Notes on: LeGrange,L. (2011) 'Sustainability and Higher Education: From arborescent to rhizomatic thinking'.  Educational Philosophy and Theory 43 (7): 742 -54.  doi: 10. 1111/j. 1469 -5812. 2008. 00503.x

Dave Harris

The term sustainability appeared in the 18th century in connection with forest management, although its recent use dates only from 1972.  There is a discourse of sustainability which was popularized by a European Commission report.  Sustainable development was '"development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs"'(742) [what a hopelessly vague definition].  Sustainability has been used to describe various matters such as crop yields, communities, and even the planet itself.  It is a contested term.  Critics have said it is internally contradictory, value laden, rarely promotes economic growth and so on [critics referenced 743].  It has been hijacked by neo liberal discourses and multinational corporations.  However, it still has some potential for addressing the relations between 'self, society and environment'(743) [terms used by Guattari].  The term has been territorialized but can be de and reterritorialized [with reference to an ecological writer pointing to the connectivity of everything—usual idealism].

Some educationists believe that environmental education should be centred on sustainability, but there is less agreement about whether this should take an instrumental form, and whether it risks indoctrination [review of the controversy 744].  There is a danger that 'education for sustainable development' has been recuperated to justify neoliberalism and limit other approaches [there is also a hint of the 'garbage can' approach, where responsibility is dumped on to the education system].  Neoliberal conceptions are too narrow, however and we must view the issue rhizomatically instead, to open up 'alternative ways of knowing and being which can include indigenous ones'.  Good old Deleuze and Guattari are going to be useful.

Thousand Plateaus distinguishes arborescent and rhizomatic thinking [in the usual way, trees vs. grasses and so on].  Real rhizomes can be good or bad.  Sustainable education can transform learners, or be reduced to political slogans [so what would be the factors that are likely to produce one or the other?].  It can point to 'vectors of escape' (745) through deterritorialization.  Formally, there are six characteristics of the rhizome which will help us rethink and offer alternatives to currently dominant ones.  These characteristics turn on connection and heterogeneity; multiplicity; rupture; and 'principles of cartography and decalcomania'[some characteristics are collapsed].

Connection and heterogeneity imply that any point can be connected to any other point.  This means we can connect sustainability education to 'the ideas, tools and skills of all participants involved'[!], including connecting academics with other members of the community.  Multiplicity invites us to consider the difference between variants produced from a single trunk or theory, and rhizomatic ones [illustrated with the usual baffling definition from TP].  We need to follow proliferating lines to form an assemblage.  Sustainability education could be an assemblage meaning it has 'dimensions of multiplicity, and necessarily changes its nature or as it expands its connections'(746), including changing outcomes or learning activities.  There should be constant interaction during pedagogical episodes, not just the implementation of particular models or frameworks, which are territorialized versions.  Rupture follows from the tendency of rhizomes to be interrupted and then to grow again, leading to the discussion of segmented lines and lines of flight.  [Almost inevitably] the orchid and the wasp show how things are always connected, how deterritorialization leads to more reterritorialization.  What this means is that we can see the global discourse as a set of territorialized lines of segmentarity, but we can convert them back into the lines of flight [if we are prepared to accept the long and lonely path that leads to Deleuzian ontology].  We need not see global frameworks as fixed.  We can think about integrating the local and the global to transform both, to bring back what is excluded 'from western thought' (747) [no less], breaking with dichotomies.  We can reintegrate western and indigenous knowledge and create new spaces for knowledge by de/reterritorializing [everything takes place entirely in thought]

The rhizome is a map not a tracing or reproduction, and this opens thought toward the real, rather than folding everything in the unconscious.  This would make sustainability education open new connections and possibilities, and increase its transformative potential by linking with real communities and addressing their problems.  It is new possibilities that are mapped.  It all leads to an exciting new 'transdisciplinary trajectory for sustainability' in higher education [using Deleuzian terminology? No].

