Rhizomatic knowledge

“We’re tired of trees.  We should stop believing in trees, roots, and radicles. They’ve made us suffer too much.”

rhizo gephiThere’s a metaphor in Deleuze and Guattari’s Thousand Plateaux that has always stuck with me, and a recent series of blog posts has provoked me into adding this to my blog.  D&G insist that knowledge is rhizomatic, not arborescent.  Trees only have one trunk, and one way in.  Rhizomes have lateral shoots and adventitious roots, and hence multiple entryways.

“… It is odd how the tree has dominated Western reality and all of Western thought… Thought is not arborescent, and the brain is not a rooted or ramified matter … A rhizome as subterranean stem is absolutely different from roots and radicles … 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 … The rhizome includes the best and the worst: potato and couchgrass, or the weed.”

And there’s more.  Trees trace knowledge, whereas rhizomes map it.  Tracing is just a copying, which can show competence.  Mapping is not passive – it is something that must be constructed – it is a performance.  This reminds me of the distinctions between active/passive learning and deep/surface learning, which I must pursue later.




So think like a strawberry, not like a tree 😉

The first image is an image generated by Gephi and represents the connections between members of the #rhizo14 Facebook group on 1st Feb 2014

The second is a wild strawberry plant: by James McNally (self-taken using canon ixus 50) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The third is from: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/84/Notrees_Texas_Road_Sign_2009.JPG

7 Responses to Rhizomatic knowledge

  1. onepercentyellow says:

    While I am a fan of the rhizomatic message, I think that shunning trees is not necessary. There is one part of the rhizome that gets me… that wherever we peek up above the surface, we are the same as the rest of our network. Grass is connected to grass, strawberry to strawberry… check out this view of ancient forests and you may reconsider: http://abject.ca/do-trees-communicate/

    Oh! Unfortunately the site has removed the video… but here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?x-yt-ts=1422327029&x-yt-cl=84838260&v=-8SORM4dYG8

  2. NomadWarMachine says:

    You are right, it is not always a good analogy. Trees are also part of the rhizosphere, so the distinction to be made is between a tree in a pot and trees in the forest? Thank you for helping me to think that through.

  3. Susan says:

    and underneath, it all tangles together

  4. I agree with you Dr. Sarah and thank you for explaining it and weeding through the information, but I do have a question. Your analogy between trees, their root, and rhizomes uses grown trees, what about the beginning of their life? What are your views of rhizomes and a tree when it is a seed?

    • NomadWarMachine says:


      Well, I think nowadays I think of all of this in terms of truth trees rather than real trees. Truth trees can’t swerve and make a serendipitous connections like rhizomatic structures.

      I think I would say that seeds all have potential, and we should help them grow into rhizomes.

  5. Jonathan says:

    Thank you.

    I have little knowledge in this area, but did some reading about the term arborescent thinking as it relates to intelligence in children. It started to seem that many were using the term to describe the way in which “gifted” children think. I came to a realization, maybe wrongly, that arborescent would be less descriptive of an intelligent mind than that of rhizomatic. After searching for an answer to this issue that was nagging me, I am taking your blog post as confirmation I am right. But, correct me if wrong; which is very possible.

    • NomadWarMachine says:

      Yes, I think so – when I think of arborescence I think of truth trees, and family trees, and of pre-determined pathways and connections. Whereas rhizomatic lines of thought (lines of flight) can take off at any tangent and lead to new knowledge and understanding.

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