Thursday, January 22, 2015

Connections, Flows, and Freire in #moocmooc

I'm taking a break from prepositions—at least from writing about them—to talk about MOOCMOOC and critical pedagogy. MOOCMOOC assigned reading for this week included Chapter 2 of Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1993). It's been many years since I read Freire, and it's pleasant to see how my latest readings are re-informing my understanding of him now. The most surprising idea to emerge from this week's reading was his reliance on movement and flow in his critique of the traditional banking model of education. He doesn't actually discuss flow as such—the term doesn't appear in the translation of Chapter 2 that I read—but I see the concept informing much of what he does discuss.

For instance, early in Chapter 2 he talks about inquiry as a practice necessary for humanity: "For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other" (1). His words imply movement: knowledge emerges … restless, impatient continuing … human beings pursue. Inquiry is not passive, cannot be passive, but is active, moving, flowing. It reminds me of Deleuze and Guattari's flows of desire that drive all human activity—and I would say desire drives all natural activity.

One of the big problems with the banking model of education is that it stops the flow of inquiry physically, mentally, socially. Students are anchored in seats and forbidden to talk to their neighbors (real or virtual), they can't look on each others papers. The banking model has a very truncated, highly controlled flow that stops with the individual student: teacher > student—STOP, with the only expectation that the student can send the information back to the teacher on a test, but with no expectation that the information has any immediate use. The information will be useful in the distant, adult future, which for children especially is the same thing as never.

All students, of course, have drives for inquiry: they all desire to connect to their worlds and their societies to understand better, to engage that world, but the banking model dams all of those desires, those flows toward connection and engagement with the real world, restricting students to the sanctioned flow of information. The problem is, as Freud has helped us to see, those desires for connection may be dammed but they are not eliminated. They squirt out around the sides of the dams, cutting new channels, and flowing into the dark, forbidden corners of school hallways, lavatories, and playgrounds. Desires will not be denied, but they can be perverted, and that is mostly what the banking model of education does. It perverts the natural desires of students to connect to their worlds and understand it. It tries to stop the flows of desire that all students have to connect to each other and to their worlds, desires that are obvious to anyone who has engaged or observed a kindergarten class.

Freire points out that the main way to open the natural desire to inquire into the world is to change the flow between student and teacher: "The raison d'etre of libertarian education, on the other hand, lies in its drive towards reconciliation. Education must begin with the solution of the teacher-student contradiction, by reconciling the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously teachers and students" (1). Not until we teachers reconnect to our own desires for genuine inquiry of the world, can we hope to remove ourselves as an impediment to our students' desires for inquiry, for sustained engagement of the world. In their chapter about rhizomes in their book A Thousand Plateaus (1988), Deleuze and Guattari distinguish between mapping the world and tracing the world. The banking model is focused on tracing sanctioned simulacra of the world, while genuine inquiry focuses on mapping. Deleuze and Guattari explain the difference between the two in ways that illuminate Freire for me:
What distinguishes the map from the tracing is that it is entirely oriented toward an experimentation in contact with the real. … It fosters connections between fields, … It is itself a part of the rhizome. The map is open and connectable in all of its dimensions; it is detachable, reversible, susceptible to constant modification. It can be torn, reversed, adapted to any kind of mounting, reworked by an individual, group, or social formation. It can be drawn on a wall, conceived of as a work of art, constructed as a political action or as a meditation. Perhaps one of the most important characteristics of the rhizome is that it always has multiple entryways … as opposed to the tracing, which always comes back "to the same." The map has to do with performance, whereas the tracing always involves an alleged "competence." (12, 13)
Inquiry has to do with performance, whereas the banking model always involves an alleged competence. You can't measure competence unless you freeze a flow into a traceable model against which to measure the student's tracing. Inquiry is always oriented away from the model toward an experimentation in contact with the real.

I think Freire speaks directly to this experimentation in contact with the real when he says that "only through communication can human life hold meaning. The teacher's thinking is authenticated only by the authenticity of the students' thinking. The teacher cannot think for her students, nor can she impose her thought on them. Authentic thinking, thinking that is concerned about reality [italics added], does not take place in ivory tower isolation, but only in communication. If it is true that thought has meaning only when generated by action upon the world, the subordination of students to teachers becomes impossible" (4). When both the teacher and the students, together, are flowing beyond the classroom and into contact with the real, then can they have genuine communication. In other words, their speech is not just tracing, but mapping the real.

Stopping the flow of our lives is painful, violent, and fatal. Freire is quite clear about this, as are Deleuze and Guattari: "Oppression—overwhelming control—is necrophilic; it is nourished by love of death, not life. The banking concept of education, which serves the interests of oppression, is also necrophilic. Based on a mechanistic, static, naturalistic, spatialized view of consciousness, it transforms students into receiving objects. It attempts to control thinking and action, leads women and men to adjust to the world, and inhibits their creative power. When their efforts to act responsibly are frustrated, when they find themselves unable to use their faculties, people suffer" (4).

The only way out, the only path of liberation, is to open the flows of inquiry and communication in contact with the real. As Freire says, "Authentic liberation—the process of humanization—is not another deposit to be made in men. Liberation is a praxis: the action and reflection of men and women upon their world in order to transform it" (5).

This physical, mental, and social practice of inquiry and communication to engage and transform the world joins not only the teacher and student but also the objects of inquiry. The things learned themselves join the flow of inquiry and engagement, both making and marking the connection of the student/teachers and teacher/students to each other and to the real world. We all become mediated by the world, changing both ourselves and our worlds, as Freire says:
It is a learning situation in which the cognizable object (far from being the end of the cognitive act) intermediates the cognitive actors—teacher on the one hand and students on the other. Accordingly, the practice of problem-posing education entails at the outset that the teacher-student contradiction to be resolved. Dialogical relations—indispensable to the capacity of cognitive actors to cooperate in perceiving the same cognizable object—are otherwise impossible. … Through dialogue, the teacher-of-the-students and the students-of-the-teacher cease to exist and a new term emerges: teacher-student with students-teachers. The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach. They become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow. In this process, arguments based on "authority" are no longer valid; in order to function authority must be on the side of freedom, not against it. Here, no one teaches another, nor is anyone self-taught. People teach each other, mediated by the world, by the cognizable objects which in banking education are "owned" by the teacher. (6)
Life, then, our own lives right here and now, make sense only as mediated by the world, by cognizable objects. This mediation is not static, but a flow which the banking model tries to dam and restrict. These flows of desire to engage the world, the real world, are not ours alone. Rather, they flow through us. All humanity desires to engage, and we share in those desires with the world. When we open those flows, we are authentically engaged with the world and become real, here and now people. Freire says, "Education as the practice of freedom—as opposed to education as the practice of domination—denies that man is abstract, isolated, independent and unattached to the world; it also denies that the world exists as a reality apart from people. Authentic reflection considers neither abstract man nor the world without people, but people in their relations with the world. In these relations consciousness and world are simultaneous: consciousness neither precedes the world nor follows it" (6).

Education can flow with this desire to engage and to know, or it can try to subvert that desire for its own ends or the ends of State, Church, or Business. Damming the desires of people to inquire into the real does not stop those desires but tragically turns the desires in on themselves, cutting people off from the real and locking them into their own fantasies. What Freire calls genuine inquiry and D&G call mapping frees us from the dammed, perverse desires. As Deleuze and Guattari say, "The map does not reproduce an unconscious closed in upon itself; it constructs the unconscious. It fosters connections between fields, the removal of blockages" (12).

