Saturday, February 23, 2013

Trevor Malkinson - Rhizomatic for the People: Notes on Networks and Decentralization

This forest of aspens is actually a single organism, a rhizome.

I first came across the idea of the rhizome in Sam Mickey's article in Integral Theory in Action (SUNY Press, 2010), "Rhizomatic Contributions to Integral Ecology in Deleuze and Guattari." [The book is a collection of papers from the first bi-annual Integral Theory Conference held in 2008]. From there I discovered A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1980) by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. I blogged about Deleuze and Guattari back in 2010.

A Thousand Plateaus is book two in their Capitalism and Schizophrenia series, which began with Anti-Oedipus (1972), where the first introduced and began developing their rhizomatic theory.

From Wikipedia, here is a brief definition of rhizomes:
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari use the term "rhizome" and "rhizomatic" to describe theory and research that allows for multiple, non-hierarchical entry and exit points in data representation and interpretation. In A Thousand Plateaus, they oppose it to an arborescent conception of knowledge, which works with dualist categories and binary choices. A rhizome works with planar and trans-species connections, while an arborescent model works with vertical and linear connections. Their use of the "orchid and the wasp" is taken from the biological concept of mutualism, in which two different species interact together to form a multiplicity (i.e. a unity that is multiple in itself). Horizontal gene transfer would also be a good illustration.

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." 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.[1]

Principles of the rhizome

Deleuze and Guattari introduce A Thousand Plateaus by outlining the concept of the rhizome (quoted from A Thousand Plateaus):
1 and 2: Principles of connection and heterogeneity: any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be
3. Principle of multiplicity: only when the multiple is effectively treated as a substantive, "multiplicity" that it ceases to have any relation to the One
4. Principle of asignifying rupture: a rhizome may be broken, but it will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines
5 and 6: Principles of cartography and decalcomania: a rhizome is not amenable to any structural or generative model; it is a "map and not a tracing"
There is a lot to like about this theory - and in many ways it overturns a lot of the basic tenets of integral theory - a model that is completely hierarchical, chronological, and highly organized. Rhizomes reject hierarchies and they resist chronology and organization.

Rhizomes are decentralized, organized by connections and associations and not by systems, and they seek a unification that is inherently multiple.

This passage from Ellen E. Berry and Carol Siegel is taken from their article, "Rhizomes, Newness, and the Condition of Our Postmodernity: Editorial and a Dialogue," which appeared in the journal
rhizomes.01 (fall 2000).


[7] exists to suggest ways out of this all-too-common paralysis of our critical imaginations by providing sites for the emergence of new thinking, the not-yet-conceived. We see speculative impulses and experimental strategies as vital components of the political agenda of contemporary cultural studies: Today more than ever we require acts of radical imagination and psychic mobility as preludes to the invention of historically new modes of relationship.

[8] Although we cannot (and would not wish to) predict the nature of the strange attractions that might migrate to Rhizomes, we are particularly interested in soliciting the following:
[9] creative and critical practices that generate alternative thinking by deliberately pursuing those alternatives embedded in any idea or system, particularly what a system omits or deems unworthy of serious scrutiny. Such thinking prevents any system from promoting itself as definitive and leaves it open to other ways of knowing and being. 
[10] creative and critical practices that encourage us to unite ideas that seem most disparate or incompatible, thereby deliberately dislocating us from the known. 
[11] creative and critical practices that train us actively to desire multiple differences rather than simply tolerating them or projecting them as objects of analysis. Such practices would be unpredictable, performative, and incomplete. By "hailing" us in ways that permit entry into relation with the other even as we forego full comprehension of him/her, they thereby will also extend our empathetic and ethical capacities.
With that background, here is the beginning of an essay by Trevor Malkinson from Beams and Struts, the finest integral blog on the web.

Rhizomatic for the People - Notes on Networks and Decentralization

Written by Trevor Malkinson

“Today we see networks everywhere we look- military organizations, social movements, business formations, migration patterns, communication systems, physiological structures, linguistic relations, neural transmitters, and even personal relationships". - Hardt and Negri, Multitdue - War and Democracy in the Age of Empire



January 13, 2013

For several weeks there was a rich discussion happening on the comment thread of the article Eight Perspectives On Integral Trans-Partisan Politics. In that mix Jeremy Johnson and I were voicing support for a decentralized, local oriented way of life as an important way forward politically, economically and culturally. In his entry for the original article Jeremy writes:

It [integral trans-politics] argues for a political philosophy where the elite of society rule from the top-down. But everything that is going on today – with networks of social communication, experimental peer-to-peer economic systems, and decentralization of social power – suggests that human culture is undergoing revolutionary changes.

Later in a comment he added, "I think in the young generations of today, they will be developing wholly new economic and sociological structures. And I think these will be decentralized, rhizomatic, and built upon new ways of thinking and organizing society". Later on in a comment of my own I wrote, "I agree with Jeremy that a more localized decentralized form is what is generally emerging". In response to this Kaine DeBoer, also author of 1/8 of the perspectives in the original post, responded:

Trevor & Jeremy re: decentralization & localization -- I have heard these sentiments echoed elsewhere. But what evidence is there that there's a larger shift towards localization? Especially here in the United States, are we even capable of it at this point? Population density when combined with available, fertile land. Manufacturing infrastructure is either in decay or is simply non-existent...

This is a fair question, and in this post I want to offer a round-up of resources that I think show that these shifts are here and happening, and also why they might be important. What follows are a potpourri of lines of flight, a mashup sketch of what I see as the shapes of a future rapidly emerging.

Update - February 11, 2013

Since I started working on this piece a few weeks ago, a steady stream of new articles have come out on this topic, and there's also been a big public debate about the importance or non-importance of decentralization and peer networks between Stephen Johnson and Evgeny Morozov. I had already used Johnson's work in a section below, and I've been trying to keep track of all the new developments while writing this piece. I've come to realized that this article is only ever going to be a slice in time look at a dynamically unfolding topic, and moreover that I'm only going to be able to get to the networks and decentralization component. The first seven sections below were written in January. The final two I've just begun working on now, and I better click publish soon before something else happens! As I said in the article announcing the closing of Beams, a rhizome is always a middle, and it's high time I absorb this wisdom in this case, as I'll never be able to contain or capture the whole of this topic. So onwards into the essay. I'll speak to the debate between Johnson and Morozov in the concluding section.
Read the whole essay.
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