision – so in this sense Rhizo14 was a map rather than a tracing.  The discussion around Rhizo14 continues – albeit in one space – and new members are joining.


These are our first tentative thoughts about how the Rhizo14 course and our investigation of learner experience within it might or might not be informed by Deleuze and Guattari’s six approximate characteristics of the rhizome. There is still a lot more to explore and understand in relation to this and we are a long way off coming to any conclusions, if indeed that is possible or there are any.


Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus, University of Minnesota Press.

Holland, E.W. (2013). Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. Bloomsbury


This Creative Commons License applies to this blog post and supercedes the one that normally applies to this blog, which can be found in the sidebar. In publishing interim findings to our blogs, we are cautious about how we publish what could ultimately be part of a journal article. For this reason, the license under which we publish these posts relating to our presentation is different from the one normally applied to our blogs.

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28 thoughts on “Principles for Rhizomatic Thinking

  1. dave cormier (@davecormier) June 24, 2014 / 7:46 pm

    What is the role of the facilitator in a rhizomatic space? We’ve heard lots of interesting suggestions… jester, convenor, teacher, leader… my guess is that, in the final analysis there will a more complex answer than any of these, and, appropriately, the answer with be multiple and something mapped out during each successive attempt.

    This is a very useful post…

    Fourth post please 🙂

  2. jennymackness June 24, 2014 / 7:54 pm

    Yes Dave – it is all very complex – and reflects the ‘tangled mess’ image that we chose to depict our research. But it is also all so fascinating. I’m not sure that a final analysis will be a possibility 🙂

  3. keith.hamon June 25, 2014 / 4:48 am

    God forbid we should ever approximate a final analysis. Education will be over. This is, perhaps, the major finding of rhizomatic learning.

    Again, Jenny, I thank you for posting these findings and insights. Excellent work.

  4. Simon Ensor (@sensor63) June 25, 2014 / 11:15 am

    Hi Jenny! Hope the comment works this time! I shall try again.

    I think that are some ‘core issues ‘ here with identifying ‘core’ groups in a rhizome. Do you consider yourself(ves) as ‘core’?

    ‘The pragmatists vs theorists’ debate strikes me to be identified here by you as important as ‘core’. Why? If you consider all the visib le activity (I imagine you are I or anybody would be quite incapable of curating all the activity visible or not) associated with this course how do you make a selection?

    ‘Discussion’ within the ‘FB’ group was ‘quickly passed over’ – how do you know? Is ‘discussion’ important and is it necessarily visible? I would suggest that you are quickly passing over what is an ongoing discussion for the sake of quickly publishing something.

    A ‘key contributor’ ‘a treasure trove’ – how do you identify ‘key’ what is a ‘contributor’ what do you consider to be ‘treasure’ or a ‘trove’? (Doesn’t sound very scientific all that..)

    ‘A feature of ‘rhizo14’ was a ‘core group’ ‘fb group’. If you concentrate on ‘groups’ rather than networks are you not missing the message of ‘rhizomes’ which have no ‘core’?

    Why do you insist on ‘visible activity’ over an artificially imposed time frame when (if I understand this rhizome metaphor) what is important is most often not visible.?

    ‘An active participant’ – how do you measure activity (and is apparent activity the adequate lens with which to study rhizomes?)?

    I agree with you that there is a problem in concentrating on ‘groups or ‘communities’ when a rhizome is a ‘network’.

    ‘Was there mulitplicity?’ – how do you define multiplicity? If you concentrate on ‘core groups’ ‘key or most active contributors’ you are unlikely to be able to easily visualise ‘multiplicity’ or absence of ‘central pivot’ because you are yourself fixed on what you consider (wrongly) a central pivot( a core group).

    If one considers for a moment Dave or D&G or Keith as central (key) then are you not missing the point of multiplicity? As Dave points out in his comment and as D&G or Keith repeat: WE ARE mulitplicities.

    I agree there is an issue with your research concerning ‘ruptures’ or ‘lines of flight’. If you look at categorising people (nodes) as ‘early leavers’ what is ‘early’? and what is ‘leaving’?

    ‘The territorialisation in the form of the FB group was ‘dominant’. How do you define ‘territorialisation’ or ‘dominance’? I have the impression that you are concerned about a particular ‘territory’ and a particular type of ‘dominance’ what is it? How do you identify the FB group? All members? Are ‘core nodes’ the most ‘active posters’ or the most ‘connected posters’? or other?