As it happens, Freire, Deleuze, and Guattari are just trying to save our souls.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Desires of Prepositions

I've been using the phrase desires of prepositions without explaining what I mean. Partly I did this because I've had to work my head around the idea. It started with an intuition and some amusement over the juxtaposition of two terms that are usually not used together in the same conversation, much less the same sentence or phrase. (Aside: I just googled "desires of prepositions" with the quotes, and Google returned only 8 hits. Seven of them were mine, and only 1 from another source, a 09/21/2009 post entitled HERO�NO HONOR, EH? Weenie Yellow Polka� by Judge Bean on conspiracycafe.net. At least I have company.) Though I'm confident that I will continue to enlarge the idea in my own head and writing, I think I'm clear enough now to clarify what I mean by desires of prepositions and to connect it to the conversation about Rhizo14.

I think that my last several posts explain how I'm using the term preposition and how I picked up on the importance of prepositions from comments Michel Serres made to Bruno Latour in their book Conversations on Science, Culture, and Time (1995). My online dictionary defines a preposition as:
a word governing, and usually preceding, a noun or pronoun and expressing a relation to another word or element in the clause, as in “the man on the platform,” “she arrived after dinner,” “what did you do it for?”
(By the way, I'm pleased to see an online dictionary ending a sentence with a preposition. Gratifying that.)

Prepositions, then, govern and connect mostly substantives to other elements within a sentence. As I've said elsewhere, prepositions are the stage directors of sentences, positioning the actors, pacing the action, and in general, structuring and making sense of the scene/sentence. Prepositions make clear to the reader (audience) the trajectories of the elements in a sentence (the actors and actions on the stage). I like this stage metaphor (though a movie screen would work as well, I think), for it animates sentences which we seem to think static, frozen in a line of text on a printed page. And this is what prepositions do within the sentence: they couple this with that, putting everything into motion. Actually, other sentence elements such as conjunctions, punctuation marks, spacing, the position and proximity of syntax also couple things and mark those relationships for the reader/audience, but for now, I'm limiting my discussion to prepositions. I'll discuss all connective grammatical elements later.

For me, the big idea is that prepositions form and flavor the connections within a sentence. They are a big part of the structure that informs a sentence and makes it mean something, and they both create that structure and mark that structure for us to hear/see/read. Prepositions do much of the hard work of forming patterns and marking those patterns. I believe that pattern making, pattern marking, and pattern recognition is the heart of making meaning, of creating and using knowledge, and thus, of education. Prepositions choreograph the movement of actors and actions on the stage. Without them we have little pattern and little meaning, just a collection of actors sitting in a heap or wandering aimlessly on stage. Consider the first sentence that I used from Maha's contribution to the collaborative autoethnography (CAE):
Funny enough, even though I have been thinking about this since #rhizo14 started and writing about it throughout on my blog, fb, twitter, I am having a lot of difficulty writing here.
If we remove the connections created by the prepositions, then we reduce the sentence to a near empty stage:
Funny enough, even though I have been thinking and writing, I am having a lot writing here.
If we remove all the connector elements, including punctuation and spacing, we are left with almost nothing:
Iamhavingalot
Even reduced to the basic subject/verb/direct object as in this string of letters, we can see that some hint of connectivity remains as the verb connects the subject and direct object and all three elements appear in standard English order. However, without structuring elements such as prepositions, language is near meaningless. While we usually focus on the substantives and verbals to determine the meaning of a sentence, it is the little words—the prepositions, conjunctions, punctuation, spaces, syntax, and so forth—that do much of the heavy work of meaning creation.

I am not diminishing the importance of substantives and verbals here; rather, I am elevating the importance of the little words, specifically the prepositions. We have a cultural habit of focusing on the big words, the substantives and verbals, the actors and actions. This habit extends to language experts who more often than not define the little words in terms of their relationships to the big words. For instance, in Maha's sentence, the word throughout would most likely be called an adverb because it is modifying the verb writing even though the word is often used as a preposition. The little words are defined by the big words they modify rather than by what they do: connect things, couple. To my mind, throughout is coupling just as about and on are, and all three should be defined in their own right and not in terms of their relationship to the big words.

What do connector words do? They map the flow of a sentence out into a meaningful structure. In the sentence above, Maha has something, but she spins that notion out, enriches it, starting her sentence by noting her amused chagrin at her situation, then setting up a contrast with her previous ability to think and write about Rhizo14 in her online spaces, which provides much setting for her scene and several props, and finally rounds out her thoughts by adding that she's having difficulty with writing in the CAE. To my mind's eye, the sentence unpacks itself, in large part through the prepositions, much as a dandelion stretches out into the air.  Maha's sentence takes a handful of dust, debris, and concepts, and sets them spinning about themselves in a little constellation that creates meaning—not out of nothing, but meaning that did not exist before Maha mapped her concepts in this particular dance.

I take the concept of mapping from Deleuze and Guattari's discussion of the rhizome in A Thousand Plateaus (1988), where they distinguish it from tracing, and this mapping segues nicely into desire, another concept from Deleuze and Guattari, especially in their book Anti-Oedipus (1977). Think about the forces that push and pull the dandelion as it stretches into its own space within its own ecosystem, or the forces that push and pull Maha's words into its own shape within its own conversational space. The dandelion desires to connect to the earth, water, sunlight, other plants, and all of those things desire to connect to the dandelion. Following the lead of Deleuze and Guattari, that is what I mean by desire: the forces that push and pull everything to connect and create new structures, new meaning. I'll try to unpack this, mostly for me.

Desire is commonly understood in human terms as a drive for something that we do not have. In other words, it is defined by lack, by something that is apart from us, or transcendent, not something that is part of us, or immanent. Deleuze and Guattari reverse this understanding. In their book Deleuze and Geophilosophy (2004), Mark Bonta and John Protevi note that desire is "not subjective hankering after what you do not have"; rather, desire "is the material process of connection, registration and enjoyment of flows of matter and energy coursing through bodies in networks of production in all registers, be they geologic, organic, or social" (76). I would add that these flows include organization and information in addition to matter and energy, as Edgar Morin points out in his analysis of complexity in his book On Complexity.

According to Bonta and Protevi, Deleuzian desire takes two main forms:
  1. paranoid (fascist), which "forms whole subjects who cling to their identities in a social production network that must not change and that reinforces the rigid (tribal or imperial) coding and channeling of flows" (76), and 
  2. schizophrenic (revolutionary), which "rides the [uncoded flows of] energies released by capitalism and takes them far beyond the pathetic reterritorializations on family and private property maintained by psychoanalysis and the capitalist State" (76).
I think that McGilchrist's book The Master and the Emissary gives us another, more flexible way to characterize connections with his left-brain/right-brain analysis. We connect either to manipulate (left-brain) or to relate (right-brain); though these are extreme ends of a sliding scale. Few connections are totally left-brain or right-brain, but it helps us to clarify the distinctions between them if we push them to extremes which seldom occur. I think I will post something about this later, but not now.

