Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Model one: maps

I've noticed quite a few folks taking about Rhizomes (particularly as they come out of Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus) as metaphors. I was struck by this and found it surprising and odd to think of them as metaphors. Upon reflection, I realised that this was because I tend to think of them as models rather than metaphors. Exactly what the distinction is, I'm not sure just yet. But I thought I'd write a few posts about some of the models that D&G offer us and how I think they might be applicable in teaching and learning.

The first model I want to focus on is the map. To illustrate my point I've used one of my favourite maps: the London Underground or 'tube' map.
Image Source: Thom Minifig CC Licence
The tube map is itself rhizomatic (it grows and changes in response to desire for instance), but more importantly, the way people engage with it and use it is also rhizomatic. From a pedagogical point of view it is ridiculous to say there is any right or wrong way to traverse London via the underground. You can't say, for instance, that the only correct way to use the tube is to get on at Bethnall Green and get off at Gloucester Road using the Central and Piccadilly lines. That is a correct way to use the tube if you need to get from Bethnall Green to Gloucester Road as quickly as possible but it's not the only correct way to use the tube. That's because the tube has no beginning, middle and end, but instead has multiple entry and exit points and everyone using it has different needs.

Thinking from a teaching point of view about supporting students who are engaging with learning in a rhizomatic context is, in some instances, going to be a bit like this. Students who come to a rhizomatic learning context are going to all be coming from different places and wanting to get to very different places from each other. The role of teachers is to help them navigate and negotiate the journey, to encourage them to seek help from others as well as reading signs along the way and, as I've suggested in a previous post, attending to the 'trees' as and when they encounter them, taking responsibility along the way.

32 comments:

  1. The map metaphor can connote a scaled-down representation of reality or a device that shows the way—a guide for further inquiry or action. Re: the 2nd sense: Mapping (for ourselves and our students) can "expose possible new directions and clarify direction and scope within the larger set of issues" (http://www.faculty.umb.edu/pjt/Mapping.html).

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  2. For more than a year now, Mozilla has been developing their "Web Literacy Standard" At first the used the term "framework" and now they too have decided that you "Map" model is better. See http://dougbelshaw.com/blog/2014/01/15/web-literacy-map/
    I agree that showing learners a map could enable them to better find their own way.

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  3. it's a lovely metaphor isn't it? but then there's the dimension to rhizomatic learning that it doesn't capture, namely the creative construction of new pathways... the underground rail network, and the map, are built by someone else, not the user... of course decisions about where to build a new station are collaborative ones.... it also reminds me of Maureen Crawford's post today about ownership - I just started thinking about how each line of the tube network is actually built and maintained by a different entity.. there is no monolithic owner of the network, so it works as metaphor in that sense... but most users, for whom the network and the map are designed, still have no say in any of it, they choose to use or not use as it.... I am thinking now of the scene in the Wallace and Gromit movie where Gromit is insanely creating his own train line to escape the evil penguin... that's the train track metaphor I relate to when I think about much of the learning I do online!

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    1. typo sorry - "as is" not 'as it' !

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  4. Thanks for using the term model, as it sheds some light on how the rhizome informs reality and gives us a handle on complexity itself. Still, I think metaphor is the better term. To my mind, a model is something (a map) that we construct to represent some large, more complicated bit of reality (the London Underground). We don't construct metaphors (rhizome is reality) to represent something else but to suggest some insight into the something else (reality).

    Then, models are usually reduced in scale and information to make them more accessible (a map) than the thing they represent (the London Underground). In a metaphor, a rhizome is as complex a structure as reality, if somewhat reduced in scale, though that reduction could be a trick of perspective.

    Then, a model is mostly dependent on the thing it models. Without the Underground, the map would not exist, or would exist as a work of art rather than a model.

    Finally, a model's value and utility depends very much on its accuracy, its (the map's) fidelity in certain salient points to the thing it models (the Underground). A metaphor's value and utility depends not so much on its accuracy as on its ability to evoke insight into the less familiar or less accessible. Indeed, a metaphor is often inaccurate in certain details, which is obvious when we say that love is a rose. Good metaphor, poor model. Likewise, actual rhizomes tend to be mostly homogenous assemblages, which forces Deleuze and Guattari to note that the rhizomes they are discussing are heterogenous assemblages.

    So in the end, I think that D&G's rhizome makes a better metaphor than a model. Still, like models, metaphors are useful but wrong: a way to get at something else, but not the thing itself.

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  5. As a Londoner I dont think the Tube map is a Rhizome, how we use it can be rhizomatic as we turn them into our own lines of desire for our own purposes. It seems to me that, like the Internet, it is based on an old Engineering feature of redundancy. If you have multiple pathways you can route around problems, or exercise preferences. As a metaphor you can say that we travel around the Underground as intelligent packet switches. For example when travelling to Euston I prefer to use the Metropolitan Line because I prefer the transfer at Whitechapel and also because at Farringdon I am travelling on the very first Tube line, whereas the faster Jubilee Line involves a tedious switch at Green Park... Nonetheless I think any new learning involves new metaphors, which I discussed in my Everything is a Metaphor talk at Imaginarium; http://www.slideshare.net/fredgarnett/everything-is-a-metaphor

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  6. I've never been to London, but my first thought on seeing the link for this post in FB was, A Nomad might wander through parts of the underground, but the underground is too finite to be a model for the rhizome by itself. (Remember I've never visited: London tube system may well seem infinite if you try riding it all.) I see it rather as a metaphor for one particular area of a rhizomatic learning path/network, the LMS of a large institution for instance, or one single MOOC, or even a MOOC community. It is likely possible to be born and die in the underground system without ever emerging, and I don't doubt it may even have happened, but we would regard that person's life with a certain pathos.

    It may not be D&G's, but my map of the rhizome allows the Nomad to use the tube for his own purpose or pleasure, but also to ride buses, taxis, bicycles, scooters, aircraft, boats, (spacecraft?) and to take leisurely walks through shops and wilderness to see what may be discovered without having a goal in mind.

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  7. Hi Cath - thanks for this post. I have been thinking about it since I first read it and have now come here to comment to find that others have said pretty much what I was going to say. I think the model is great for depicting a mutli-path learning environment. It tells us that we have a number of choices when considering where we want to go. We can take the long route, the short route, branch off, go direct or so on. And in this sense it fits with rhizomatic learning, the idea that there are many paths we can take. But as Jim says it's only part of the story. For Jim this is because it doesn't allow for other modes of transport. For me it's because it doesn't, under normal circumstances, allow for emergent learning. Most people who use a map to get on the Tube know where they are going. They might have a choice about how to get there, and some unexpected things might happen on the way, but ultimately they arrive where they intended to. Would you agree? I'm looking forward to seeing what other models/metaphors you have for rhizomatic learning. Perhaps we need a combination to give us the whole story?

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    1. Absolutely it's not the whole story - it's just one model of many. I'm going to add a few models in the next few days that describe some of the important aspects of emergent learning that fit within the concept of rhizomatic learning. The model I offer here is just one of many and is not by any means comprehensive.

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