May 3, 2024, by UoN School of English

Rhizome Thinking

One of the joys of university is learning how to think differently. In this blog, I’d like to offer Study is a Rhizomeas as a rich conceptual metaphor for thinking about studying. 

Conceptual metaphors are useful for understanding abstract concepts. They were investigated by Lakoff and Johnson in Metaphors We Live By and today are an important part of cognitive linguistics. Kövecses’ has a useful outline of conceptual metaphor theory here. 

Some key characteristics of rhizomes are: 

  • Rhizomes grow continually and horizontally. 
  • Rhizomes make connections between nodes, sites of activity and growth capable of producing new roots and shoots.  
  • When a rhizome is split, each node can grow a new plant.  

Think of ginger, mint, knotweed, bamboo, stinging nettles… They overgrow barriers, pop up in unexpected places and can be remarkably useful.  

Some characteristics might be easy for you to map between the domains (rhizome and study). We talk about growing our skills and knowledge, use the world wide web for research and make associations between texts. Even our brains work as networks of neurons.  

For me, these have been particularly helpful for my study practices: 

  • Growing my knowledge continually, a little at a time, is more manageable than cramming. It leaves more time and energy for other things.  
  • Growing my knowledge across English (horizontally), has given me a broad range of resources and connections for when I want to (or have to) dive into a text for assessment. 
  • Valuing the connections has helped me link apparently disparate areas of interest, such as Cognitive Narratology and Medieval Geographies. Ideas coalesce around the connections I’ve found most interesting; the ‘nodes’ of activity that grow into a piece of work. As a bonus, drawing connections between topics is an effective way to retain information. 
  • When I must inevitably ‘kill my darlings’ in planning and editing phases, it feels more heartening to compare this to a rhizome. Splitting my topic, the ‘node’, from the web of connections is a redirection of energy, rather than a waste of time. I can archive my ideas knowing they are waiting to grow somewhere unexpected and in unexpected ways. 

The conceptual metaphor Study is a Rhizome has helped me shift my thoughts about studying, reducing the pressure to have neat, always well-organised notes separating each topic. This metaphor reminds me I can draw on everything I’ve learned, not just discrete units and has made the editing process more enjoyable. Perhaps, like me, you’re not just hoarding scribbles and notes in unlikely places but are really thinking rhizomatically. Now, to map those connections and find the nodes where ideas can grow. 

— Rhiannon Rumble, MA English (Online)  

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

Posted in Student WordsTips/Advice/Guidance