The problem with desire, for Deleuze and Guattari, is that priests (religious, psychoanalytic, economic, and state) manage desire by defining it in transcendent terms: lack (you desire only what you don't have), pleasure (you desire only what makes you feel good), and jouissance (you really only want transcendent pure pleasure, which you can never have or have only in Heaven). Desire, then, is traditionally defined in terms of lack by those who want to control it. Deleuze and Guattari define desire in terms of immanent drives that flow through us, connecting us to others and to larger socio-political structures. And this is a key property of desire: they are not our own; rather, they flow through us. Deleuze and Guattari say that our desires are already part and parcel of the socio-political systems that we are part of. I insist that desires are part and parcel of all reality. They are the flows of energy, matter, organization, and information that flesh us out, unpack our DNA, and seek to connect us to other unpacking entities and their flows of energy, matter, organization, and information.

Of course, I am extending desire beyond the socio-political to include pretty much everything. For me, desire is that tendency or affinity of things to connect to other things, to couple, and to create new things. Quarks desire quarks and create atoms. Atoms desire atoms and create molecules. People desire people and create societies. This is far different from how desire is usually used. Under the influence of Freud and Marx, we have pretty much defined desire in terms of sex and money, and the physical sciences have abandoned the term as too anthropomorphic. Deleuze and Guattari limited their discussion of desire to the human realms of society and politics, largely in response to Freud and Marx and to the socio-political upheavals of the 1960s, I think. Desire works nicely in this context, and I may come to regret trying to extend desire beyond the merely human, but I'm willing to fail. The idea attracts me, so I'll do it, but I recognize that when I speak of atoms desiring atoms, most people will prefer talking about the probabilistic tendencies of atoms to bond with certain other atoms that they randomly encounter. No problem. My concept of desire includes those couplings as well; though, I don't care much for leaving it all to random chance. To my mind, if there were only two quarks in all the universe, they would desire and find each other, coupling to create one lonely particle. That may be the saddest, shortest story I've ever told, but I believe it.

These couplings are important, given that everything in the universe exists because of them. The couplings produce everything, and this production is important to Deleuze and Guattari who posit desiring machines as the point of coupling and production, or to my mind, the point of creation. The key to keep in mind is that they are not speaking metaphorically. Nor am I. D&G start Anti-Oedipus:
It is at work everywhere, functioning smoothly at times, at other times in fits and starts. It breathes, it heats, it eats. It shits and fucks. What a mistake to have ever said the id. Everywhere it is machines—real ones, not figurative ones: machines driving other machines, machines being driven by other machines, with all the necessary couplings and connections. An organ-machine is plugged into an energy-source-machine: the one produces a flow that the other interrupts. The breast is a machine that produces milk, and the mouth a machine coupled to it. The mouth of the anorexic wavers between several functions: its possessor is uncertain as to whether it is an eating-machine, an anal machine, a talking-machine, or a breathing machine (asthma attacks). Hence we are all handymen: each with his little machines. (8)
Prepositions, then, are desiring machines. This is not a metaphor. As I've already said, prepositions really don't mean much by themselves. They attain meaning in the connection, in the coupling that they perform. This is when their meaning emerges. Prepositions mark the point at which the flow of desire passes from this to that, here to there, connecting and coupling, leading to the production of something new. Something given flows in (all those linguistic, informational and organizational as well as energy and material flows) and something transformed flows out. This is how the rhizome grows, moves, deterritorializes and reterritorializes, and prepositions provide us with an explicit marker of the flow of desire through our conversations. It is a production machine, which means that it both makes the connection and marks the connection.

Consider again Maha's sentence above:
Funny enough, even though I have been thinking about this since #rhizo14 started and writing about it throughout on my blog, fb, twitter, I am having a lot of difficulty writing here.
The prepositions couple Rhizo14 to her thinking and writing, which are both coupled to her blog, Facebook, and Twitter and coupled to the duration of Rhizo14, and finally she herself is coupled to difficulty. This is a great amount of coupling in so short a sentence, and it opens up a rich stage on which Maha plays out her story. The prepositions take the nouns and verbs of Maha's thought and orchestrate a beautiful scene within a clear setting with spatial, virtual, and temporal dimensions that combines and redirects different trajectories into transformed trajectories that can feed into the trajectories of whoever reads her sentence. Of course, the trajectories of my sentences here can then flow back (feedback) into Maha's sentences. Likewise, Maha's entire sentence is a desiring machine that couples with the other sentences in her paragraph, which couples with the other paragraphs, which couples with the other autoethnographies, and so on. Flow feeds on flow, desire on desire, and this coupling produces … well, everything. This is the rhizome unfolding, and I would be silly to think that I, or even the iSwarm, control all these flows. We nudge and twist our thoughts within a field of thoughts, but they are alive and resist our nudging, twisting in sometimes unexpected ways. Like just now. I really did not plan to write that last sentence. Or the next one. Or this one. On and on. I touch the flow here and there and it responds, but I don't really control it. Nor it me. We dance.

In his introduction to Anti-Oedipus, Mark Seem highlights a central question and insight of the book: "What is the function of desire, Anti-Oedipus asks, if not one of making connections?" (xxii). Prepositions make connections, and thus make and mark the flow of desire, and this is their function.

This gives me a very helpful way of thinking about Rhizo14. What desires, what flows of drives and affinities, led people to connect to each other last February, 2014? What desiring machines enabled these couplings? What flows kept people in Rhizo14? What flows turned people away from Rhizo14? Did other, more demanding desiring machines couple them with other, more engaging flows? How?

And then I have to ask how well do the autoethnographies map to what actually happened? If I follow the couplings in the AEs, will I learn something about the couplings in Rhizo14? Do people really know what drives aided or failed them in coupling to Rhizo14? I know, for instance, that I am largely unaware of the epic wars waged by my immune system along the waterways and landscapes of my own body. What other drives am I missing? Deleuze and Guattari insist that most of our drives and desires operate quite aside from our consciousness, pushing and pulling us in directions that we only mark and rationalize after the fact.

Okay, so this is what I mean by the desires of prepositions. It makes sense to me, but help me push it around. Test it.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Immanent Mappings or Transcendent Tracings?

I thought I might be finished talking about prepositions and meaning, but more ideas keep coming that inch me closer to talking about the desires of prepositions.

In my last post, I argued that the meanings of words—perhaps the meanings of all words, but certainly the meanings of prepositions—are context-bound. Prepositions do not have a context-independent meaning. A preposition, of course, brings to a conversation a history, a trajectory of usage that makes it readily useful, and it is this history of usage that most dictionaries try to capture, especially dictionaries like the Oxford English Dictionary (The OED) that explicitly list the history of an English word beginning with its roots in languages of the past. This trajectory of usage is the DNA of the preposition that unpacks more or less well in any given conversation, or given context. But the unpacking in the current conversation is just as important, probably more important, than the DNA the preposition brings to the conversation.

This is similar in my mind to how the life of a person is more dependent on how their DNA unpacks itself within its environment (context) than on the DNA itself. The meaning of a person and a preposition, of course, depends on the sub-strata of DNA, but it is by no means limited to that DNA. This habit of definition is the source of most unfair prejudices and discriminations because it appeals to some transcendent category to define the person or preposition rather than to the immanent unpacking of the DNA. For example, Maha noted in the recent #fedwiki that men still hold a prejudice against women in technology. Men too often assume that because Maha's DNA made her female, then she must not know much about technology. They are unfairly defining Maha and all other women by a transcendent category, ignoring that Maha has unpacked her own DNA in a very technology-competent manner. For me, this habit of defining by transcendent categories has some benefits but also many debits. It leads to too much damaging behavior like last year's Gamergate debacle.

