In their introduction to A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia, Deleuze and Guattari examines the use of trees and roots as metaphors for the structure of existence. While focusing primarily on texts and writing for their analysis, their argument is that the rhizome is a better metaphor for networks. Because of its ability to assume “diverse forms” (p. 7), the rhizome better describes the relationships between nodes than does the tree–which forces a structure that contains both a beginning and an end. Additionally, Deleuze and Guattari offer characteristics of rhizomes to support their argument:
- Connection and heterogeneity: “any point of the rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be” (p. 7). The unending connections between “semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relevant to the arts, sciences, and social struggles” allow for better representation of the limitless connections from which objects emerge.
- Mulitplicity: “it is only when the multiple is treated as substantive . . . that it ceases to have any relation to the One as subject or object, natural or spiritual reality, image and world” (p. 8). Unlike the tree metaphor, which relies on one structure that is reproduced, the rhizome has no unity that can be divided. There are no points or positions–only lines.
- Asignifying rupture: “A rhizome may be broken, shattered at a given spot, but it will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines” (p. 9). Stratifications, lines of flight, and regenerations form a horizontal, non-linear structure of organization.
- Cartography and decalcomania: “a rhizome is not amenable to any structural or generative model”–“a map and not a tracing” (p. 12). Unlike a tree, which is a structure by which we try to mold the tracing of other structures, a rhizome’s structure provides a map of connections. “The map is open and connectable to
These characteristics, they argue, represent the book. A book is not an image but an overlapping of ideas and contributions from other people, ideas, books, and values.
Deleuze & Guattari
Reading A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Deleuze and Guattari (1980/1987) is an experience in disorientation and reorientation. The first pages are entirely disorienting. What is that scribbled piano piece for David Tudor? What is a book without subject or object? How are lines and measurable speed related to the assemblage, and is an assemblage the same as a multiplicity? (pp. 3-4). Truth be told, I don’t think I can effectively answer those questions even after reading the chapter! But intrepid readers will eventually right themselves from their disorientated states, as I did, and discover that Deleuze and Guattari are seeking to break readers from their habitual arboreal metaphorical existence. And this does not mean emerging from the trees. It means engaging in flattened, networked, metaphorically rhizomatic thinking rather than hierarchical, binary, linear, metaphorical tree/branch thinking (p. 17). It means embracing the pragmatic schizophrenia of lived experience in all its networked, nonlinear glory rather than idealized linearity that doesn’t really exist in the lived world.
I connected this chapter to ideas in Edward R. Tufte’s (2006) essay “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within.” Tufte’s (n.d.) critique of PowerPoint as a technology that “usually weakens verbal and spatial reasoning, and almost always corrupt statistical analysis” reflects the point Deleuze and Guattari (1981/1987) make in this chapter: that linear thinking in root/tree/branch structures (like PowerPoint’s points and outlines) simply traces and reproduces rather than analyzing and imagining (p.12). Rhizomatic thinking, on the other hand, maps with creativity and imagination in connections that can’t be predicted or controlled (p. 12). In the same way that PowerPoint stifles analysis and reasons, arborescent thinking stifles imagination, creativity, and connection. Deleuze and Guattari point to the perpetual “interbeing” of the rhizome as the alternative, or at least the preferred complement, to the arborescent metaphor for thought (p. 25).
Rainie & Wellman
What Deleuze and Guattari theorize, Rainie and Wellman explain. Accepting the rhizomatic character of 21st century networked individuals as the norm, Rainie and Wellman (2012) seek to describe the environmental and social affordances that enable networked individuality. They settle on describing networked individualism as an “operating system” to reflect that “societies — like computer systems — have networked structures that provides opportunities and constraints, rules and procedures” (p. 7). They continue to define the social network operating systems as personal, multiuser, multitasking, and multithreading (p. 7). These characteristics of the network operating system reflect the rhizomatic character of networked thinking and theorizing that Deleuze and Guattari theorize. These characteristics also point to the influence of Latour’s (2005) emphasis on the individual node as the center of the activity network, to Castells’ (2010) claim that society is a “space of flows” (to which Rainie and Wellman make direct reference, p. 102), and to Scott’s reference to the emerging schism in social network theory between those, like Homans, seeking to build a social theory around small-scale social interaction and others, like Parsons, who sought to build social theory around larger social networks (p. 23).
Rainie and Wellman (2012) identify the “Triple Revolution” of Social Network, Internet, and Mobile Revolutions “coming together to shift people’s social lives away from densely knit family, neighborhood, and group relationships toward more far-flung, less tight, more diverse personal networks” (p. 11). I took these three revolutions to represent environmental affordances enabling the development of networked individualism. In Chapter 4, which I was assigned, Rainie and Wellman address the contributions to networked individualism afforded by the explosive availability and implementation of mobile and wireless technologies: “Mobile phones have become key affordances for networked individuals as they have become easier to carry, cheaper to use, and able to function in more places” (p. 84). The ability to function in more places has become increasingly important in developing nations, where hardwired infrastructure is impractical and often skipped over on favor of cheaper wireless technology. As a result, “by 2011, more than three-quarters of the world’s mobile phones were in less-developed countries, with China alone having some 879 million subscribers” (p. 89). This represents the reduction of the digital divide among mobile phone users, a significant milestone toward which “teens are showing the way” (p. 87). The result of mobile affordances is that place becomes both less and more important. While it’s true that “the closer that people live and work together, the more contact they have” (p. 101), it’s also true that space and time are becoming “softer” and “distance is not dead, it is just being renegotiated…. Your place is where your connectivity is” (p. 108).
“Place as connectivity” echoes Castells’ “space of flows” and Latour’s flattened localized nodes. It also reflects the rhizomatic society that Deleuze and Guattari theorize, in which Rainie and Wellman’s (2012) “continuous partial attention” (p. 108) and “present absence” (p. 103), Campbell and Park’s “connected presence,” and Gergen’s “absent presence” (qtd. in Wellman & Rainie, 2012) can all feel perfectly comfortable, a space of connection and heterogeneity: “any point of a a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be” (Deleuze & Guattari, p. 7).
Oxymoronic phrases? Only in arborescent metaphorical thought.
Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. (B. Massumi, Trans.) Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. (Original work published 1980)
Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Clarendon Lectures in Management Studies
Rainie, L., & Wellman, B. (2012). Networked: The new social operating system. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Scott, J. (2000). Social network analysis: A handbook (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.
Tufte, E. R. (n.d.). Essay: The cognitive style of PowerPoint: Pitching out corrupts within [Webpage summary]. Retrieved from http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/powerpoint
Tufte, E. R. (2006). The cognitive style of PowerPoint: Pitching out corrupts within (2nd ed.). Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press.