Although I currently live with someone who loathes and detests any writing that insists on drawing on dictionary definitions (!); in defiance, I’ll rummage inside the dictionary, where, to develop, most simply, is defined as a verb meaning: “to bring out the possibilities of; to grow”. But how does this verb get kick-started into action? How does development occur? What are the conditions, environmental and emotional, that support development’s flourishing? What occurs to you when you think about your own development, from tiny embryo to the individual with values and desires that you now are? Along the way, manifold qualitative changes have taken place in the molecular organisation of you, such that development distinguishes itself from the mere fact of your having gotten older. Have you ever thought about how these marvellous changes happen, about how you slowly unfolded yourself from the newborn foetal position, to take and make the many forms that express who you are today, and through which you navigate your world? Have you ever thought about the part that movement plays in this becoming?
Obviously, development entails change. Indeed, oftentimes (though not necessarily) changes seen later are in part influenced by changes that have gone before, and have prepared the ground. As a student in the Jeremy Krauss Approach for working with children, I’ve been occupied with thinking about change, development and developmental processes for a while now, and I’d like to share a little about how that study is going. But, I also want to think a little about how our models for change, our modelling (unconsciously or otherwise) of how developmental change occurs, can influence our approach to these questions I raise above. Roused to thinking by Jeremy Krauss’s comments on the “becoming” of the children he works with, I also want to bring in some ideas from the brilliantly teeming minds of philosophers and social critics Deleuze and Guattari, to provoke dialogue and disrupt any ideas about linearity or normativity that we might have when it comes to development, especially when it comes to children whose body/minds are different and who need those differences acknowledged and listened to.
Why Deleuze and Guattari? Well, for a start, these are thinkers who include in their delightfully inscrutable A Thousand Plateaus the command to: “look only at the movements” (2005:311). Utterly enchanted by movement, they seek to open out the conditions for movement’s elaborations. One of their models for movement and change is described by the figure of the rhizome.A rhizome? What’s a rhizome? Currently ubiquitous-good for your gut-ginger is one example of a rhizome. Put this odd-looking, bulbous entity underground, even shallowly, and one of its bumpy segments may begin to sprout, shoot, and rootle, to reach around its new terrain. A Rhizome then, is a subterranean, horizontally organised root-like system, which responds to local changes in its environment, a stone in its path for example, or a slippage in the soil, by sending forth shoots which break free in new directions. As a veritable tangle, shooting away from here, meeting with and joining there, a rhizome is characterised by multiplicity and connectivity.
In a rhizomatic system we can identify modes of grounded-ness or fixity which Deleuze and Guattari call territorialisation (think of habits). Yet, when provoked by encounters with novelty, strange-ness, or constraint, a mode of de-territorialisation (un-grounding) opens up. This un-grounding is known as “a line of flight”, think of fanciful bouts of experimentation, where creative alternatives to the original fixed ground are sought. Eventually, there are modes of re-territorialisation, a settling back into the ground, but using a different pathway of becoming and exploring the world. As Glenda Mac Naughton puts it:
A rhizome is never finished, it is always “becoming” through crossovers between offshoots, through expansions of one form of growth into another and through the death and decomposition of outdated elements (2004:93)
The rhizomatic system is a system ajar, a system disposed to relationality, adaptation and the exploration of difference. Because it is laterally organised, it offers us a non-hierarchical model of developmental change. It is, Deleuze and Guattari insist, not a tree, trees having been used all too often to model change which proceeds vertically upwards in a linear and hierarchical fashion (think of classificatory schemas that might put man at the top branch and an amoeba at the bottom).
There are other reasons to bring in Deleuze and Guattari. Chief amongst these is their centralising of the body in their work. They, in opposition to received and influential models of body/mind (like Freudian psychoanalysis), refute notions of “lack”, where the obdurate experience of something missing, or incompleteness, is positioned as the anchor point of subjectivity. Where some would identify lack, they see an opening for connection with something new, they see possibility and potential, they see an invitation to create. Following Spinoza, they ask us to think, not about “what the body is”, but about the question of “what can a body do?”. This is a question which leads them to focus on the dynamics of relational affect, such that the question of “what can a body do” is answered by the capacity of bodies to be affected by and to affect others.
When bodies meet, when they come into encounter with one another (and a body need not be confined to human-species, it could also be a geological body, a body of water, for example), they enter into relations of mutual composition, such that they augment or diminish each other’s powers of action. A human body encountering a body of water for example, may be buoyed upwards, rocked by the rhythms of wave motions, pulled this way or that by its current, augmented in its powers to float or surf. As Deleuze puts it in his treatise on Spinoza:
When we encounter a body that agrees with our nature, one whose relation compounds ours, we may say that its power is added to ours; the passions that affect us are those of joy, and our power of acting is increased or enhanced. (Deleuze, 1988: 28).
I’m necessarily glossing the intricacies and manifold twists and terminologies in Deleuze and Guattari here, but the ideas I mention above did come alive for me in watching the work with the children during the last two training segments. Before, going there, I’ll just mention that Deleuze and Guattari’s theories are being taken up with great vigour in various movements for change. Of interest in relation to children is Liselott Olsson’s study of Movement and Experimentation in Young Children’s learning, a text which reveals the joyous affect circulated between children and adults who enter into the adventures of learning as equals. Amongst the many voices in the field of disability studies now drawing on Deleuze and Guattari, Magrit Shildrick and Janet Price believe the Deleuze and Guattarian theme of connectivity can be taken up to undermine the tendency towards marginalising people with disabilities and:
The impetus of those who are normatively embodied to shrink away from encounter with those who are not; a disinclination to literally touch people who are anomalously embodied-or to be touched- physically and metaphorically by them (Price and Shildrick, 2006: 3)
(continue reading in the next blog post, part B of this musing about rhizomes and movement)
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!