The meaning of a preposition, then, depends on the immanent unpacking of the word within a conversation as its trajectory weaves in and out of the trajectories of all the other words in the conversation, but it is more than that. The meaning also depends upon the trajectories and relative points of view of the interlocutors. Consider the follow CAE sentence from iKevin:
I came into the space with no understanding of Rhizomatic Learning other than some references the past summer with our Making Learning Connected MOOC project, and I leave the space still a bit murky about the term.
Into shows up here with a figurative extension of the first meaning indicating a movement that results in enclosure within something. That is without question a fine beginning for constructing some meaning out of this collection of words, this string of DNA (I'm coming to think of sentences still as linear, but linear in the way that DNA is linear: a double-helix in which position and order is important but no more important than how the DNA unpacks itself as it feeds into and back from its environment, or context), but into doesn't really begin to mean much until it interacts with the rest of the sentence, the paragraph, iKevin's entire account, the CAE including marginalia. Look at the sentence. If you cannot identify the space iKevin refers to, then you have a weak or even inaccurate understanding of what into means here. That iKevin is referring to the virtual space of a cMOOC about Rhizomatic Learning stains the meaning that emerges from into. That iKevin is somewhat confused by Rhizomatic Learning and that he has experience in other MOOCs also shades the emergent meaning of into. That iKevin goes into and then out of the space, suggesting a narrative journey, shades the emergent meaning of into.

I could go on adding more references from the enclosing paragraph, account, CAE, etc, but this makes the point for me: into doesn't mean much until it connects iKevin to Rhizo14 and weaves through his own mental state, his history with MOOCs, his profession, and so much more. When I pull all of that together, then I start to understand what iKevin means by coming into the space. And it isn't exactly the same meaning that emerges when iBonnie says, "I think this was honestly the thing that drew me fully into the group". The two uses are similar in a fractal sort of way: recognizable, but not the same.

I'm using the terms transcendent and immanent on purpose as they help me bridge to the discussion about the desires of prepositions, an idea that depends much on Deleuze and Guattari's concept of desire. For me, then, the meaning of a preposition is immanent, an inherent part of its use within a sentence. This has serious consequences for how I think about words. First, it challenges the notion of a word as a signifier which is a common sense of words. As a signifier, a word is never the thing it means. The meaning of a word is always defined as this means that: for example, horse means a large, four-legged, domesticated animal used for draft and transportation. The word horse does not mean itself; rather, it means something that transcends or is beyond itself. The word points to something else and has little to no meaning beyond that pointing, reference, or signifying. I think most of us think of words this way.

What if the word, however, just means itself, signifying nothing else? I'm suggesting that the meaning of a preposition is the coupling the preposition performs within a sentence. The preposition does not signify something other than its coupling, the connection it forms in this instance—just as in has just coupled instance to preposition, coupling,  forms, and connection. In fact, in coupled all of these together in a swarm. This coupling and connecting into a swarm, it seems to me, is at the heart of the rhizome, and in language, prepositions are the little couplers, the connectors, the desiring engines, that link any point to any other point. As Deleuze and Guattari say in A Thousand Plateaus (1980), "Principles of connection and heterogeneity: any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be" (7). Prepositions are those linguistic engines by which the rhizomatic conversation territorializes, deterritorializes, and reterritorializes—connecting to anything other. What if the purpose of language is not to signify, but to connect? What if connection came first, as with music, and signifying came later?

The desires of prepositions are extremely potent forces, and they are immanent, not transcendent. Prepositions do not signify something beyond their own coupling. Deleuze and Guattari say it pointedly: "Writing has nothing to do with signifying. It has to do with surveying, mapping, even realms that are yet to come" (4,5). They amplify this a page later:
A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles. A semiotic chain is like a tuber agglomerating very diverse acts, not only linguistic, but also perceptive, mimetic, gestural, and cognitive: there is no language in itself, nor are there any linguistic universals, only a throng of dialects, patois, slangs, and specialized languages. There is no ideal speaker-listener, any more than there is a homogeneous linguistic community. Language is, in Weinreich's words, "an essentially heterogeneous reality." There is no mother tongue, only a power takeover by a dominant language within a political multiplicity. Language stabilizes around a parish, a bishopric, a capital. It forms a bulb. It evolves by subterranean stems and flows, along river valleys or train tracks; it spreads like a patch of oil.
Prepositions and other connector words such as conjunctions are the immanent coupling engines of desire by which a conversation both "stabilizes around a parish" and "evolves by subterranean stems and flows, along river valleys or train tracks".

I do not know how well this idea will wear, but I'm interested in it enough to pursue it for awhile longer, in part because I think that the connections marked in the CAE by prepositions map the connections in Rhizo14. This may seem like a return to signifying something beyond the words, but I'm not so sure. When speaking of language, Deleuze and Guattari distinguish mapping from tracing, which always refers to the transcendent thing beyond itself. Mapping is immanent for Deleuze and Guattari, an "experimentation in contact with the real." As they explain:
The rhizome is altogether different, a map and not a tracing. Make a map, not a tracing. The orchid does not reproduce the tracing of the wasp; it forms a map with the wasp, in a rhizome. What distinguishes the map from the tracing is that it is entirely oriented toward an experimentation in contact with the real. The map does not reproduce an unconscious closed in upon itself; it constructs the unconscious. It fosters connections between fields, the removal of blockages on bodies without organs, the maximum opening of bodies without organs onto a plane of consistency. It is itself a part of the rhizome. The map is open and connectable in all of its dimensions; it is detachable, reversible, susceptible to constant modification. It can be torn, reversed, adapted to any kind of mounting, reworked by an individual, group, or social formation. It can be drawn on a wall, conceived of as a work of art, constructed as a political action or as a meditation. (A Thousand Plateaus, 12)
Anyone who participated in the swarm piece Writing the Unreadable Text or the #fedwiki has a visceral sense of using language to map rather than to trace reality. They are aware of writing that "is itself part of the rhizome … open and connectable in all of its dimensions" and that "can be torn, reversed, adapted to any kind of mounting, reworked by an individual, group, or social formation." This mapping is worth exploring, and I think the desires of prepositions will take me well into the space.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Prepositions and Meaning

In his Conversations on Science, Culture, and Time (1995) with Bruno Latour, Michel Serres suggests that prepositions mean almost nothing or almost anything, which turns out to be about the same thing. In my last post, I considered how the preposition into in the Rhizo14 collaborative auto-ethnography (CAE) linked a wide range of entities and actions to create an incredibly rich, self-organizing, auto-poietic system, and in this post I want to explore if into really means almost nothing or anything.

