Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory

2017 Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters

Rhizoanalysis as Educational Research

Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-588-4_63



In 1976, a tiny book, entitled The Rhizome, written by G. Deleuze & F. Guattari was published in French. It was later integrated as the opening plateau in the book Mille Plateaux published in 1980. From a concept of the rhizome emerges a concept of rhizoanalysis, a nonmethod in conducting educational research. Rhizoanalysis proposes to be different relying on its ontological force, transcendental empiricism, created by Deleuze and Guattari. Its originality lies in a decentered subject (human and nonhuman). It appeals to creativity, innovation, and becoming.

In the last century, structuralism was a significant philosophical and linguistic movement embedded in transcendent empiricism. It is a binary system (e.g., good or bad; literate or illiterate) associated with linear representation. Representation limits experience to the world as it is known to individuals, not as a world that could be. Linear representation assumes a world built on foundational knowledge that is taken up (re-presented) and created through symbols. Representation is something that can be directly experienced. Representation also considers that there is an object present but that it also has another meaning. For example, a daffodil in February represents awareness of cancer month.

Closely associated with representation is interpretation. Interpretation involves getting at the meaning of what something or someone represents. A metaphor can be considered an example of interpretation. However, Deleuze’s renunciation of metaphor flows from some of the most fundamental commitments upheld throughout his philosophy: his rejection of the representational image of thought, his pragmatism, and his long-standing interest in the mobility of philosophical concepts (Patton 2010, p. 21).

… concepts involve two other dimensions, percepts and affects. … Percepts aren’t perceptions, they’re packets of sensations and relations that live on independently of whoever experiences them. Affects aren’t feelings, they’re becomings that spill over beyond whoever lives through them (thereby becoming someone else)… (Deleuze 1995, p. 137).


Deleuze and Guattari rejected transcendent empiricism in favor of transcendental empiricism. A binary system is unable to account for instability in systems. Deleuze in challenging the concept of binary systems such as those promoted by structuralism, for example, transformed ways of working with unstable systems. Regardless, there will always be a slippage, a line of flight (ligne de fuite). In this way, Deleuze and Guattari argued for an open system that appealed to instability, creativity, and mutation; hence, the importance of becoming.

They maintain their stance on antirepresentation and anti-interpretation in that something (knowledge, perception) cannot be directly experienced. Deleuze and Guattari (1987) refer to interpretation as an illness, interpretosis. There is no appeal to interpretation.

…Actually, there is no longer any need to interpret, but that is because the best interpretation, the weightiest and most radical one, is an eminently significant silence …(Deleuze and Guattari 1987, p. 114).

In addition to antirepresentation and anti-interpretation, other features of transcendental empiricism are immanence and difference, and subject decentering. They would be part of an assemblage, a key concept for Deleuze and Guattari.

Immanence and Difference

In keeping with transcendental empiricism, experience is not an event ascribed to the autonomous thinking subject. Deleuze and Guattari favored experience conceived in terms of the virtual thought of an experience, that of immanence (virtual-actual interaction). Here is an example. Two colleagues are walking along a corridor at school. The smell of coffee disrupts the conversation. What might happen next? The clock on the wall says it is 4 o’clock. Whatever has been going on has been disrupted. The rupture brings on a virtual thought of what might happen. It is asignfiying. Potentially it actualizes by picking up a coffee and an impromptu meeting with the school principal at the coffee shop, returning to class to correct class assignments, and perhaps going home. Where the smell of coffee might lead is unpredictable and not predetermined, perhaps to another rupture. A virtual-actual interaction (immanenc) repeats; however, the repetition is never the same. Becoming and difference: what it is/was could be no longer. In becoming, it is different.

