A rhizomatic text

I am at a junction in the preparation of my written thesis.  One road leads to a “standard” scientistic piece of work and the other to a rhizomatic text.  All of the writing advice counsels taking the first road, while my instinct (and to do justice to my material) says Route 2.

What now seems problematic is the situation in which young philosophers, but also all young writers who are involved in creating something, find themselves. They face the threat of being stifled from the outset. It’s become very difficult to do any work, because a whole system of “acculturation” and anticreativity specific to the developed nations is taking shape. It’s far worse than censorship. (Deleuze, 1995: 27) Quoted in  Honan and Bright 2016: 731

What is this system of acculturation and anticreativity? It is, perhaps, the suspicion which Honan and Bright share with St. Pierre, Law, and Koro-Ljungberg and Mazzei,

that a “conventional, reductionist, hegemonic, and sometimes oppressive” (St. Pierre 2011: 613) orthodoxy of qualitative educational research has infiltrated the writing of the thesis text. We fear that “we are being told how we must see and what we must do when we investigate” (Law, 2004: 4), and worry that in writing we increasingly find ourselves stifled from the outset, operating within a problematic of acculturation and anticreativity wherein we are urged to make original and creative contributions through practices of writing that “are necessary while at the same time necessarily limiting” (Koro-Ljungberg and Mazzei, 2012: 728).  Quoted in  Honan and Bright 2016: 731

Deleuze and Guattari warn us of the danger of “vehicular language” every use of which brings its own “little death sentence” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 76).  Honan and Bright say this,

our argument is that the vehicular language – the language of bureaucratic transmission – is the hegemonic language of the doctoral thesis within qualitative educational research studies, even when the thesis employs post-structural theory or post-qualitative research approaches that destabilize and deterritorialize understandings of the relations between researcher and researched, methods and methodology and writer and researcher. The universalizing imperative of scientistic method insists on the use of the vehicular language – the worldwide language of “everywhere” – for the transmission and commercial exchange of a scientistic apoliticism.  Honan and Bright 2016: 736

Bright, writing at two different stages of his doctoral research journey, said firstly, this:

This study will adopt a qualitative multiple case study approach to investigate and map the discourses which produce NEST subjectivities. Four individual teachers will be chosen as cases and will be observed and interviewed in the school. Additional interviews will be conducted with students, the school principal and non-native English-speaking teachers, and documentary artefacts will be collected to provide contextual information about the site in which these NEST identities are enacted. Honan and Bright 2016: 737

This text, Honan and Bright tell us, was “written for confirmation of the candidature, has a formal tone, high modality, and “gives them what they ask for”, transmitting order words in a direct and precise signifying account of research methodology (Honan and Bright 2016: 737).” Some time later, Bright wrote this:

I have worried a lot (can you tell?) about what I could legitimately name this methodology. Naming seems such a final act. An attempt (however futile) to halt the endless play of signifiers. An act of violence, determination, fixity, and closure. An act that privileges presence and being, instead of absence and becoming. Naming seems to suggest that I do know, then, what should be done, how one might be, and what one should do. It seems to suppress or forget the doubt and uncertainty which above all else has characterised my thinking about methodology, and that undermines my attempts at knowing. It seems almost unethical to me.  Honan and Bright 2016: 737

The following paragraph was from my own PhD research proposal in 2014:

The unique aspect of this research is in using ethnographic data to form and justify a future philosophical position.  A literature review will detect ‘existential threats’ to extant musical ontologies and epistemologies and focus the data-gathering phase.  What musicians and consumers of music actually do (and plan to do) determines ontologies.  This empirical work will include: surveys, analysis of forums, website traffic data, and interviews.  I will use two musical genres as exemplars of the general process; string quartets and, in contrast, contemporary music composed with the aid of computer programs.  Regarding the quartet genre, data will be gathered from the members of two ensembles, associated personnel and their consumers.  For computer-aided music, composers and programmers will be interviewed in addition to performers.  Technologists working with broadcast, podcast, recorded and streamed music will be an important data source.  Interviews must be of sufficient number to give statistically justifiable results. Hewitt 2014. CHASE DTP funding application

It easy to see how similar in style and modality my paragraph is to Bright’s first quoted paragraph above.  Bright’s second paragraph, Honan and Bright tell us, “makes use of the rhetorical devices of questioning, ellipses and repetition to construct more tentative, fluid “prose”, perhaps making moves into the referential and mythical languages, sensing that language itself cannot contain the world (ibid.,: 737)”  The question is, would I now set out my proposed methodology in quite the terms of the paragraph I quoted above?  Having done the research, is another slant required? If “the ontological framework is one of rhizome,” then “the relations are laid out so that these languages (or discourses) form a network, an assemblage of discursive practices, the edge of one language always in encounter with the edge of another in a double becoming that changes both (Sutton & Martin-Jones, 2008) (quoted in Honan and Bright 2016: 737).” How, then, to write rhizomatically?  Regarding her own doctoral thesis (2001), Honan says this:

First, the actual construction and ordering of the text followed the traditional mandates in that there was roughly an introduction, a discussion of methodology, a literature review, data analysis and conclusion. But, at the same time, each of the chapters of the thesis focused on a different tuber, a different middle, while still providing connections to other tubers, other parts of the rhizome. It is possible to read the text moving across particular plateaus (the data-analysis chapters) along lines of flight to other plateaus (the introduction and conclusion). There are connections, not only of linguistic devices but also between conceptual themes, that allow different pathways to be followed through the text.