I start with a list of definitions of into from my Mac's online dictionary:
  1. expressing movement or action with the result that someone or something becomes enclosed or surrounded by something else: cover the bowl and put it into the fridge | Sara got into her car and shut the door | figurative : he walked into a trap sprung by the opposition. 
  2. expressing movement or action with the result that someone or something makes physical contact with something else: he crashed into a parked car.
  3. indicating a route by which someone or something may arrive at a particular destination: the narrow road that led down into the village.
  4. indicating the direction toward which someone or something is turned when confronting something else: with the wind blowing into your face | sobbing into her skirt.
  5. indicating an object of attention or interest: a clearer insight into what is involved | an inquiry into the squad's practices.
  6. expressing a change of state: a peaceful protest which turned into a violent confrontation | the fruit can be made into jam.
  7. expressing the result of an action: they forced the club into a humiliating and expensive special general meeting.
  8. expressing division: three into twelve equals four.
  9. informal (of a person) taking a lively and active interest in (something): he's into surfing.
This is a somewhat confusing situation, especially if you are looking for some common denominator, some core meaning, from which all these different meanings reasonably emerge. It's possible that the creators of this dictionary have listed the meanings in some order of primacy, thus suggesting that physical movement resulting in enclosure is the first or privileged meaning of into.

But how does one get from physical enclosure [Meaning 1] to division [Meaning 8] or a change of state [Meaning 6]? Perhaps close study of the history of into could suggest some pathways among all these meanings, but polysemy, or different meanings of a single word, is still problematic. This many different meanings challenges our conventional sense of meaning as a defining, essential characteristic of a given word. In the past, scholars seem to have assumed a single, privileged, core meaning for each word with other meanings branching from this one meaning. This strikes me as a symptom of a reductionist mindset that obscures the complex realities of language.

I have only the abstract of a 2008 presentation by Dagmara Dowbor entitled "The case of over revisited: Results from a corpus-linguistic analysis and further proposals", but Dowbor states much better than I the problem I see with past studies of polysemy: the belief in a core, context-independent meaning that forms the essential characteristic and proper usage of a given word. Dowbor writes:
The multiply studied and discussed word over has been known to be associated with a number of related yet distinct meanings or senses, such as ‘higher than’, ‘across’, ‘more than’, ‘covering’, and many others. Previous studies (e.g. Brugman (1981), Lakoff (1987), Kreitzer (1997), Tyler and Evans (2001)) have described and discussed the different senses of over, which have been claimed to form a radial network of interrelated senses, with the core sense at the center. The extended senses are said to be motivated by our spatiotemporal experience, and a number of those distinct senses have to be learned and stored in long-term memory, while many others are variants of those and can be inferred. Different criteria have been proposed for what counts as a distinct sense: it has been claimed, for instance, that there must be instances of the sense that are context-independent (e.g. Tyler and Evans 2001).
Dowbor argues that the meaning of words, especially polysemous prepositions, is always context dependent:
The major claim of the current study is that over has one single lexical meaning denoting a schematic spatial configuration and thus provides a structuring device or source concept that can be exploited for a great variety of purposes, which makes it polyfunctional and yields, through the application in different contexts, its meaning extensions. The present study demonstrates the results of a thorough corpus-linguistic investigation, which confirms that none of the different usages of over are context- independent, as claimed by previous studies, but that instead, it is the context that establishes those meaning extensions by adding different kinds of specifications and thus gives substance to the single schematic meaning of over, giving rise to complex conceptualizations.
I do not have more of Dowbor's work, but what I quote here points me in the direction I want to go: the meaning of a preposition is not context-independent; rather, meaning emerges from the dynamic context of substantives, verbals, and connector words along their various trajectories in the conversation at hand. This dynamic interaction unpacks the meaning of each word—the substantives and verbals as well as the connector words such as into. Meaning, then, always depends upon how a word unpacks itself within a conversation. I am not suggesting that a word, into for instance, does not bring some meaning to a conversation. It does, but this given meaning is something like the word's DNA: its history of shared usage which increases its chances of being used similarly in a similar conversation. A word, then, is predisposed to certain kinds of usages in certain kinds of situations, and we cannot ignore that predisposition, that DNA, when examining the word or when choosing to use it in conversation.

Still, the DNA of previous usage does not sufficiently explain the meaning of a preposition, or any other word, in a conversation. Consider, for instance, the first occurrence of into in the CAE:
If you would like to remain completely anonymous, you would need to work without logging into your Google Account.
Which of the nine definitions listed above precisely and completely captures the meaning of into in this case? I don't think any of them completely captures what into in this sentence means, and at the same time almost all of the nine definitions can resonate in this sentence, especially if we enlarge the context to include the entire CAE or the entire Rhizo14 event rather than merely this one sentence. Let's see if we can unpack the meaning of into in this sentence.

In this sentence, into does express avoiding an action that would result in a person being enclosed figuratively within Google [1], though I think the more accurate meaning is attached to rather than enclosed in. Not a precise match, but close enough, especially given that almost all who read this sentence glossed the word into and did not scrutinize it as closely as I am doing here. The use in this sentence also expresses avoiding a figurative movement that results in a figurative connection to Google [2]. This shift from the physical to the figurative is common with prepositions, and most of them have a long history of such figurative usages. Meaning [3], a route to a particular destination, is plausible if we stretch the figurative: if one wants to avoid being identified, then one should avoid the Google route to the CAE as that pathway is too public and leaves too many breadcrumbs. Meaning [4] indicating the direction one is turned toward when confronting something else also works in this figurative way: if you don't want to be identified, then don't turn your face this way when working in the CAE.

Meaning [5] indicating an object of interest still resonates in this sentence, though perhaps more faintly: if you are interested in CAE but want to remain anonymous, then don't log into your Google account. Meaning [6] indicating a change of state is perhaps fainter still, but not completely absent: if you want to remain anonymous and still participate in the CAE, then don't change from without Google to within Google. Meaning [7] expressing the result of an action, or in this sentence the result of an inaction, resonates well with me: don't log into Google, and your work in the CAE will remain anonymous. I have trouble with meaning [8] indicating a process of division; though even here, I can stretch it into something like if you divide yourself or parse yourself into your Google identity, then others will know who you are. If you want to remain anonymous, then don't divide into your Google self and present it to others. A stretch? Yes, but the vibes are still there if I look for them. Finally, meaning [9] as taking a lively and active interest in something resonates much better. If you are into CAE and into Google, but you want to remain anonymous, then disengage your interest in Google.

So what is the point here? For me, the point is that meaning is not reducible to a single, discrete packet that gets transferred from one person to another through a given word. I think Maha wrote this sentence on Feb 19, 2014, interestingly enough as an anonymous contributor (if she didn't, I apologize for the inference, but what I want to say does not absolutely depend on who the author is). When Maha wrote: "If you would like to remain completely anonymous, you would need to work without logging into your Google Account", she likely chose the word into out of her own language habits and the social convention of talking about logging into network accounts. I could argue that the social convention of saying logging into is the given meaning provided in this sentence and that the meaning doesn't somehow emerge in Maha's use of the existing phrase with its existing meaning in this new sentence, but I don't think this captures meaning. While the word into brings a history of usage (it brings its DNA) to the sentence, that does not capture the meaning. Rather, the meaning emerges as into unpacks itself within the context of the sentence, the list of instructions, the CAE, and Rhizo14, and beyond. Just as we cannot reduce the meaning of a person to their DNA (skin color, height, gender, etc.), we cannot reduce the meaning of a word to its DNA. We cannot understand a person or a word without understanding their respective DNAs, but that understanding is not sufficient. Rather, we must also understand how the DNA unpacks itself in complex interaction with its environment. The meaning of the word or the person emerges from the beginning configuration of DNA and the unpacking of that DNA over time and through usage.

