Monday, January 28, 2008

What is Rhizome?

Rhizome takes it name from plants such as bamboo, aspen, or ginger that spread via a connected underground root system. As metaphor, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari used rhizome to refer to a non-hierarchal form of organization. I have extended this metaphor, refering to rhizome as an alternative mode of human organization consisting of a network of minimally self-sufficient nodes that leverage non-hierarchal coordination of economic activity. The two keys concepts in my formulation of rhizome are 1) minimal self-sufficiency, which eliminates the dependencies that accrete hierarchy, and 2) loose and dynamic networking that uses the "small worlds" theory of network information processing to allow rhizome to overcome information processing burdens that normally overburden hierarchies.

Rhizome operates as the central metaphor of this blog, connecting the diverse themes of energy & peak oil (arguing that a rhizomatic organization is the most practicable solution to low-energy social coordination), geopolitics & terrorism (as emergent non-state actors tend to embody many of rhizome's organizational principles), to philosophy (arguing that rhizomatic organization is more compatible with humanity's genetic ontogeny than the currently dominant hierarchal mode).

Several posts that elaborate on the application of rhizome to human systems include:

1. Problem of Growth. A capstone formulation of why our societal structure is unsustainable, how rhizome presents a solution, and how to implement it.

2. Envisioning a Hamlet Economy. Big-picture concpetion of how a rhizome economy will function.

3. Creating Resiliency and Stability in Horticulture. A more detailed analysis of how to implement a hybrid-horticultural scheme at the level of the rhizome node.

4. Rhizome & Central Place Theory. In response to a comment, a more detailed discussion of how rhizome can grow amidst existing hierarchal structures.

5. Rhizome Network Defense. A review of a Cambridge team's analysis of potential tacticts to defend rhizome structures against hierarchy.

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Jeff Vail said...

You may have noticed that I'm re-launching this blog with a slightly different format. The name hopefully will reflect a renewed focus on what I think is my original contribution here--viewing everything from Peak Oil and geopolitics to economics and philosophy within the systems-thinking framework of "hierarchy vs. rhizome." Aside from this focus, you'll also notice a renewed commitment to publish original content every Monday morning. Hopefully the new format will better serve both readers interests and my goals, but suggestions are always welcome as this will always be a dynamic process. Thanks,

~Jeff Vail

Tom Konrad said...

I look forward to the more frequent posts, Jeff.

Matt Goff said...

Have you ever read "A Basic Call to Consciousness" written by memebers of the Iroquois federation? I'm not sure about the various editions, but the one I finished reading recently included several papers presented to the UN in 1977, as well as other notes/essays. I found many of the issues addressed there similar to those that you address, though they were written 30 years ago. In particular their views on colonialization vs. local autonomy, and why apparently getting rid of external colonial power does not fix the problems. They also speak of 'liberation technology' which I believe I've seen you comment on using different terminology.

Jeff Vail said...

I haven't read "A Basic Call to Consciousness," but I've already added it to my (much too long) reading list. Any time notions of local autonomy can be placed in a historical context where the actors are consciously framing the issues in those terms, or similar, there seem to be valuable insights.

As for that reading list, I'm currently working through a fascinating book on Ando Shoeki (recommended in a recent comment), about autonomy and decentralization in feudal Japan. Should be a post derived from that in the near future...

Theo_musher said...

cool, new format looking forward to the monday updates.


nike said...
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Anonymous said...

Nice website and great posts on the PO forums!

I've read quite a bit of Manual Delanda's writings on D&G and most recently Joseph Tainter's writings on hierarchies and sustainability. Though I'm not sure that Delanda has paid much attention to energy and environmental issues, I believe he has some invaluable contributions to conversation of meshworks and the like. I've been looking for an entry point into Tainter's writings where D&G might interface, but have had no luck. His concepts are pretty dense. Whereas with Delanda and Deleuze, I've (except for your post) found very little attempts to link his ideas to the concept of "sustainability" Are you familiar with Tainter or Delanda's writings to the concept of hierarchies/meshworks? -Mark

Bonapartes Retreat said...


This is a very interesting post. Have you read any of Manual Delanda's work as it relates to D&G? I've been looking for an entry point to engage these concepts as they relate to climate change and energy, but I have not been successful. On the other hand, Tainter's writing on hierarchies and "supply-side sustainability" is very interesting but difficult for me to understand. He does not talk about meshworks at all. Have you looked at his work? I look forward to more of your posts here and on PO forums. -Mark

Ivy Mike said...

Could you update the Rhizome Network Defense graphics? I featured your work in my latest blog post.