At the moment, the concept of sustainable development is still ambiguous and elusive, even though capitalism has expanded to produce an integrated form, affecting self, society and nature, [as in Guattari on IWC].  Life itself is now threatened, society is even more ossified.  The point is, however are not to focus on problems to be solved, but tw consider instead '"marvelous potentials for an on going, open-ended fabrication of the world"'[749, quoting Gough, who else?].  We need to trouble accepted definitions especially those 'produced by a powerful supranational organizations' [so that's going to be easy then].  We need to see the full complexity and think imaginatively and creatively.  Higher education must 'invigorate the lines of escape from neo liberal discourses' and [as well?  Instead?] 'Overcome the strictures of disciplinary knowledge'.

Disciplinary knowledge is both productive and regulating.  [Ignoring the first one altogether] the last function is what produces the regulation of sustainability education, through the different discipline(s).  Deleuze and Guattari help us think of new assemblages of scientific knowledge, however, transdisciplinary knowledge, for example, or disciplinary knowledge as containing the potential for deterritorialization and lines of flight.  Other people have talked about a shift from mode 1 to mode 2 knowledge [oh dear, with the latter valued of course as problem-centred, demand driven, entrepreneurial, hybrid and so on, but with the overarching capitalist framework strangely neglected,and the agenda to do far more APEL].  The shift to mode 2 follows from the massification of higher education, producing a surplus number of graduates, many of whom have 'established their own laboratories, think tanks and consultancies' [gross idealism in both senses here!].  This has produced more socially distributed knowledge outside the evil influence of universities, and developed more partnerships in research [collaboration between business and the government is seen as benevolent here!].  There is no reason why ordinary citizens might not be taken into such partnerships, especially leading to a new cooperation with indigenous knowledge [I can think of a reason -- no money in it] .  Thus we need to reconsider scholarship [so the usual cop out - this is much easier than actually establishing new forms of alliance to promote sustainability.  It is the old academic project—first of all we have to consider ourselves and our careers].

We must reimagine scholarship and expand it.  Boyer will do for a start, with his inclusion of discovery and application to teaching.  The scholarship of discovery looks particularly useful, producing passion and excitement.  Scholars integrate their insights with new work in other disciplines.  The reflective practitioner might emerge.  This might produce Mode 2 knowledge [so all the trendy themes link up, and it is all based on Deleuze and Guattari!].  Scholarship as application will move professors out into the community, for example 'serving on boards of environmental and wildlife organizations', or 'working in collaboration with communities on community-based projects'(751).  If we take teaching seriously, we have to consider pedagogic knowledge as well.  All this encourages lines of escape, and 'challenges university reward systems' including those based on performativity [so they will get nowhere].

There is a special potential in the 'scholarship of integration' but it needs to be expanded to consider different forms of scholarship.  We don't want scholars just constructing new ideas or theories.  Instead, they should do scholarship based on community interaction, teaching and service, or to embrace all the forms of scholarship [laid out in a table 752].  We need a more rhizomatic view, with multiple possibilities of connection, rather than straightforward integration.  We should make scholarship a genuine multiplicity not an empirical assemblage, 'so as to create growth in new directions to form new assemblages'.

So [mere meditation upon a metaphor] produces new 'creative and imaginative thinking' about environmental problems. [A bunch of old liberal cliches really, requiring no actual Deleuze and Guattari at all] ]. There is no no need to clarify the meaning of sustainability.  The trick is to reject any normalizing and regulating definitions as in global capitalism, and therefore to challenge determinism [neo liberals would wholeheartedly agree of course].  We have to reject the old disciplines which are trees.  We need to embrace Mode 2 knowledge, build transdisciplinary networks that are constantly opened to transformation, build collaborative work with people outside the university and even with ordinary citizens and indigenous folk [can't you see them queueing to join us?] .  Look at the progress made by ethnobotany, or new conceptions of science involving qualitative work [and any other fashionable liberal stuff you can work in].  It all depends on scholarship becoming rhizomatic.

[Dear god!]

Back to Deleuze page.