Another point for me is that a word such as into resonates with all these meanings drawn both from its history of usage and its usage within a given conversation. Words do have a certain kind of homeorhesis, a tendency of complex systems to return to a trajectory, that makes them just stable enough, long enough, to be useful in a given conversation, but they are seldom a single, discrete line through history. Rather, they are a more or less coherent tangle of threads that more or less follow a given trajectory, a kind of chreod, a best pathway through a landscape, like a mountain stream finding its way down to the valley. The stream can branch, or fork, twist and turn, even double-back, as it works its way through whatever configuration space it finds itself. The history and meaning of words is like this to my mind: a long strand through culture—sometimes tightly woven, sometimes fraying—and my use of that word adds to its trajectory, either reinforcing its current trajectory or bumping it it in a new direction. Shakespeare bumped lots of words from their current trajectories in Sixteenth Century England, and as the landscape of culture changes, words twist and turn into new paths to make their way through.

This polysemy of prepositions is both their weakness and their power. It's a weakness because prepositions are one of the most difficult aspects of English for foreign speakers, and even native speakers usually don't understand the logic, if any, of how they use prepositions. However, polysemy points to several features that make prepositions so powerful and useful in language.

First, prepositions are the premier connectors, or couplers, in language. For instance, into connects most any I to any other entity or action. Want to engage a learning space such as Rhizo14? Into is into that: "I came into the space with no understanding of Rhizomatic Learning".  Want to connect to a class of first-year Education students? Into is into that as well: "My project – if you can call it that – for Rhizo14 has been to bring as much of this busy fizzy messy stuff as possible into my first year #becomingeducational module and see what it sparks in first year students who in the end want to become educationalists." Want to connect to Paulo Friere or not connect to your colleagues? Into can do it: "I have had an insight into what Paulo Freire advocates in Education and Change." and "Being in a small town I frequently run into those I worked with and it’s awkward and unpleasant." Prepositions are promiscuous, agnostic, heterogenous couplers that will connect most anything to most anything else. This is very powerful.

Then, prepositions are pre-eminently stainable. They take on the hue and flavor of whatever they connect, easily managing the flow of energy, matter, and information from one entity to another. Prepositions are the organic vehicles for decalcomania, the process that Deleuze and Guattari mention as one of the six characteristics of the rhizome. Consider the phrase "the desires of prepositions". the preposition of means almost nothing by itself, but in this phrase it takes stains both with desires and with prepositions to enable the flow of information from desires to prepositions and back again. Thus, desires informs the meaning of prepositions, and vice versa. Of is the coupler that enables this connection and exchange of information which creates new information, new knowledge. As an aside: I just googled the phrase "the desires of prepositions" and I find only references to my own writing in this blog. Perhaps this is a completely new construction. That's powerful, and prepositions make it possible.

What's the point for the Rhizo14 CAE? For me, this demonstrates that if meaning is emergent for something so small and insignificant as the preposition into, then the meaning of Maha, Sarah, Simon, Clarissa, or Terry is even more a complex process of emergence that cannot be captured in a core statement, a core bit of DNA. Here is one of the primary benefits of ethnography, including auto-ethnography: ethnography allows us to explore the emergence of meaning in any group or individual. Unlike traditional analysis which tries to identify the core characteristics, the DNA, of a group or individual, ethnography starts inside and pushes outward following the paths of unpacking DNA (marked grammatically by prepositions in the CAE, by the way). Traditional analysis looks for the single, reproducible mechanism that got people into Rhizo14 and kept them there so that, for instance, Rhizo14 can be reproduce in Rhizo15, but I've looked back over the CAE, and I see a hundred different pathways (multiple trajectories for each CAE author) that led to Rhizo14 and a thousand pathways leading out of Rhizo14 (someone should do a study of all the scholarly documents produced out of Rhizo14, never mind the trajectories through other classes and departments and online discussions).

While we cannot trace all the pathways through even a rhizome so small and contained as Rhizo14, we should expect and look for the couplers that make those pathways possible. What are the prepositions that connect people to people, ideas, and structures? Are those couplers (Twitter, for instance) as malleable, stainable, and as promiscuous as prepositions? What are the ethical implications of couplers that can create both beneficial and damaging connections? Lots of questions here.

Finally, I've heard some discussion in Rhizo14 about not being able to speak for others, about not being all-inclusive in regards to the Rhizo14 experience. This is a genuine and valid concern, and of course, we should try to include as much as possible, but we should not allow incomplete knowledge to silence us. We always speak from positions of relative ignorance with incomplete knowledge. We can hardly capture all the shades of meaning of the preposition into, so how can we hope to capture the meaning of all the participants in Rhizo14? We can't. Rather, our task as scholars is to speak as well as we can given the incomplete patterns that we can construct. And to say no more than that.

For now, I'll say no more than this.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Looking INTO Rhizo14 then INTO Its Environment

I want to explore what the preposition into reveals about Rhizo14. I have chosen to work with into for a couple of reasons. First, it is manageable, with only 33 instances in the auto-ethnography text (AE) as it existed in November, 2014. (I have to give a date because the text keeps changing as any rhizomatic document should do.) The preposition of occurs 652 times, but I feel overwhelmed at the prospect of mapping that many connections until I develop a better command of Voyant tools. My hope is that into will reveal some patterns in Rhizo14 that will scale up to 652.

Then, I like into because it has such a physical, literal linguistic history. The first two definitions in my Mac's dictionary demonstrate:
  1. expressing movement or action with the result that someone or something becomes enclosed or surrounded by something else: cover the bowl and put it into the fridge | Sara got into her car and shut the door | figurative : he walked into a trap sprung by the opposition. 
  2. expressing movement or action with the result that someone or something makes physical contact with something else: he crashed into a parked car.
Of course, into has more definitions, some quite figurative, which I will get to later, but this hint of physical action, enclosure, and contact in all uses of the word attracts me.

I start with an overview of what is actually in the AE text, using the Voyant tool Keywords in Context to generate the following lists. I'm embedding the tool here mostly so that you can see how it works. Keep in mind, however, that the tool is dynamic and that the data displayed will certainly change as I continue to play with the auto-ethnography. Still, if you read this post soon after posting, you will see the 33 instances of into in context:



Fortunately, this made it rather easy to harvest the 33 sentences (yes, it worked out that into appeared only once in each sentence) and list them here in order of occurrence:

