"I Secretly Relished That Delicious Feeling of Excitement": A Rhizoanalysis of Teacher-Student Attraction

By Johnson, Tara Star | Taboo, Fall-Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

"I Secretly Relished That Delicious Feeling of Excitement": A Rhizoanalysis of Teacher-Student Attraction


Johnson, Tara Star, Taboo


In my pilot study of teacher-student sexual dynamics in five preservice teachers' high school classrooms, one piece of data stood out from among the rest of the interview transcripts, field notes and email correspondence--not as an aberrant outlier; the content, feeling attracted to a student, echoed across the data set. Rather, this one journal entry from Sandra (a pseudonym), a graduate student seeking secondary English certification, encompassed much of what I was hoping to learn about in my research: her description of the attraction, her speculation about what implications it had for her teaching, and her theorization of why it occurred. By focusing on Sandra s journal entry, I am exercising Geertz's (1991) notion of power in reserve" (p. 191): selecting the best data with the understanding that there are dozens of other quotations that I could have used in the exemplar's stead. Such a juicy, well-articulated gem was ripe for scrutiny, so I set out to find a process of analysis and a means of representation that would be worthy of it. Rhizoanalysis, a method of data analysis inspired by Deleuze and Guattari's (1987) rhizome figuration, and the poetic representation of data that Richardson (1993, 2002) has modeled seemed appropriate for reasons I will outline next.

Rhizoanalysis

My first exposure to Deleuze and Guattari's (1987) work during a graduate course in theory left me feeling defensive and a little dazed--I just didn' t get it, their subversive and irreverent transgression of the humanist discourse through which Westerners like my participants and me are culturally inscribed and within which we are inextricably embedded. I was intrigued, though, and I wanted to join in on Deleuze's critique of philosophical giants as described in the foreword of A Thousand Plateaus:

   What got me by during that period was conceiving of the history
   of philosophy as a kind of ass-fuck, or, what amounts to the same
   thing, an immaculate conception. I imagined myself approaching an
   author from behind and giving him a child that would indeed be
   his but would nonetheless be monstrous. (p. x)

I, too, would like to sow a bastard seed that in turn becomes a thorn in the traditional patriarchal discourse that bore and continues to bear upon me--an illegitimate way of thinking that nevertheless insists on being seen and heard as it crops up and flourishes, weedlike, in spaces that support no civilized growth. My research has already proven to be thorny in its breaching/breeching of the elephant in education's closet that has been assiduously ignored in educational research. I hope to open the door for teachers and teacher educators to have conversations about how sexual dynamics play out in the classroom, with the long-term goal of creating a space within the larger framework of teacher education discourse such that bodily knowledge is considered along with pedagogical and content knowledge as a necessary component of teacher training and professional development. However, although most of my colleagues agree that the silence surrounding sexuality in education needs to be addressed, few are willing to open that door for fear of what might come out. Deleuze and Guattari's (1987) figuration of the rhizome aptly suits this wild, uncontainable (and, for humanists, untenable) possibility.

Deleuze and Guattari (1987) contrast their crabgrass-like rhizome figuration to the arborified tree-and-root system of hierarchical dispersion of power as it functions in humanist discourses:

   Unlike trees or their roots, the rhizome connects any point to any
   other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of
   the same nature.... It has neither beginning nor end, but always a
   middle (milieu) from which it grows and which it overspills ... the
   rhizome pertains to a map that must be produced, constructed, a map
   that is always detachable, connectable, reversible, modifiable, and
   has multiple entryways and exits and its own lines of flight. … 

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