    Do peoples perceptions of ‘connection’ determine ‘connection’? I can imagine that I am ‘key’ or ‘a member’ or ‘disconnected’ but the fact that I voice it in a space within which you can be witness tosuch a perception of ‘disconnection’ would suggest CONNECTION.

    How can we be ‘within’ a ‘rhizome’?
    Is a tweet with three hashtages: #rhizo14 #clmooc #clavier within rhizo14 or without?

    ‘Traditional ways of thinking’ – whose traditions, what traditions, what sort of thinking are you referring to?

    ‘This discussion around rhizo14 continues albeit in one space’. I imagine that you are not suggesting that your blog is the ‘one space’ so clearly what you are suggesting is demonstrably inexact.

    I look forward to continuing the multiplicity of connections across a multiplicity of spaces via discussion, silent contemplation, vocifierous hiphop poetry, laughter, dreams and wonder.

    I look forward to reading your posts as they enable me to think differently to my ‘traditional way of thinking’.

    Yours in mulitiplicity

    Simon, sensor63, dodger, node.

  5. francesbell June 25, 2014 / 11:57 am

    Thanks for your interesting and long comment lots to ponder, Simon. I am going out just now, but as you said recently in another context “I’ll be back”.
    P.S. we aren’t using a scientific approach;) – check out my recent post for more background. (corrected by Jenny :-))

  6. francesbell June 25, 2014 / 11:58 am

    Oops – that should have been . We aren’t using a scientific approach – Jenny feel free to edit original comment. (done!)

  7. Simon Ensor (@sensor63) June 25, 2014 / 1:53 pm

    Thanks Frances for your comment! Thanks for specifying that you are not using a ‘scientific approach’. I am not so sure how scientific metaphors or rhizomatic metaphors are in particular. I am also not at all sure to what extent one CAN be scientific and rhizomatic. As science is a clear ‘territorialisation’ of open space. This recent article of Howard Rheingold appears to be appropriate (not sure I remember why) to post here:

  8. francesbell June 25, 2014 / 3:47 pm

    @simon Here is the link to my views expressed recently on scientific and ‘other’ research, and the messy process of research Note this was not a joint post between me and Jenny like this current series so probably better for you to reply there if you are so moved.

  9. jennymackness June 25, 2014 / 5:40 pm

    Simon – thanks for all the comments and careful reading of the posts – very timely given that we may get similar questions and responses when we actually give our presentation on Friday.

    Frances and I are discussing how best to respond – you have given us a lot to think about 🙂

    I will be travelling to London tomorrow – and am likely to be offline for most of the day – so we may continue on Frances’ blog. Where ever the response is posted it will be from us both

    We’ll get back to you soon.

    Jenny and Frances

    PS Fourth post being written as we speak

  10. danceswithcloud June 25, 2014 / 8:44 pm

    Reblogged this on Becoming An Educationalist and commented:
    In #becomingeducational, we did speak about #rhizo14: the community is the curriculum – and we used ideas and tools from that MOOC to enrich our course. Here is a great blog post reflecting on the rhizome!!

  11. Lisa Chamberlin April 29, 2015 / 3:28 pm

    Hi Frances and Jenny

    I can only speak from the view of my experiences with #rhizo15 as I wasn’t aware of #rhizo14 (or only vaguely aware) – so this doesn’t really add to your research, but may provide a little insight from a newbie participant’s perspective.

    I think the lens with which you view participation needs to be considered as well. I’ll keep poking the bear of “continuum of emergence” here – some participants aren’t in the place of “theorectical research into pedagogy” or the philosophical writings of D&G – either due to time constraints, where they are in their career development, or any other number of competing interests…this doesn’t take away from their interest or value as a participant in cMOOCs. It may, however, lessen their desire to participate in conversations heavily slanted to those topics.

    A community college faculty’s interest in exploring cMOOCs will probably be totally different than R1 faculty which will be different than Ed Tech people, etc., etc.

    So, as a very busy eLearning Director at a community college, I dip my toes in the conversations – not caring about the platforms – that either a) interest me personally or professionally, b) will be of use to me professionally, or c)where I can contribute something to others. That doesn’t mean I feel either included or excluded from any particular thread – whether on Facebook, Twitter, or a blogpost – it means that’s where I chose to spend my limited amount of available time (like here 🙂 ). Biggest bang for the free time buck, so to speak.

    That being said – there clearly are relationships – those who “know” each other from Twitter or from the previous Rhizo. But that happens in any class…students mingle with students they’ve been in class with before. I’m not sure that it is a negative – it just IS.

    Thanks for providing me with some food for thought! And now, I am late for a meeting…lol.


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