  1. If you would like to remain completely anonymous, you would need to work without logging into your Google Account.
  2. I came into the space with no understanding of Rhizomatic Learning other than some references the past summer with our Making Learning Connected MOOC project, and I leave the space still a bit murky about the term.
  3. My project – if you can call it that – for Rhizo14 has been to bring as much of this busy fizzy messy stuff as possible into my first year #becomingeducational module and see what it sparks in first year students who in the end want to become educationalists.
  4. I never actually go into a MOOC planning to study the process, but because i am an educator and researcher i am always interested in the process or pedagogy of a learning experience and that is what draws me to research ideas, understanding learner experience, etc.
  5. (btw it was the facebook group more than anything else that did it for me, but also that i was blogging and interacting with other ppl on their blogs and learning how to use my blog to integrate ideas - and i have to admit that iPad and smartphone notifications about news on all these helped me keep track BUT it was mainly the people themselves and the way we were all "into it" that made it special.
  6. Inclusiveness, I translate it into “willingness to include others in my learning, willingness to take care of the learning of my peers”.
  7. Will blog it afterwards and churn it into an article for my On the Internet column
  8. well firstly it's easy to drop out of something you serendipitously drop into & I don’t think that’s any bad thing.
  9. This ‘culture’ increased into the end and I stopped writing.
  10. I think this was honestly the thing that drew me fully into the group, because I felt like I owed people some reciprocal attention AND the conversations happening around that time were pretty lively.
  11. I was able to take the ideas from the conversations into interactions with colleagues and was excited by their excitement, even though none of them had been able to follow the class.
  12. It had all been funneled down to me, and it had somehow sunk in and taken the shape of an education that worked at its ultimate purpose: getting me into a federal university, a luxury (still to this day) to a select few, to an intellectual elite, to the middle-class kids who were (and still are) pushed to make a career choice many a times too soon, one that they’d very likely not practice in their professional future, one that they’d probably just drop midway through college (those who were brave enough to stand up to the status quo, that is).
  13. I had turned into a teacher in my own right, but how much of my teaching persona had also become a replication of what I had experienced as a learner during my school years?
  14. I have had an insight into what Paulo Freire advocates in Education and Change.
  15. Being in a small town I frequently run into those I worked with and it’s awkward and unpleasant.
  16. I just combined the course materials and objectives into a mash-up which I found energizing and enjoyable, and was pleased to see that several peers thought so too.
  17. Arrived late, hence felt like an outsider, tended to snipe from the sidelines, associating freely anything that came into my head.
  18. Initially, I took several days off from my other activities and spent up to 10 hrs each day following links, reading, and copy/pasting material and URLs into my Google docs.
  19. From about week 3, I probably logged into FB about once a week and just scanned some of the discussions, and sometimes followed a link out to a blog post (this was actually how I found Clarissa Bezerra’s blog, which I’m very glad to have found).
  20. I found myself reflecting on it all the time, and it’s evolved my thinking on a range of things, and introduced me to some new people some of whom will develop into closer ties over time.
  21. More specifically, I like that he is able to convert his ideas into real-world courses much better than I, so I wanted to see what he was doing with this MOOC.
  22. As I mentioned, Dave and I have been discussing rhizomatics for a number of years now, and Jenny, Frances, Christina, and I have been extending that discussion into the wider topic of complexity in general and education within complex systems in particular.
  23. Evident there are pre-existing connections so going to come into that based on what your level of contribution.
  24. Never really got into having a blog, e.g., to anchor this learning, but had started one for another reason.
  25. Now looking back and into the other platforms for other threads.
  26. The online storm of tweets turned into soft, solid conversations in RT.
  27. The P2PU platform rather disappeared into the background for me.
  28. Still, there is much I would like to go back to delve into that I missed, and some that I would like to review at my leisure.
  29. I think that exclusion/inclusion in the community is tied into one’s perspective of navigating the learning journey.
  30. I did not delve into arenas in which I was not particularly interested, or felt were not helpful to advancing my learning and further engagement.
  31. (online friends, sounded a bit twee to me, I call my friends “friends”, don’t categorise them into one and off line boxes).
  32. Stopping this document feels like forcing a continuing process (for me) into a completeness that I don’t feel nor care about.
  33. The learning objectives are solid and engage the learner into the world of MOOCs


I then built a table that lists the actor and action that connects into some container or space and the iAuthor who used the preposition:

#
Actor/Action
prep
Container/Space
iAuthor
1
you work without logging
into
your Google Account
anonymous
2
I came
into
the space [Rhizo14]
iKevin
3
[I] bring … this stuff [Rhizo14 content]
into
my first year module
iSandra
4
I never actually go
into
a MOOC
iMaha
5
we were all
into
it [Rhizo14]
iMaha
6
I translate it [inclusiveness]
into
willingness to include others
iRon
7
I will churn it [AE response]
into
an article
iVance
8
you serendipitously drop
into
something [Rhizo14]
iEllie
9
This ‘culture’ [FB group] increased
into
the end [of Rhizo14]
iHeli
10
this was … the thing [quote] that drew me fully
into
the group [FB]
iBonnie
11
I was able to take the ideas from the conversations [Rhizo14]
into
interactions with colleagues
iAaron
12
It [oppressive expectations] had all been funneled down to me, sunk in and taken the shape of an education that worked at its ultimate purpose: getting me
into
a federal university
iClarissa
13
I had turned
into
a teacher
iClarissa
14
I have had an insight
into
what Paulo Freire advocates
iClarissa
15
I frequently run
into
those I worked with
iScott
16
I just combined the course materials and objectives [EDCMOOC1]
into
a mash-up
iPaul
17
[I] associating freely anything that came
into
my head.
iPaul
18
[I] copy/pasting material and URLs
into
my Google docs.
iArthur
19
I probably logged
into
FB about once a week
iTanya
20
new people some of whom will develop
into
closer ties over time.
iTanya
21
he [Cormier] is able to convert his ideas
into
real-world courses
iKeith
22
I have been extending that discussion [rhizomatics]
into
the wider topic of complexity
iKeith
23
[Rhizo14 participants are] going to come
into
that [pre-existing connections] based on … your level of contribution.
iDavid
24
[I] Never really got
into
having a blog
iDavid
25
[I am] Now looking back and
into
the other platforms for other threads.
iDavid
26
The online storm of tweets turned
into
soft, solid conversations in RT [real time].
iNick
27
The P2PU platform rather disappeared
into
the background for me.
iCarol
28
I would like to go back to delve
into
much [Rhizo14 info] that I missed
iCarol
29
exclusion/inclusion in the community is tied
into
one’s perspective of navigating the learning journey.
iCarol
30
I did not delve
into
arenas in which I was not particularly interested
iCarol
31
[I] don’t categorise them [friends]
into
[on] and off line boxes
iSarah
32
Stopping this document feels like forcing a continuing process (for me)
into
a completeness that I don’t feel nor care about.
iScott
33
The learning objectives are solid and engage the learner
into
the world of MOOCs
ELI reviewer

What does this say about Rhizo14? Note, that most of the above connections are between an iActor and some other entity (container/space). As is becoming my custom, I first consider these connections at the swarm scale, with all the actors swirling into a swarm, and I'm impressed with how many connections were made between Rhizo14 and its environment and with how extensive and varied that environment was. I think I intuitively sensed this rich network of connections, but it is gratifying and validating to see it reflected in tangible, quantifiable data. I like visuals, especially when trying to visualize swarms, so I tried to draw what this web of connections might look like:
I do not make any strong claims for this image. Its insights, if any, are suggestive rather than definitive, not least because a static image does not accurately capture a swarm. A movie is better, though still erroneous in that it frames the swarm, effectively eliminating the environment, which is critical for understanding the swarm (probably for understanding anything). Voyant has some tools which capture dynamic relationships among entities, and when I learn the tools well enough, I may be able to present a better and more enlightening representation of the behavior of the iSwarm in Rhizo14, but this image is what I have now, and it clarifies and extends my thinking about Rhizo14.

