The Perils of Rhizomatic Learning

In this post I am trying to make sense of what (little) I think I know about rhizomatic thinking and fitting it in some sort of context with other post-structuralist thinking in my journey to rhizomatic learning whilst engaged in the #rhizo14 MOOC. Comments and corrections would be most welcome.


Post-structuralist Thinking

Post-structuralism can be seen as a response to structuralism (a means of understanding human culture by its structures). Rhizomatic thinking is seen as post-structuralist as is the work of Derrida, Baudrillard, Butler, Latour and Foucault. In rhizomatic thinking the rhizome is posed as an alternative to arboresent (hierarchical) thinking.

DeLeuze and Guattari shared their thinking within an academic community that was steeped in 19th and 20th century social and political theories.  Many theorists questioned structural and hierarchical explanation of social and societal relations.  Rhizomatic thinking has been applied to many aspects of political and social life since the latter part of the 20th Century.

As digital and networked technologies proliferated and presented challenges for people trying to use and make sense of them, post-structuralist theories were used widely in scholarly work and empirical research.  Abandoning  hierarchical structures fitted well with the network and connectivity exhibited by the Internet.

More formality was shed when the digital reached into our daily lives with the uniquity of networked computing and the rise of the ‘social’: media, learning, commerce, culture, politics.

For example an incomplete snapshot of the theories used in learning technology can be found in this Special Issue

They include Actor-Network Theory, Social Construction of Technology and  Critical Social Theory.

I have not read enough to speak about any commonality in political leanings among the major writers in rhizomatic thinking but I would assume that all post-structuralists have been influenced by Marx even as they turn away from his structural concepts.

“post-structuralism was constituted by an engagement with Marx; a critical engagement, but an engagement nonetheless ”

Rhizomatic  thinking in this MOOC

Where does all that leave us in this MOOC?

Speaking for myself, I am trying to find out about rhizomatic learning whilst I am still learning about the basics of rhizomatic thinking.

One concept that I think of as ‘short-cutting’ and relates to the multiple entry points and the connection of any point on the rhizome to any other.  From what I can grasp the lack of need to go up and down a hierarchy enables short-cutting but there is still a lot more for me to work on as this seems potentially problematic to me, suggesting I need a better context.

Two examples that I have thought of are:

  1. Cheating as short-cutting.  Short-cutting (not bound by a hierarchy or rules) that leads to more valuable or significant learning (obviously that’s open to interpretation) is rhizomatic whereas shortcutting that is getting someone else to write a piece of assessment for you is only rhizomatic from the point of view of paper qualifications.
  2. Scholarly reading – today I have sent to Amazon for 2 books, And the reader to accompany it    If I only read the reader (that might be a useful ploy for someone with limited time before an exam on Rhizomatic Thinking) rather than use it to get more from my reading of a Thousand Plateaus, then that shortcut will not improve the sense I make of Rhizomatic Thinking.

I include the following principles (text cut and paste from Wikipedia) that I am told that DeLeuze and Guattari used to outline the concept of the rhizome

1 and 2: Principles of connection and heterogeneity: any point of a rhizome can be connected to any other, and must be

3. Principle of multiplicity: only when the multiple is effectively treated as a substantive, “multiplicity” that it ceases to have any relation to the One

4. Principle of asignifying rupture: a rhizome may be broken, but it will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines

5 and 6: Principle of cartography and decalcomania: a rhizome is not amenable to any structural or generative model; it is a “map and not a tracing”

My gift offering of a shortcut is that I have annotated this with relevant links to Keith Hamon’s blog , an excellent source.


I leave you with twin perils that might obscure rhizomatic thinking on this MOOC:

  • Trying to learn about rhizomatic learning via a MOOC supported by semi-discrete services and technologies (P2PU, Facebook group, Twitter hashtag, Google+, etc.) all of which have elements of structure and barriers to  as well as enablers of connection
  • Falling into the tendency to think about rhizomatic learning ONLY within formal educational contexts

My fallback position is always to think about the impact of the Internet on learning to knit – but you will have to find your own cherished example to help you.

edited to add word only in second ‘peril’

Rhizo14 – Cheating and Learning

This is my introductory post for the MOOC Rhizo14.  I have joined because I want to understand more about rhizomatic learning.  I have been quite interested in MOOCs in general (less so in the enormous MOOCs run by high-profile universities and then spun out into commercial services.  What interests me is the comparison between informal learning that can be enabled by the Internet and social media platforms, and more formal forms of association such as MOOCs, forums, online communities, etc. that seem to me to sit between the informal associations that learners make and formal education institutions.

What actually prompted me to join at Rhizomatic Learning – The community is the curriculum was the excellent post by Jenny Mackness Rhizomatic Learning and Ethics.  Both Jenny and Chadia (in his excellently titled post I do not agree with Dave Cormier ) question whether cheating is the same as rule-breaking.  I went to Dave’s video and Things to Do via Jenny’s post, and it seemed to me that dear Dave was being a teeny tiny bit provocative by choosing the idea of ‘cheating’ to link to learning.  Cheating is a great concept – definitions can be personal and it definitely evokes strong feelings. So it was really good to kick things off in week 1.  Then I noticed that Dave (in his FB  comments on Jenny’s post) was gently redirecting discussion of the posts back to the source, her post – a practical act that displayed his ethics by modelling a behaviour.

Dave asks of us:

What does it [cheating] say about learning? About power? About how you see teaching?

I suspect that cheating is more about assessment and ‘winning’ than learning.  I noticed that several people have spoken about gaming. Whilst I am sure that playing games can be an important activity in learning, if winning the game became a surrogate for learning I would question the value of the learning.

Power relations in teaching and learning are complex and it’s such an important topic that I hope we will look at power relations and rhizomatic learning.

If I saw teaching as about exercising power by means of assessment, sanctions and qualification I would not have stuck at it for so long.

The second part of the title of this course ‘community is the curriculum’ arouses a lot of curiosity in me.  What sort of community will we become? what will our curriculum be?  That will be practical ethics – what might ‘cheating’ be in our community?  I don’t know but I strongly suspect it won’t be defined by rules.

Poor sad schizostylus

Finally I offer you the poor sad schizostylis that is a rhizome plucked up from South Africa and deposited in the cold wet soil of Cheshire, bravely still showing a flower in deepest darkest January.  I have just discovered that it is only a rhizome by habitat and that others in the species are corms.  What does that have to say to us? that rhizomaticness might depend to some extent on habitat?