This is not my first foray into the realms of the “rhizome metaphor“, I was aware of Deleuze & Guattari’s (1988) rhizome metaphor which was introduced to me as a student on the MSc in e-Learning with the University of Edinburgh (yes, I know, another shameless plug). The rhizome metaphor was used in the context of hypertextuality (Burnett, 1993) and “smooth” (open or “nomadic”) and “striated” (closed or “state”) cultural spaces (Bayne, 2004).
The space of nomad thought is qualitatively different from State space. Air against earth. State space is ‘striated’, or gridded. Movement in it is confined as by gravity to a horizontal plane, and limited by the order of that plane to preset paths between fixed and identifiable points. Nomad space is ‘smooth’, or open-ended. One can rise up at any point and move to any other. Its mode of distribution is the nomos: arraying oneself in an open space (hold the street), as opposed to the logos of entrenching oneself in a closed space (hold the fort) (Massumi, 1988, p. xiii, cited in Bayne, 2004).
According to Deleuze & Guattari (cited in Burnett, 1993), the “approximate characteristics of the rhizome” include:
- principles of connection
- principles of heterogeneity;
- principle of multiplicity;
- principle of asignifying rupture; and
- principles of cartography and decalcomania.
Whilst the metaphor of the rhizome was familiar to me, Dave Cormier’s work and his application of the rhizome as a “metaphor for the learning process” were very new to me. Cormier suggests that “networked learning” offers a nice, tidy, clean and convenient model where it is “point-to-point” and “all lines are connected”. Whereas, he postulates, “rhizomatic learning” presents a “special” kind of network where there are multiple, non-hierarchical entry and exit points and you begin wherever you are and follow a particular path to see where it may lead. At the heart of Cormier’s argument is this notion of “uncertainty” and how learners (or people in general) deal with that. Cormier offers the question “why do we teach?” and suggests his five thoughts on how he could go about answering that question (through the lens of rhizomatic learning):
- The best teaching prepares people for dealing with “uncertainty”
- The community can be the curriculum – learning when there is no answer
- The Rhizome is a model for learning for uncertainty
- Rhizomatic learning works in the complex domain
- We need to make students responsible for their own learning (and the learning of others)
I have to say that I found the notion of rhizomatic learning and that of uncertainty was both appealing and attractive in the way that Cormier expressed it in such simple and plain terms, I could see the argument that not everything in life would have a clear black or white answer and that it could sometimes sit somewhere on a spectrum of grey, with possible solutions that could lead to different outcomes, a kind of butterfly effect if you will.
The rhizomatic way suggests exploration, discovery, trial-and-error and touches upon experiential and co-operative learning approaches (with a smattering of critical pedagogy) and, I think, a lot less on what Jacques Rancière calls explication (I have just finished reading “The Ignorant Schoolmaster” and am still getting my head round some of his ideas) and perhaps leans more towards something called panecastic (“everything is in everything”). It seems for rhizomatic learning to take place, learners need the freedom and autonomy to be allowed to grow and create their own individual learning identities as well as making connections to those topics and materials that “have intellectual and/or academic significance” for the learner (Sasser, 2012). This does rather require tutors “letting go” of their teaching practices and lessening their grip upon their control of content and to embrace “autonomy, experimentation, discovery, originality, connectivity, organicity, relevancy” (Sasser, 2012). Thus, according to Cormier (2008):
The role of the instructor in all of this is to provide an introduction to an existing professional community in which students may participate—to offer not just a window, but an entry point into an existing learning community.
A potential pitfall to allowing learners in having autonomy over their learning and, more specifically, what they are learning is that it may lead towards “shallow knowledge” rather than “deep knowledge“, by that I mean the learners may not wish to explore or pursue a particular topic more deeply where they may discover “nuggets of knowledge” that are waiting to be unearthed. Similarly, rhizomatic learning may only work in the discovery and production different style of knowledge or learning that are perhaps not so black or white in their outcomes. Kaska Hempel (2013) makes a potentially interesting association between the rhizome metaphor and it’s botanical heritage that could have dangerous implications:
Bamboo and other rhizomatic plants are great at spread, survival and colonisation of new territories. But as ecologists and gardeners know, if unchecked they become weeds and can dominate and suppress a plant community or a garden instead of enriching it. They are also clones – the rhizomes produce exact copies of the ‘mother’ plant.
So instead of free exploration and exchange of ideas leading to rich and unpredictable learning – the story of rhizomatic learning can equally be a story of domination and monoculture, with rarer and more delicate ‘flowers’ getting pushed out, suppressed – not able to grow.
If anyone is interested, I have added some addition sources in the references section of this blog post for you to explore as part of your own rhizomatic journey into this fascinating topic.