Assemblage and Decentered Subject

The subject is decentered in that the subject becomes part of an assemblage (agencement). What is an assemblage? How does it function? What does it produce? Experience, presented earlier, is not grounded in the individual. The subject is decentered and connected to other elements in an assemblage. The elements in an assemblage are constituted nonlinearly and nonhierarchically. The example of coffee describes an assemblage consisting of connectivity between elements of content (clock, coffee machine, daylight, bodies walking) and expression (collective assemblages of enunciation). Deleuze and Guattari maintain that language is social and not individual and utterances reflect a dominant social order (Masny 2014b). However, the deterritorializing process opens up possibilities for extending experience in an assemblage. Collective assemblages of enunciation are considered a way in which speaking is expressed socially (e.g., order words, a clock expressing time, obligations) that disrupt/deterritorialize and in the process reconfigure the assemblage differently based on a relationality of the elements through affect. In this particular example, immanence emerges in situ. In other words, the virtual-actual interaction is made possible in relation to the disruption (coffee smell) that activated and disrupted (deterritorialize) the elements of content and expression and reconfigured the assemblage.


While the problem of closed systems might have contributed to creating an ontological concept of transcendental empiricism, Deleuze and Guattari were confronted with the problem of arborescence (the syntactic tree structures proposed by Chomsky) which might have been a catalyst in creating the concept of the rhizome and promoting the rhizome as a horizontal system of thought.

Characteristics of the rhizome include: connectivity (“any point to any other point”), heterogeneity (“regimes of signs and nonsign states”), multiplicity (“neither the one nor the multiple…”), asignifying rupture, mapping, and decalcomania. Each will be briefly explored for they set the stage for a rhizoanalytic inquiry that problematizes a received (conventional) view of qualitative methods and methodologies.

A rhizome connects from one point to another. The connections are heterogeneous. An example is the wasp and the orchid, a connection of animal and plant. A rhizome is made of plateaus.

A rhizome is made of plateaus. A plateau refers to “any multiplicity connected to other multiplicities …to form or extend a rhizome” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, p. 22). A rhizome has neither beginning nor end. Its shoots spring from the middle and grow horizontally in no predetermined way. A rhizome is composed of “dimensions or rather directions in motion” (idem p. 8). There are no points or positions in a rhizome, such as those found in a structure, tree, or [vertical] root. There are only lines: molar lines, molecular lines, and lines of flight. These lines “are merely localizable linkages between points and positions” (ibid.). For example, molar lines are rigid/fixed. When a molar line ruptures, it emits a line of flight/becoming. It is an asignifying rupture on a plane of consistency and virtual.

A rhizome maps its lines, a map produced and constructed, “detachable, connectable, reversible, modifiable”. It has multiple entryways and exits. Mapping involves “experimentation in contact with the real (idem p. 12)” while tracing involves reproduction of itself. However, according to Deleuze and Guattari, it is important to “plug tracing back into the map”:

The orchid deterritorializes by forming an image, a tracing of a wasp; but the wasp reterritorializes on that image. The wasp is nevertheless deterritorialized, becoming a piece in the orchid’s reproductive apparatus. But it reterritorializes the orchid by transporting its pollen. Wasp and orchid, as heterogeneous elements, form a rhizome. (idem p. 10)

The importance lies in a deterritorialization and reterritorialization to happen and reconfigure the assemblage (agencement). A rhizome with all its lines constitutes an assemblage. It consists of content and expression that de- and reterritorialize. The assemblage brings together various elements not pre-established but rather on a relation to each other through affect. While a received view may consider an assemblage, it does not focus on the relationality of affect of the elements in the assemblage and how relationships of affect create different becomings.



In rhizoanalysis, ontology becomes a significant force guiding a research inquiry. Rhizoanalysis is a nonmethod. What is presented in this section becomes one way to do rhizoanalysis in keeping with Deleuzian ontology. Accordingly, rhizoanalysis constitutes a radical departure from what might be considered the received view of doing research, that is, postpositivist and humanist research paradigms (subject centering, representation, interpretation, etc.) that have been critiqued (Masny 2013; Mazzei and Jackson 2012; St. Pierre 2014).

Deleuze studied life through problematization. How does a problem come about and what has a problem produced in becoming? Problems stem from experiences in life. A problem invites experimentation. Furthermore, problematizing creates concepts. Concept creation is important as it provides new directions for thinking. In this entry, a problem arises from experiences of conducting empirical research in education. The problem is one of incommensurability. The autonomous thinking subject grounds experience, in other words, attempts to fix (pin down) and predict what research observations and interviews as data mean through representation and interpretation. In contrast, Deleuzian ontology engages in a decentered subject, antirepresentation and anti-interpretation, immanence and difference. Such a perspective of reality combined with the rhizome, itself an assemblage, de- and reterritorializes empirical research and creates a new concept, rhizoanalysis.