Second, and of much more importance to me as a writer, was the validity afforded by rhizomatic thinking for the genre-blurring and transgressive type of text that I constructed.  Honan 2007: 533

She says, “Writing rhizomatically afforded me not only the possibility of blurring the linguistic boundaries of what is formally known as a thesis text but also allowed me to write my[selves] in to the text (ibid.: 535).”  Importantly, regarding understanding texts as rhizomes, Honan says this:

I began my doctoral journey on a familiar and comfortable path. I understood that texts were constructed through the use of various discursive systems, and I was comfortably assured in my ability to undertake a discursive analysis of the Queensland English Syllabus. I understood that such an analytic approach would involve the ‘teasing apart’ of various discursive threads within the texts, and began to think of the texts as a tapestry that I would carefully unpick. But when one does unpick a tapestry, the result is usually a jumbled tangle of short and disconnected threads. It seemed to me that the discursive threads in the syllabus texts were connected, and that such connections helped readers make plausible readings of these texts.

The ways in which discourses connected to each other and others, through the rhizome of the text and following lines of flight into other rhizomes, made sense to me when I began to think of these discursive systems as plateaus, in that they are particular assemblages of meaning that inform others and each other, that do not stand alone (do not stand in the immovable sense at all), and only make sense when read within and against each other. Honan 2007: 536

In her rhizomatically constructed 2009 thesis, Sellers says this:

beginning~a note for the reader 

Nothing ever ‘begins,’ it only has tentative links to what has gone before and what is yet to come – threads (e)merging from/with/in heterogeneous space-times of past~present~future in mo(ve)ments of middles. Uncertainly, the middle of this thesis is a processing through questions-without- answers, any pending ‘answer’ embodying another question, signalling partiality, decentring expert authority, speeding up the intensity. And, an ‘ending’ is but a momentary pause of speed, ebbing only until the flow again picks up speed, back/through/in/to the middle…(sigh)…so (deep breath) how, where do I start with my desire to generate mo(ve)ments towards conceiving of early childhood curriculum that welcomes young children as young people with views, opinions and understandings that are regarded as significant as those of adults to generating curricular performances authentic to the worlds children live~learn with/in and to social, ethical, political operations of wider worlds? This big question becomes a big picture in a never beginning~ending middle of ideas, difficult to negotiate, or so it seems.  Sellers 2009: 6

Sellers’s thesis eschews a conventional chaptered construction.  During her research and data-gathering, as well as in writing the thesis-assemblage, she utilises a “variety of imaginaries […] to perturb linearity towards generating an assemblage, a collection of conversations about connecting ideas presented as plateaus that have neither beginning nor end, origin or destination (ibid.: 7).”  She says,

Like rhizome, an assemblage is heterogenous, is always in the middle, unconcerned with points, made only of lines of movement and speed (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987). From these opening moments, thesis is thus sous rature, the assemblage being comprised not of sequential chapters, but of plateaus to be read in any order. Ibid.: 7

Neither was the writing of the thesis-assemblage straightforward.

My choice of presenting the plateaus follows my line(s) of flight through the research processes and the project itself. While there was an opening line of flight, processing with/through the writing was not linearly straightforward, rather, it involved much to-ing and fro-ing in many directions, often all-at- once, as I (re)turned to (re)work various pieces, expressions and characterisations. Ibid.: 7

She presents the reader with a series of maps, as possible guides to reading the thesis-assemblage.

Screenshot 2017-04-04 17.09.13

The figure suggests four routes through the material, but others are possible.

This figure situates the plateaus in the rhizome (but it is arbitrary).

Screenshot 2017-04-04 17.16.47

 Mapping milieu(s) Sellers 2009: vii

My own research involves the construction of assemblage maps too.  This is one possible assemblage of a rhizo-analysis of some of my ethnographic data.

Broadhurst Musical Influences Aesthetics Network Diagram

Whilst examples of rhizomatic theses are thin on the ground, those that are extant provide good examples of an approach to writing-up research material which has been conceived, gathered and analysed from a Deleuzian perspective.  It is an approach which I am definitely considering.


Deleuze, G. (1995). Negotiations: 1972–1990 (M. Joughin, Trans.). New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Deleuze, G. and F. Guattari, (1987). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Honan, E. (2007). Writing a rhizome: an (im)plausible methodology. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 20, 531–546.

Honan, E. and D. Bright (2016). “Writing a thesis differently.” In International Journal of Studies in Education. 25 (5), 731-743

Koro-Ljungberg, M. and L. Mazzei,  (2012). “Problematizing methodological simplicity in qualitative research: Editors’ introduction”. In Qualitative Inquiry, 18, 728-731

Law, J. (2004). After method: Mess in social science research. London: Routledge.

Sellers, M.A. (2009).  Re(con)ceiving children in curriculum: Mapping (a) milieu(s) of becoming. Unpublished PhD thesis. University of Queensland. [A version here: https://issuu.com/gfbertini/docs/re_con_ceiving_children_in_curriculum_-_mapping__a ]

St. Pierre, E. a. (2011). “Post qualitative research: The critique and the coming after.” In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative research (4th ed., pp. 611–625). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Sutton, D. and D. Martin-Jones, (2008). Deleuze reframed: A guide for the arts student. London: I. B. Tauris

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