Friday, April 14, 2006

Rhizome & Central Place Theory

Unplanning has an excellent post that re-introduces Walther Christaller’s venerable Central Place Theory and discusses it continuing role in a low-energy world. The theory, and Unplanner’s post, call into question the validity of a rhizome-lattice structure (as I suggested in “Envisioning a Hamlet Economy.” See Unplanner’s comments HERE.) because such a lattice structure rejects “super-nodes,” and attempts to keep the economic topology essentially “flat.” This post hopes to cover 1) a discussion of the key role of subsidy in the Central Place model, 2) the unique adaptation of a rhizome-lattice by consciously holding the threshold of self-sufficiency at a low level, 3) the resulting ability of a rhizome-lattice to persist despite the necessary artificiality of its construction upon the detritus of a hierarchal system molded by subsidized central-place infrastructure, and 4) my own vision of the new role of a Dynamic Central Place Interaction that allows a rhizome-lattice to leverage the potential of Central Place without facilitating the accretion of hierarchy.

1. Hierarchal Subsidy is the key to Central Place Structure

As I noted in my paper, “Subsidized Centralization: An Economic Analysis of the Roman Road Network” (Presented at the Mediterranean Studies Association Annual Meeting. Currently under peer-review for publication by the Journal of the National Academy of Sciences. Previously “All Roads Lead to Rome,” and again available on this site with all graphics working properly!), Central Place Structure is the result of subsidy by a hierarchal regime to the transportation and communication infrastructure (or, energy requirements) of a system. The pattern noted in Central Place Theory arises from hierarchy creating sufficient subsidy to centralization to overcome the natural tendency towards devolution and import replacement. This is necessary because, absent subsidy, hierarchy is a naturally inefficient means of information processing (see A Theory of Power, Chapter 9). Consider the graphics below (from “Subsidized Centralization”):

Absent subsidy to maintain hierarchy, a devolved pattern (such as the rhizome-lattice model) is sustainable. Hierarchy, however, once initiated, exerts a powerful pull: it offers redistributive security to localized economic nodes that have failed to maintain economic self-sufficiency. Additionally, it provides one method for providing the complex organization needed to respond to certain systemic shocks such as invasion, drought, disease, and the ability to produce and trade in goods and services that require complexity. Rhizome, however, offers an alternative mode of organization that can address both of these problems.

2. Rhizome: Conscious Threshold of Self-Sufficiency

Standard, localized economic nodes remain dependent on participation in an exchange network to meet their minimum needs. This dependency provides the initial subsidy to hierarchy that gets its evolution ‘over the hump’ presented by the tendency towards devolution and import-replacement, and facilitates its perpetual intensification—as we see repeated over and over in the annals of history. Rhizome addresses this at its source: a rhizome node must, by definition, maintain a resilient minimal self-sufficiency. It is then free to engage in specialized production with surpluses, but by maintaining minimal self-sufficiency, it never becomes dependent on interaction with other nodes, and therefore never falls victim to hierarchy. It always holds a position of power in outside interaction: it does not need to participate. It consciously holds the threshold of self-sufficiency at its own level.

3. Rhizome Compatibility with Central Place Remnants

Because rhizome consciously holds self-sufficiency at its own level, even if this may not seem like the most efficient strategy in the short term, it can co-exist with remnants of a hierarchal, central place structure. Consider the following graphic depicting a modern, hierarchal and Central Place dominated topology:

Now consider the conscious development of rhizome within this Central Place dominated context, made possible by the conscious choice by rhizome nodes to maintain localized self-sufficiency and to build a rhizome-lattice structure:

By working within the hierarchal system, but consciously developing a network that lies outside of that system, the rhizome structure in the above graphic is becoming increasingly resilient. This is, in many ways, similar to the conscious creation of alternative social networks via the internet that, while compatible with the traditional social structure, are outside of it and in many ways are replacing it.

4. Dynamic Central Place Interaction

The second advantage afforded by Central Place hierarchies is the ability to mobilize and effectively coordinate larger groups to respond to crises and to engage in highly complex economic production and exchange. Rhizome networks address this need through the use of dynamic “Central Place” interaction—fairs, festivals, traveling markets, conferences, etc. Essentially, the central place concept is utilized, but it is decoupled from a fixed spatial arrangement: the center is constantly moving, as is the nature of the edge. Because established central places cannot calcify and accrete into hierarchy, the rhizome-lattice is able to leverage the advantages of centralization without destroying itself. Again, the dynamic nature of this “nomadic center” must be the result of conscious implementation by the lattice.


RyanLuke said...

By working within the hierarchal system, but consciously developing a network that lies outside of that system, the rhizome structure ... become[s] increasingly resilient.

This appears to be a key concept in so many ways. If those attempting to build a rhizome culture divorce ourselves from the systems of hierarchy that surround us, we will be discarding a huge source of power. If 20 people went out to form a hamlet using only what they could carry with them, the task would be monumental. If however, they are willing to have continuing economic interactions with hierarchy, it becomes much more doable.

I think that the nature of currency must be very closely examined. Conventional currency is issued by a central bank - this is an inherently hierarchical model. There are models in which the power to issue currency, "money power" is decentralized. Any individual can create money. This may sound unworkable, but it in fact it is not only possible, but potentially vastly more powerful than centralized currencies. See Part 2 of The Organic Economy for an example of a decentralized currency called credit systems.

Once again, creating a credit systems economy does not mean we immediately remove ourselves from the hierarchical model, though that is the final goal. Rhizome (economic, political and cultural) can be built piece by piece, using the resources made available in hierarchy.

Andy McBurney said...

Very good series of illustrations. I see the difference between rhizome and a branching structure. Clearly, there are advantages to such interconnectedness, without borders.

I apologize that I have not yet taken the time to read the rest of your blogs, to see if you address holarchy anywhere. I'm trying to reconcile your theories with my own triarchical holarchism (which, I have yet to articulate in writing).

If you are unaware, holarchy is a system originating from the most insignificant but fundamental building blocks, building through successive levels of networks, or halons, to ultimately form a significant whole (thus, holarchy).

Holarchy looks similar to hierarchy in that it has a branching sort of structure, but it is fundamentally different in that the lowest level is essential, and the power of higher level flows from the autonomy of the parts. You seem to discredit the branching system because of the authority of the highest level over the lowest levels, but this is not necessarily the case. The branching system which you show cold be a holarchy, in which case power wold have to low through the middle levels.

My concern with your system is that it does not have any intermediate levels; it is stripped down to one halon... a rhizome. This, I feel violates the natural triarchy. In a triarchy, there are three authorities: autonomy (self-sufficiency), heterarchy (as within your rhizome), and heirarchy (as would be necessary to maintain your system). I feel that a branch-like holarchy respects this ubiquitous triarchy better than in your single-level rhizome.