Careers Development and Rhizomes

I’m currently about to start a MOOC run by Dave Cormier through P2PU called #Rhizo14. It is a connectivist MOOC (for people who don’t know what that is check here) exploring Cormier’s ideas around Rhizomes. In this post I’m going to explore what I’ve learnt from Cormier about Rhizomes and Rhizomic learning (the application of the Rhizome) metaphor to the field of careers development.

Rhizomic learning builds on the work of Gilles Deleuze and Guattari and how they describe the metaphor of the Rhizome in the their work A Thousand Plateaus (I’ve not read this, it looks scary). Let me quote a section here to show what they mean,

“As a model for culture, the rhizome resists the organizational structure of the root-tree system which charts causality along chronological lines and looks for the original source of ‘things’ and looks towards the pinnacle or conclusion of those ‘things.’ A rhizome, on the other hand, is characterized by ‘ceaselessly established connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles.’ Rather than narrativize history and culture, the rhizome presents history and culture as a map or wide array of attractions and influences with no specific origin or genesis, for a ‘rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo.’ The planar movement of the rhizome resists chronology and organization, instead favoring a nomadic system of growth and propagation.

“In this model, culture spreads like the surface of a body of water, spreading towards available spaces or trickling downwards towards new spaces through fissures and gaps, eroding what is in its way. The surface can be interrupted and moved, but these disturbances leave no trace, as the water is charged with pressure and potential to always seek its equilibrium, and thereby establish smooth space.”


Cormier takes this metaphor and applies his understanding of it to field of learning and education. Let me try and put this in his own words to be most fair to Cormier,

“Rhizomatic learning is about embracing uncertainty. That’s the goal. Getting to the point in oneself, or helping someone else to get to the point where they are able to confront a particular system, challenge, situation whatever not knowing the answer and feeling like they can decide about it. I try to thinking of teaching, then, as mimicking the process of being confronted with uncertain situations, that develop the literacies required to deal with uncertainty. There are alot of good words that go along with this… responsibility, self-reliance, creativity… but I’m starting to think that it all comes down to uncertainty. My students want ‘the right answer’ and i want to to be comfortable with an answer. Not because they shouldn’t work their tails off to come up with a good answer… just that it won’t be ‘the right answer.’” (  

I find the idea of Rhizomes interesting for a couple of reasons. Firstly because of their application to Careers Education. My reading of Deleuze, Guattari and Cormier seems to be very centered around content, what you teach. Rhizome’s are hard to understand because they do not have a fixed chronology, they have no clear beginning, end or summarisable purpose. This links in with Cormier’s assertion that encounter with uncertainty is central to how he imagines teaching. This encounter with uncertainty in turn creates literacies that equip for further encounter. This model has the potential to create learners who develop in the face of changing situations, what Deleuze and Guattari describe as “…spreading towards available spaces or trickling downwards towards new spaces.”

I think linked with this is the idea of creativity. Christina Cantrill has similarly explored how the Rhizome can be applied to education. Cantrill says that “A core idea of learning which emerges from Rhizomic philosophy is that there is no fixed knowledge only new knowledge that emerges from acts of creation” ( slide 9). Cantrill quotes Deleuze, “Our only teachers are those who tell us to ‘do with me’… rather than… to reproduce.” In Rhizomic education “acts of creation” become central. Creativity is not taught in abstract but becomes the process. Here creativity becomes about everything. There is not a fixed answer to any questions that you gave in your careers but you create constantly seek to create your answer.

 So how would this look different in practice? For me this creates a real challenge to the assessing, testing and matching views of career development that often get put across. If you think about the service that students often receive when the walk in to a careers service or come to see a career professional the emphasis is often on growth. This fits in with the tree based view of knowledge which the Rhizome opposes. You need to develop your CV, grow your commercial awareness, build your self-awareness etc. You are a sapling but could grow into a tree with the right support.

Rhizomes and Cheating

This weeks assignment aims the idea of cheating as a way of beginning to conceptualise the Rhizome. This for me is a really helpful way of thinking about the Rhizome.

  1. Rule breaking- Cheating is the topic for this week on the #rhizo14 course. For me cheating is seeing an established set of rules and wanting to break them. In careers work we often talk about matching as a way of thinking about career decisions, communication and operation. This could be summarised as know the rules, show you can meet the rules and then follow the rules. The Rhizome could be a way of challenging this, why should you do the job you best match? Is showing your matching the best way to apply for a job, maybe you could set the agenda and concivnce people of your worth on your agenda not theirs? Should job operation be about someone else’s agenda? Could you be subversive in the workplace and follow someone else’s set of rules?

  1. Rule resisting- For me because the Rhizome resists chronology and structure it creates a way of defying the notion of fixed knowledge and answers. So Rhizomic careers education would move past content delivered with the aim of enabling students towards certain outcomes. The opposition to the matching metaphor in careers work  could easily move away from matching to something else. Matching as a career metaphor could easily be approached with a more constructivist or narrative outcome. But what Cormier describes is not moving from one system to another but confronting students with uncertainty and saying “there is no system!” In Bakunin’s words “No theory, no ready-made system, no book that has ever been written will save the world. I cleave to no system.” Rhizome careers education is the continued attempt to exist without defining key terms, without merely exchanging one system for another.

  1. Moving non-linearly- Career development often adheres to a tree like structure. It moves on a linear system from germination through growth to becoming a fully formed tree. To quote Deleuze and Guattari at length,

“The rhizome resists the organizational structure of the root-tree system which charts causality along chronological lines and looks for the original source of ‘things’ and looks towards the pinnacle or conclusion of those ‘things.’…Rather than narrativize history and culture, the rhizome presents history and culture as a map or wide array of attractions and influences with no specific origin or genesis, for a ‘rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo.'”

A career is often an attempt to define one thing that we development. Through cause and effect we attempt to connect it’s beginning, middle and end. We are going from somewhere and to somewhere. The Rhizome attempts to defy this by saying we are not defined by one structure but by many inter-connected activities. Life is not summarised here but its parts are seperated out into sub sections. While we try and encourage students to focus in their careers the Rhizome encourages us to expand and embrace multiple different parts of a system. This system does not provide space for development in the normal sense of the word but instead spreads out and develops in different directions. Someone with a Rhizomic career will be equally involved in a whole host of different activites all spinning out of control in different directions and will accept this rather than try to manage it.

  1. Living inside uncertainty – This above description cuts away at a number of key ideas around careers development. There is no easily accessible identity, no way of summarising who we are, no easy route to understand the world aroudn us and our relation to it and no key set of goals in the normal sense of the word. Rhizomic curiculum design confronts students with statements such as “who are you”, “how will you describe the world around you” “how could you talk about goals, objectives and developments.” And then challenge students to embrace the idea there may be no answer.

  1. Being a nomad- I think more than anything else living out a Rhizome is about moving away. While normal careers travel through and along lines and structures a Rhizomic career moves hroizontally, across the map rather than up the tree. This movement is propelled by constantly saying “I will not be nor can I be defined.” It is the constant opposition to scientific rational analysis, terms, theories and sturcture that always keeps someone living a Rhizome moving away, on the outside, making themselves unbounded.

I fear that this may be a bit of a ramble and I am not sure what this looks like in practice and I expect that I am not in agreement with it, I am more a Marxist than an Anarchist to pick those analogies but this is my attempt to say what a RHizome would look like when applied to various areas of career’s development.


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