What Is Rhizoanalysis?

There is no one-way to do rhizoanalysis (Dufresne 2002; Fox and Alldred 2015; Olsson 2009; Perry 2013; Waterhouse 2011; Sellars 2013). Regardless, its analytic orientation to research is based on Deleuzian ontology and the rhizome (multiplicity, connectivity, heterogeneity, rupture, and mapping). Moreover, in its movement of horizontal lines/shoots, a rhizome is nonhierarchical. In other words, every element (connection) is equally important. One element enters into a relation with another element. The relationality is one of affect, becoming in the process of mapping connections of lines: molar (rigid), molecular (supple), and lines of light.

Research Assemblage

There is immanence, a virtual actual interaction during which an aspect of the research assemblage disrupts (e.g. interacting bodies) deterritorializes/virtualizes becoming asignifying and actualizes as rhizoanalysis. When there is an unpredictable event (such as incommensurability), ruptures in conventional research happen and emit lines of flight. The direction of actualization cannot be predicted. Rhizoanalysis through a research assemblage creates new connections through becoming. What emerges is a different way of doing research until an imminent event engages once more in a virtual-action interaction. What was a particular form of doing research could be no longer. It is different. It is difference that allows for creation and invention to happen continuously (Dufresne 2006).

As stated earlier, rhizoanalysis is an assemblage and connected to a research assemblage. What emerges is a particular view of rhizoanalysis. In what follows are examples taken from a research project involving rhizoanalysis (Masny 2013, 2015). The research project focuses on acquiring multiple writing systems simultaneously in multilingual children. How does the process of acquisition happen and what does it produce in becoming? Accordingly, the research assemblage consists of content (the school, the classroom, computer, lighting, etc.) and expression (collective assemblages of enunciation, order words). These nonhierarchical elements and their relationality to each other through affect contribute to de- and reterritorialize the research assemblage. The elements in the assemblage are not predetermined. In this entry, Cristelle, a 7-year-old girl in the research study effects and is effected through a relationality of affects of the elements of which Cristelle is one in the assemblage thereby becoming.

In this project there were filmed observations in class that became a springboard for interviews subsequently transcribed. The transcriptions do not undergo coding and are antirepresentational. In other words, the transcripts are not representations or a copy of the interview. Particular parts of the interview conceptualized as vignettes become the focus for analysis. The mind is not responsible for selecting vignettes even though the experience of connectivity takes place in the mind. Rather it is within a research assemblage, including observations that rhizomatic ruptures happen and with the power of affect flowing through a relationality of elements in the assemblage, vignettes emerge. Vignettes emerge based on the power of affect to flow through the assemblage and be affected by the assemblage. Vignettes deterritorialize and take off in unpredictable rhizomatic ways and reterritorialize creating new territories (e.g., video-vignettes, analytical vignettes, Masny 2015). Regarding analysis, the issue of data has been ongoing. Some researchers (St. Pierre 2014) critique what data do when connected to the received view of empirical research. In this entry, data have undergone deterritorialization and reterritorialized as palpation. Data in the received view are directly experienced. In rhizoanalysis, data have actualized as palpation that which cannot be directly experienced. Palpation (May 2005) will be explored further.

What follows is a research project that takes into account transcendental empiricism and the rhizome. Both govern rhizoanalysis and also promote the use of:
  1. 1.

    The infinitive invoking the prepersonal with the absence of subject and object; the infinitive speaks to events yet-to-come.

  2. 2.

    Indirect discourse decentering the subject.

  3. 3.

    A collective assemblages of enunciation (there is no first person pronoun) which speaks to the social nature of language, one in which reality is organized according to a dominant social order.

  4. 4.

    Problematization eliciting questions. Questions become responses to problems, “a useful way to suspend or resist this tendency to actualize-fix the virtual-problem as solutions-interpretations-recommendations” (Waterhouse, personal communication). Questions might elicit further problematization. As well, questions become a way to respond to data that cannot be directly experienced.