Bayne, S. (2004) “Smoothness and Striation in Digital Learning Spaces”. E-Learning and Digital Media, 1(2), pp. 302-316. http://dx.doi.org/10.2304/elea.2004.1.2.6 [Accessed 13.3.2013].
Burnett, K. (1993). “Toward a Theory of Hypertext Design”. Postmodern Culture, 3(2). AVailable at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/pmc.1993.0003 [Accessed 13.3.2013].
Cormier, D. (2008). “Rhizomatic Education : Community as Curriculum”. Dave’s Educational Blog, 3.1.2008. Available at: http://davecormier.com/edblog/2008/06/03/rhizomatic-education-community-as-curriculum/ [Accessed 13.3.2013].
Cormier, D. (2012). Embracing Uncertainty – Rhizomatic Learning in Formal Education. Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJIWyiLyBpQ [Accessed 13.3.2013].
Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1988). A Thousand Plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia. London: Continuum.
Gough, N. (2004). “RhizomANTically Becoming-Cyborg: Performing posthuman pedagogies”. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 36(3), pp. 253–265. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-5812.2004.00066.x [Accessed 13.3.2013].
Gough, N. (2006). “Shaking the Tree, Making a Rhizome: Towards a nomadic geophilosophy of science education”. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 38(5), pp. 625–645. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-5812.2006.00216.x [Accessed 13.3.2013].
Gregoriou, Z. (2004). “Commencing the Rhizome: Towards a minor philosophy of education”. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 36(3), pp. 233–251. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-5812.2004.00065.x [Accessed 13.3.2013].
Hempel, K. (2013). “Rhizomatic growth – learners as weeds or explorers and survivors?”. Nauczanki Blog, 29.1.2013. Available at: http://nauczanki.wordpress.com/2013/01/29/rhizomatic-growth-learners-as-weeds-or-explorers-and-survivors/ [Accessed 13.3.2013].
Hodgson, N. & Standish, P. (2006). “Induction into Educational Research Networks: The Striated and the Smooth”. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 40(4), pp. 563–574. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9752.2006.00533.x [Accessed 13.3.2013].
Kania, J. & Kramer, M. (2013). “Embracing Emergence: How Collective Impact Addresses Complexity”. Stanford Social Innovation Review Blog, 21.1.2013. Available at: http://www.ssireview.org/blog/entry/embracing_emergence_how_collective_impact_addresses_complexity [Accessed 13.1.2013].
Landow, G.P. (1997). Hypertext 2.0: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Massumi, B. (1988). “Translator’s Foreword: Pleasures of Philosophy”. In: A Thousand Plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia. London: Continuum.
Peters, M.A. (2004). “Geophilosophy, Education and the Pedagogy of the Concept”. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 36(3), pp. 217–226. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-5812.2004.00063.x [Accessed 13.3.2013].
Rancière, J. (1991). The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation. Translated from French by K.Ross. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.
Sanford, K., Merkel, L. & Madill, L. (2011). “’There’s no fixed course’: Rhizomatic learning communities in adolescent videogaming”. Loading… The Journal of the Canadian Game Studies Association, 5(8), pp. 50-70. Available at: http://journals.sfu.ca/loading/index.php/loading/article/view/9 [Accessed 13.3.2013].
Sasser, T. (2012). “Bring Your Own Disruption: Rhizomatic Learning in the Composition Class”. Hybrid Pedagogy, 30.12.2012. Available at: http://www.hybridpedagogy.com/Journal/files/Disruption_and_Rhizomatic_Learning.html [Accessed 13.3.2013].
Sellers, W. & Gough, N. (2010). “Sharing outsider thinking: thinking (differently) with Deleuze in educational philosophy and curriculum inquiry”. Special Issue on Thinking with Deleuze in Qualitative Research, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 23(5), pp. 589-614. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09518398.2010.500631 [Accessed 13.3.2013].
St.Pierre, E.A. (1997). “Nomadic inquiry in the smooth spaces of the field: A preface”. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 10(3), pp. 365-383. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/095183997237179 [Accessed 13.3.2013].
St.Pierre, E.A. (2004). “Deleuzian Concepts for Education: The subject undone”. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 36(3), pp. 283–296. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-5812.2004.00068.x [Accessed 13.3.2013].
Tietz, W., (2004). “Linking and Care in Connection”. New Literary History, 35, pp. 507-522. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20057851 [Accessed 13.3.2013].
Zembylas, M. (2007). “Risks and pleasures: a Deleuzo-Guattarian pedagogy of desire in education”. British Educational Research Journal, 33(3), pp. 331–347. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01411920701243602 [Accessed 13.3.2013].