First, keep in mind that this is an image of the 33 connections generated by only one preposition used by only 33 Rhizo14 participants. It's a bit like studying a swarm of locusts by isolating this little cluster of 33 locusts (if such a thing is possible) and trying to infer insights into the swarm through observation of this cluster. It's always possible that this cluster is atypical—indeed, I'm willing to bet that most clusters are atypical of the swarm. I'm using a narrow frame around 33 connections to keep from overwhelming myself, but that frame changes what I see. Still, though frames distort our knowledge, they also seem to be necessary for whatever knowledge we have. If I keep that in mind, then I may be restrained from making too bold a claim about this cluster of connections.

Then, this cluster reveals such a rich network of connections between Rhizo14 and its environment. Imagine the thousands of connections mapped by all the prepositions in the AE. (I just realized that I don't know how many prepositions and how many total occurrences are in the AE. That's a real oversight, and I will calculate those numbers soon.) Rhizo14, especially through the iSwarm but also through we, you, and them, connected into a wide range of entities spread across the physical, mental, and virtual worlds:
  1. our own heads/minds, interests, and insights,
  2. our auto-ethnography responses and academic articles,
  3. online spaces such as: blogs, Google, Facebook, Twitter, other MOOCs, and other platforms,
  4. other Rhizo14 participants, including Dave Cormier,
  5. Rhizo14 materials and content,
  6. our colleagues, co-workers, and professions,
  7. our universities, classes, learners, and mashups, 
  8. conversations and concepts about inclusion/exclusion, complexity, completeness, Paulo Friere, and our own journeys through Rhizo14,
  9. our friends and boxes (categories) of friends,
  10. oppressive educational structures,
  11. processes, 
  12. the background noise.
The geography of the iSwarm itself spans Australia, Brazil, Canada, Egypt, England, Finland, Scotland, and the United States, and those are just the places I can quickly identify. All from 33 prepositions. Just wait until I add the 652 of connections, the 455 in connections, and the other prepositions. That's thousands of connections from a mere 33 Rhizo14 participants, and that's only the handful of connections that they happened to recall and report in their auto-ethnographic entries. I trust that you are as impressed with the overwhelming rich complexity of Rhizo14 as I am. I don't think I am being too bold in asserting that this one cMOOC from last year has an incredible countless number of pathways into and out of the world at large and an equally large number of internal interconnections. I know this because I see the data generated by following just 33 instances of one preposition which suggest that I am mapping something very large and complex whose shape is only dimly emerging for me.

I say whose on purpose. This may be too bold, but I'll say it anyway: it seems to me that I am mapping a self-organizing, functioning consciousness, and I'm one of its neurons. That expands the field of reality for me.

Okay, back to the ordinary reality for which I have concrete evidence. What do all these demonstrated and implied connections say about Rhizo14?

In the above image, I tried to arrange various actors, entities, and spaces by whether or not I thought they were in or out of Rhizo14. The red cloud is definitely in and the borders of the yellow cloud are more out. This was not easy. For instance, is Facebook in Rhizo14 or not? Clearly not all of FB, but the FB Rhizo14 group was very important to and active in Rhizo14, more so than the Google+ group, so I listed FB halfway in and Google on the boundary. Likewise with conversations, many of which were clearly inside Rhizo14, but some of which bled into the outside. Again, my arrangement is suggestive rather than definitive, but it helps me visualize something that I believe is real and that ties into Deleuze and Guattari's concept of decalcomania and into Cillier's exploration of boundaries.

Boundaries connect rather than separate. They may distinguish one thing from another, but they also connect those things. Even when we are trying to separate ourselves from a thing—as iCarol does above when she writes, "I did not delve into arenas in which I was not particularly interested"—she has connected herself to those arenas. This is similar to Lakoff's assertion that when we say do not think of an elephant, we must think of an elephant (note that I'm most mindful of Lakoff's ideas about frames in this post). Boundaries may help us manage the exchanges we make with other entities, even stopping some exchanges, but they also connect us to the other arena and make some exchange inevitable. We are always stained by whatever bounds us.

Stains bring me to decalcomania, which I think of as a staining process, which always works both ways: I stain those things near me in the physical, mental, and virtual worlds, and nearby things stain me in return. When children stain the paper with their handprints, their hands are stained in return. When I touch a grape, the red gets on my fingers, and my fingers leave a print. When I discuss issues with another, my words stain them, and their words stain me. It is necessarily so, even if I reject their words. My knowledge of Al-Anon tells me that we are most often connected to and affected by, stained by, those we try most to avoid.

Rhizo14, then, is stained by all those connections with all those outside entities, and in turn, it stains those entities. Given the number of connections, this is an amazing amount of exchange of energy, matter, information, and organization. The boundary between Rhizo14 and the outside world is not at all neat. A boundary is seldom very distinct and fine beyond a specific scale. What I mean can be illustrated by a wine stain on a carpet. When I'm standing up looking down on the stain, it looks quite compact and discrete with a distinct boundary, but when I kneel down to look more closely, I see that the boundary is not so distinct. It bleeds into the surrounding fibers. And if I use a magnifying glass, then I see that the stain spreads more and more, growing fainter at the edges until it finally fades into the color of the carpet. If I could look even more closely, I would likely see even more texture and spreading in the boundary of the stain. Clearly, a boundary is distinct only at a certain scale. This may be true even for black holes, which may have the most absolute and distinct boundaries in all of nature. Recent studies suggest that even those boundaries may bleed a bit of information back into the universe. If black holes bleed, then so does everything else.

Rhizo14 certainly bleeds. See what it has done to my blog? Read Maha's blog, Simon's, or Clarissa's. Rhizo14 has stained us all, and I can map that stain by following the prepositions in the AE. Just as certainly, though, Rhizo14 itself was stained. This makes great sense and is at the core of Cormier's concept of the community as curriculum: the connections forged by the community stain the curriculum that emerges within that community. That Dave showed up, of course, changed the dynamics of Rhizo14, but not much more than when the rest of us showed up. And all those lurkers. The stains flowed through them as well, both in and out of Rhizo14. Indeed, given that the lurkers outnumbered the active participants, the stain from their presence is likely greater than the stain from 30 or so active people.

And the stains are not limited to the active and passive participants in Rhizo14. In their book Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives (2009), Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler note that the influence of people extends out to about three degrees of separation. In other words, the patterns of our own lives influence our immediate connections, our connections' connections, and our connections' connections' connections. After that, the potency of our patterns of behavior and belief fade and lose their efficacy, just like the wine stain in the carpet. But think what this means: the range of behaviors and beliefs that emerged in Rhizo14 stain not only us participants but our immediate family, friends, colleagues, and associates, then their family, friends, colleagues, and associates, and finally their family, friends, colleagues, and associates. I won't try to repeat Christakis and Fowler's argument, but to my mind, they make a strong case, and until someone makes a better case, I'm inclined to believe them. Thus, Rhizo14 has stained far more than a few hundred participants. Far more. And I have the prepositions to prove it.

Now, I am not asserting that all those people have turned into rhizomatic educationists. That's absurd. Many of them may vehemently reject rhizomatic education, but they have been stained none the less, even if they never heard of Rhizo14. Something of the pattern has reached them, and the prepositions map the pathways through which the stain flowed.

Finally, lest we Rhizo14ers be confused by the extent of our influence, remember that every entity has the same sort of staining power to greater or lesser degree. And keep in mind that the great world stains us far more than we stain it. Even the educational world stains us more. It's vastly bigger and it has more stain to spread. The universe, of course, is infinitely bigger.

Next I want to talk about how prepositions map our connections by connecting our words.