In an interview, Cristelle and the researcher were going over a riddle activity in class the previous day. She stated she did not enjoy the activity. She liked recess. She can play. She also liked drawing. When asked what activities she liked in class she answered that there was “none.” What happens then when asked to do activities in class she does not like? She replied that she “must do it.” The researcher inquired if she liked writing. She replied “no, it’s boring”, “everything is boring”.

With these vignettes, how do blocs of sensation flow through connecting relations that include Cristelle in the assemblage? The assemblage consists of content (Cristelle, the researcher, the video, the activities, the teacher, classmates, curriculum, the physical layout of the classroom, etc.), expression (collective assemblages of enunciation, order-words such as drawing after writing, curriculum), deterritorialization (becoming), and reterritorialization (new/different concept). The coming together of connecting relations in an assemblage is unpredictable, not pregiven, and formed at a particular moment in time and space. [A rhizomatic assemblage of connectivity, heterogeneity, multiplicity, decentering subject]

Cristelle stated that she must do the activities even though she does not like them. Is it the power of domination (pouvoir) through order words? Institutionalized power (pouvoir) in a rhizome consists of a molar (rigid) path that nevertheless ruptures and emits a line of flight. Is it a power of becoming (puissance), an immanence (virtual – actual interaction), a potential for transforming and becoming? Herein lies perhaps the untimely of power and becoming. Do order-words constitute rigid institutionalized spaces (molar lines)? It appears that collective assemblages of enunciation and order-words such as planned curriculum that position recess and drawing relate to a power of domination (pouvoir). However, there is also the relation of elements in an assemblage that through the power of becoming (puissance), recess, and drawing become different (undergo transformation). What might happen? Questions emerge from a problem. In addition, questions might elicit further problematization. As well, questions become a way to respond to palpated data, data that cannot be directly experienced.

In the received view of qualitative research the problem stated at the beginning of a research project is followed by research questions. Questions are formulated with the aim of finding solutions. Taken-for-granted assumptions of research tools merit problematizing. In rhizoanalysis, conventional coding, problem, and research questions deterritorialize only to reterritorialize as problematization and questions formulated as responses in order to disengage from interpretation (interpretosis) and encourage concept creation. There is no appeal to interpretation, simply raw tellings. In other words, to interpret/explain is to judge.

From a rhizomatic perspective, representational data emit lines of flight, a becoming–problem that deterritorializes data, becoming other in response to what it is not, difference and palpating data. To palpate data and construct questions from data open to the problem of how data function and what data produce.

With rhizoanalysis, we are in the realm of the empirical, but not of the representational kind. Empirical representation of data relies on direct observable experience supplemented by rich and thick descriptions and member checks, and inviting interpretation through empathy (Masny 2014a). Representation and interpretation go hand in hand in conventional qualitative research. Through rhizoanalysis, representation and interpretation deterritorialize and reterritorialize as antirepresentation and anti-interpretation. There is no direct experience of data. In other words, the research assemblage is not limited to what a researcher generates by way of interpretation based on the data before her/him. Immanence and difference extend experience of rhizoanalysis beyond what is to what might be.


In education, there are many approaches to research. Rhizoanalysis is one that relates to an ontology proposed by Deleuze and Guattari (subject decentering, antirepresentation, anti-interpretation, immanence, etc.). Rhizoanalysis has its specificity, an opportunity to experiment with the unknown, the unpredictable, and the nongiven. Rhizoanalysis is able to respond to the instability that presents itself in the world.

This position stands in contrast to problems “given ready-made” that disappear in the responses or solutions (Deleuze 1997, p. 158). This is not Deleuze’s position. He has set about to problematize a situation emerging out of life’s experiences to create questions that open up discussions that might lead to further questions and discussions “in which there are many possible solutions each of which captures something, not everything, put before us by the problem” (May 2005, p. 83). As May (2005) suggests, Deleuze has put forward an ontology of problems. Perhaps it is an invitation to jettison ontology of problems as a driving force in rhizoanalysis for it can provide an interesting alternative to conventional subject-centered educational research.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of OttawaOttawaCanada
  2. 2.Queensland University of TechnologyBrisbaneAustralia