Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

Rhizomatic Research Cultures, Writing Groups and Academic Researcher Identities

Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

Rhizomatic Research Cultures, Writing Groups and Academic Researcher Identities

Article excerpt


The current research climate in universities is one in which projects are increasingly conceived as multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, extradisciplinary, even 'wicked' (Brown, Harris, & Russell, 2010). One effect of this is that the traditional boundaries between disciplines seem to be weakening (Becher & Trowler, 1989; Trowler, Saunders, & Bamber, 2012). Within this context, the individuals working on such projects are also increasingly diverse (Gardner et al., 2012; Pearson, Evans & Macauley, 2008; Pearson et al., 2011), coming together from nontraditional pathways in the push towards widening participation (McCallin & Nayar, 2012; McCulloch & Thomas, 2012; Miller & Brimicombe, 2004), from different disciplinary and professional backgrounds (Adkins, 2009; Boud & Tennant, 2006; Costley & Lester, 2012), and from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds (Lee & Danby, 2012; Rizvi, 2010; Robinson-Pant, 2010).

As the current research climate changes, so too do the kinds of doctoral graduates we need to produce who are equipped to negotiate that climate effectively. What kind of academic and researcher identities are best suited to this research setting? How can postgraduates position themselves in relation to this environment? On the one hand, PhD students must still develop deep knowledge of their topic and learn competencies in "thinking like a ... [statistician, microbiologist, ethicist, etc.]" (Schon, 1987, p. 39); on the other, researchers are now expected to be adaptable, flexible, and capable of smooth transitions across disciplinary boundaries as they collaborate on projects with colleagues. Invoking a Bernsteinian framework, Adkins (2009, p. 168) considers the implications of the "weakening classifications between disciplines" in the push towards increasing interdisciplinarity in postgraduate research programs. She points out that, in the current research climate,

   The link between the form and content of knowledge and the
   relationships that form around that knowledge, then, turns on the
   greater level of flexibility and fluidity required for research
   that is oriented to using whatever knowledge resources are required
   to address a particular research problem. The relationships must
   take their cue from the nature of the knowledge required rather
   than those prescribed through strong disciplinary identities.
   (2009, p. 173)

Thus, academic researchers need to be able to think and work with different mindsets from those that have served them well in the past.

As an alternative to Adkins' Bernsteinian approach, the current study conceptualizes a research climate characterized by flexibility and fluidity through the lens of Deleuze and Guattari's (1980/1988) model of the rhizome. Against this background, I suggest that the principles of connection, heterogeneity, and multiplicity encountered in today's rhizomatic academic networks are central to understanding what kinds of research and researchers will be needed by the academy. This article explores the implications of such a research environment for the academic researcher identities produced through doctoral education. Drawing on the reflections of members of multidisciplinary doctoral thesis writing groups, this article offers a characterization of the kinds of academic researcher identities that might be well suited to working in such rhizomatic research environments.

Literature Review

Rhizomes, Networks and Research Cultures

In the Introduction to their seminal work, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1980/1988), Deleuze and Guattari contrast the possibilities of arboreal and rhizomatic knowledge structures. They characterize traditional knowledge structures as "arboreal", comprising a "pivotal taproot" that leads to the flowering of knowledge that grows out of that singular, unified entity (Deleuze & Guattari, 1980/1988, p. …

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