The Rhizomatic CV
I am still thinking about the first week of #rhizo15 – some 2500 tweets, lots of FB conversations, lots of playfulness, lots of deep teeter-tottery thinking…. The rhizomatic model, even understood merely as an alternative to what Deleuze and Guattari refer to as the arborescent model of how systems work, is really useful as a way to approach alternatives in education, particularly in my field of interest (adults with intellectual disabilities) and leadership. It makes of us nomads, able to chart our own course despite the “war machine.”
Part of what I am thinking through is ways to link it to social constructionist theory, which is the foundational basis of the Taos Institute, where I am studying.
I am particularly compelled by how the relational aspect of the Taos Institute theorizing might be seen to weave through the conceptualisation of rhizomatic approaches. In Relational Being, Kenneth Gergen writes:
My hope is to demonstrate that virtually all intelligible action is born, sustained, and/or extinguished within the ongoing process of relationship. From this standpoint there is no isolated self or fully private experience. Rather, we exist in a world of co-constitution. We are always already emerging from relationship; we cannot step out of relationship; even in our most private moments we are never alone.
In relation to:
The plane of consistency of Nature is like an immense Abstract Machine, abstract yet real and individual; its pieces are the various assemblages and individuals, each of which groups together an infinity of particles entering into an infinity of more or less interconnected relations. Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 254
I can see in retrospect that this theme runs throughout my life and career, so one of my questions of the last week has been whether we’re learning new ways to work together or are we just tracking the ways we are already working together? In what ways does the rhizomatic approach differ from existing approaches? Certainly, it allows a deepening perspective and characterization to the concept of collaboration (not quite the word) in an age privileging individualism and positing a linguistic and pseudo-moral war against dependencies.
After a dizzying experience of the #rhizo14 group, I went into excellent three part coaching course in which we had to draw our life stories, and my realization in doing this was that while I might be able to talk about moving from degree to degree, school to school, job to job, I have moved from relationship to relationship, teacher to teacher, friend to friend. At every important juncture (which have been mostly educational, for me) the right person appeared to help create a new path. At about the same time I actually applied for a different job (I’ve happily worked at the same place for nearly 30 years, thus it was remarkable). Combining the two things, I decided to turn my CV into this pictorial trajectory of my career:
However, when I looked at this I could see the institutions I attended, and the jobs that I had, but not the people that I met there… and I realized that while I remembered reading and talking about Silas Mariner, and somewhere an essay about it that, when I found it, I couldn’t remember conceiving of or writing (when was I ever that smart and pompous?!), what I really remembered was one late night with the snow falling outside the windows and all the of the students gone, talking to Rob Dunham about the Romantics and the idea of the eternal moment, as experienced by children, impossible to re-conceive of as adults given after we have experienced growing up. An equally true CV might be a CV of ideas:
I remembered how that conversation led to an exploration of minority literature that was transformational for me, and led me in a different direction… Or reading Edward Said as research for a Prof I was working with as an assistant, and going down a different path…
I could barely remember studying poetic theory with Rona Murray but I remembered being in a class with her when she was about to hand back marked papers and said this wasn’t what mattered, what mattered was our connections – and for god’s sake don’t kill yourself because you got a C-. I thought she was talking to me. I thought she could read me… and was hopeful for the first time in a while.
Years later, when we had become friends, sitting and watching the ocean, I told her that she might have saved my life and she was shocked. “But I never meant you, I meant this other student in that class!” She was a great, tireless mentor to me, encouraging, always looking for opportunities for me, teaching me about writing, editing my work, helping me connect with other writers, connecting me with people who needed my help, introducing me as someone to watch. It wasn’t just about sentence structure, but about what one said to make the right impression, and she was wonderfully, gently honest. I became the person she saw me as, able to introduce myself to homeless people, ambassadors, college deans. But it wasn’t her lessons on poetic theory that stood me in good stead… I channeled her for years and years as I walked into negotiations and charged meetings. I channeled Rob’s ideas about Coleridge, among others, in places where they weren’t expected, where I was able to create disruptions and new expectations. As well, there were other students in those places who became great friends and I learned from them. One taught me to envision myself with invisible but powerful dreadlocks and all they convey because, he’d say, as gay people we are marching towards freedom but not there yet.
I documented some of those names on my visual CV, but, if I continued even a little more with this idea my CV might look something more like this:
And, given that something like 80% of us find our work through our networks, this kind of a CV might be more “practical” than not.
So, the first CV, an objective one – I studied here, here and there, during these years, and I worked here and here, during these years, represents one part of the story. It perhaps hints, by virtue of looking different from most CVs, of my character and being… but it is the second and third CV variations that are the more true ones and these are subjective, by which I think I mean relational.
When I realized that everywhere I go to learn I reliably meet the right people and becoming part of a cohort I relaxed in a new way. As the Fraser and Gordon article on the Geneology of Dependency asks, who profits by us not thinking in these relational ways?
So, what are my learning subjectivities for this #rhizo15 course? I think I will discover those when I find out who my companions will be, as, it seems, in every other area of my life and education. Luke Higgins writes of the rhizomatic model, “What would it mean to begin always from the middle? To experiment with renouncing that lure of mastery with which definitive beginnings and endings seduce thought?”
Higgins, L.B. 2011. “Becoming through multiplicity: Staying in the middle of Whitehead’s and Deleuze-Guattari’s philosophies of life.” In Secrets of becoming: Negotiating Whitehead, Deleuze, and Butler, ed. R. Faber and A.M. Stephenson, 142–54. New York, NY: Fordham University Press, quoted in Kelly Clark/Keefe (2014) “Becoming artist, becoming educated, becoming undone: toward a nomadic perspective of college student identity development,” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 27:1, 110-134