From trees to rhizomes, a line of flight …


kaleidoscope © Belinda Allen

For me, liminal space in learning, where developing new knowledge requires a leap of faith, resonates with Deleuzian notions of ‘rhizomatic’ knowledge. Rhizomatic networks were posited by Deleuze and Guattari (1987) as a metaphor describing the structure of knowledge.  A ‘tree’ metaphor was (and is) a widely used way of describing the way knowledge and understanding emerge from root concepts and branch out into related ideas and concepts, as opposed to a strictly hierarchical and linear mode of progression in knowledge development. Concept-mapping and mind-mapping follow the root-branch-twig structure of the arboreal metaphor. Deleuze and Guattari (1987) found that this model did not adequately represent inter-relatedness, connectivity and spontaneous eruptions of ideas that are apparent when knowledge is looked at in a social constructivist light. According to D&G, the rhizome represents an anti-model, (amodel? immodel? unmodel?) that liberates us from formal thinking and knowledge structures:

“Let us summarize the principal characteristics of a rhizome: unlike trees or their roots, the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes of signs, and even nonsign states. The rhizome is reducible neither to the One nor the multiple. … It is composed not of units but of dimensions, or rather directions in motion. It has neither beginning nor end, but always a middle (milieu) from which it grows and which it overspills. It constitutes linear multiplicities with n dimensions having neither subject nor object … When a multiplicity of this kind changes dimension, it necessarily changes in nature as well, undergoes a metamorphosis. Unlike a structure, which is defined by a set of points and positions … the rhizome is made only of lines: lines of segmentarity and stratification as its dimensions, and the line of flight or deterritorialization as the maximum dimension after which the multiplicity undergoes metamorphosis, changes in nature. These lines, or lineaments, should not be confused with lineages of the arborescent type, which are merely localizable linkages between points and positions. Unlike the tree, the rhizome is not the object of reproduction: neither external reproduction as image-tree nor internal reproduction as tree-structure. The rhizome is an antigenealogy. It is a short-term memory, or antimemory. The rhizome operates by variation, expansion, conquest, capture, offshoots. … the rhizome pertains to a map that must be produced, constructed, a map that is always detachable, connectable, reversible, modifiable, and has multiple entryways and exits and its own lines of flight.” P21 (A Thousand Plateaus).

And so I enter the labyrinth …

Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A thousand plateaus. (B. Massumi, Trans.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.


2 thoughts on “From trees to rhizomes, a line of flight …

  1. Hi Belinda —

    I’m excited by your bringing together of D&G’s conceptualization of knowledge with your thoughts on the sorts of knowledge practices conducive to creative education. Sounds like this could be a productive labyrinth!

    What has struck me recently in the first chapter of A Thousand Plateaus that you cite from, is that while the figure of the rhizome and tree provide quite a distinct contrast (aligning with the major categorizations of plants: monocots versus dicots) the methodologies that they assign to these images of thought are much more closely connected. The knowledge practices that produce the tree (a tracing) or the rhizome (mapping) are entwined. I.e. while they may be distinguished by the types of knowledge they produce they can be seen to be similar activities. D&G argue: “What distinguishes the map from the tracing is that it is entirely oriented toward an experimentation in contact with the real” (12). The tracing stops at reproducing and representing a state of affairs, it “always comes back “to the same.” (12) whereas a mapping, with its “multiple entryways” may contain such reproductions, is not as rigidly tied to what is there. In order to ensure the map provides a useful guide to the phenomenon decisions must be made – emphases decided upon. It must be produced. Bringing this back to how this may relate to creative pedagogies “The map has to do with performance, whereas the tracing always involves an alleged “competence.”” (12)… We will be stuck with reproducing/replicating the same if we stop at trying to produce a competence which is owned by the singular person… But the paradox is that in order to provide an adequate performance, some level of competency may be required – but it must be enacted every time anew.

    I think this cuts to my slight unease with the emphasis given to habit by another educational commentator who has a slightly different reading of D&G – although I agree with the intervention in the educational literature.

    Sorry – I think I have hijacked your comment thread – but simply wanted to respond with some of the thoughts that were sparked by your post…

    I look forward to hearing about where this thinking takes you. 🙂

  2. Hello Mr Less and thanks for the comment, I don’t think you’ve hijacked the thread, but introduced some new pathways to the labyrinth 🙂

    Agree re the entwined knowledge practices. I started (as an avid tree lover) to map my study using a tree metaphor, and quickly found that it did not let me make the connections that seemed to me to be the most productive, which were when branches became connected and generated new shoots. So the rhizome metaphor resonated with me, and even more so when I started to look at the collaborative aspects of creativity, and what creative networks might look like. One thing that has come out of my reading on creativity is that while creativity is not a skill (competence) in itself, it requires the acquisition of skills and understanding within a field of practice, including the ability to think critically. But to avoid the problem of reproduction vs re-creation it also requires the imagination to think beyond the field, which may become more difficult as one gains specialised expertise. So I think that D&G’s work has relevance to a lot that is emerging in society and education today – epistemology for uncertainty (Barnett), interdisciplinarity, the super-complexity of ‘wicked’ problems. A colleague has alerted me to the work of Rita Irwin who is also exploring rhizomes in relation to a/r/tography, another tantalising pathway. I look forward to further exploration.

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