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Rhizome project

flyer found in a restaurant in Leipzig/Plagwitz showing tree and rhizome

The rhizome is a concept of thought, knowledge, presentation, society etc. that offers itself as an alternative to classical hierarchical structures such as trees. The word comes from botany where it describes a subterranean root structure of plants that spreads outs, interconnects, and also grows new plants from its basis. In philosophy it was introduced by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, described for example in the first chapter of the fascinating book “ 1000 Plateaus” that is itself strucured nonlinearily as a kind of rhizome.

We held this session back in our Leipzig headquarter in Mariannenstraße on Saturday afternoon where Tobias Fritz joined us and started with a presentation by Markus. First a quote from Kafka, from his diaries 1910-1923:

“Alle Dinge nämlich, die mir einfallen, fallen mir nicht von der Wurzel aus ein, sondern erst irgendwo gegen ihre Mitte.”

Some motivations to operate with rhizomatic structures:

  • In my PhD I had the problem of authorship. Of course some parts are clear citations but most of the work was greatly inspired by some books, papers, StackExchange threads etc. while no clear authorship can be given. Nothing in it is completely original thought, because all mathematical concepts already existed and where just maybe connected in a new way. So knowledge was created by combining / connecting old pieces. One could say more radically, that there is in fact no original thought, no essence in knowledge, everything is a combination of symbols, thoughts, and sensations that are in themselves such combinations. Yet our culture is obsessed with authorship and copyright!
  • The concept of the tree is onmipresent in the occident and it always has an inherent hierarchy and thus represents power structures. One prominent example is the evolutionary tree (genealogical tree) but it has been shown that also Horizontal gene transfer is possible and in fact important for evolution, thus destroying the image of the strict tree of genetical offsprings. Adding to that remotely related species connect in their natural habitat in realtions like predator/prey, symbiosis etc.
  • The most obvious example for a rhizomatic structure is of course the brain as a web of neurons, where the complexity of connections is responsible for the mental capability. And the structure of the brain will always connect in some ways to the structure of thought.
  • In botany it is like the interconnected roots of grass (grassroot!) or clover (although those might not be rhizomes in a strict botanical sense), with no main root, different thickness, cyclic connections, always in growth and transformation, where transformation happens through growth (qualitative changes that arise from quantitaive growth, like in the capacity of the brain).

Principles of rhizomatic structures:

  • interconnectivity and transformability
  • heregogenity (every part looks differently)
  • quality from the structure and quantity of connections, not from the essence of the elements / vertices (no prior essence = existentialism)
  • includes lines of connection and lines of “escape” (“Fluchtlinien”) that point to outside territories, to the possibilities of new structures and habitat
  • only parts of it are already functional, no core or heart needed (“organloser Körper”)

Applications in science:

  • the body of science seen as a rhizome
  • a theory can be used without a “central theorem”
  • mapping (“Kartographie”) instead of linear learning
  • nomadic thinking and working (cf. Paul Erdös)
  • allow all kinds of connections and change of dominant structures or even the very base (different ontologies, paradigm shifts)
  • follow escape routes, deterretorialize your thought, think unconventionally and outside of the box
  • the rhizome always has different layers of representation, i.e. it connects also to other means of presentation and communication outside the classical realm of science trancending the traditional scientific language and mathematic (artsy, poetical, crazy)
  • no clear authorship but a web of individual contributions and references, this calls for unrestricted access to the rhizome (copyleft)
  • progress means growth in all directions, not linearily towards a hypothetical great goal of ultimate truth
  • use adapted methods and formats: hypertext, wiki, Gitit (this will be set up by Willi & Markus soon for experimental use) etc. that allow for more possibilities of connecting that just citations (Update 2016/09/12: now this wiki has been set up instead due to technical restrictions on the available server)

This could also be a scheme for the organization inside the BRCP. There is no organizational centre of people that are responsible for activities but knots of activity arise more or less spontaneously (like now in Leipzig) from the interconnected web of members, i.e. temporal and local accumulations of creative activity that then dissolves and later and elsewhere forms new clusters while retaining some of the old connections.


Leo mentiones a game proposed by him, Johannes, and Ryszard where you name two arbitrary topics or objects (e.g. from maths) as vertices and then you try to come up with a connection, like: Lipschitz-continuity and donkeys. Well…

Tobias asks what the new model would be good for; Markus: be more productive, or productive in another way, more joyful, include more and different people, think more freely and creative

Our plan for a collaborative online tool representing this concept would be something like Wiki + Git + LaTeX + StackExchange (maybe Gitit is a practical solution)

A gedankenspiel about rhizomatic teaching (Florian)
Suppose one would enter a seminar, a workshop or even just start at university and there would be only offers of different courses without any starting point like a very rhizomatic structure. What would be the challenge for the teacher and the class?

  • He or she needs to speak for more or less any level of pre-knowledge (what actually also is true on a “normal” conference or even often at university, so it is a really important situation!). There is definitely no unique solution to solve this inhomogeneity problem.
  • the traditional tree structure allows for an easy way of integrating things into a big picture, because one at least has the impression that there is such a “macroscopic order” and the things do not feel so chaotic. After a while of course every student will make the experience of losing when one realizes that this tree was an illusion. Maybe such a rhizomatic approach is capable to anticipate this and make the learning process softer. Actually I think that softness could be a candidate for a guiding principle for a rhizome.
  • a big practical problem could be that people “want their trees” because there are used to them, which is a normal process in human behaviour in my opinion. So also in this terms I think softness is important. We need to explain with good and easy examples why we should go another way. Also from the point of view that the tree needs not to be the neutral way of approach ALTHOUGH the people think that (have been taught that).
leipzig2016/rhizome_project.txt · Last modified: 2016/10/25 17:02 by markus

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