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A Rhizomatic ANT In Germany

imageHere I am in Germany for my first holiday in five years, and while there is a nasty train strike going on across the country, I still somehow find myself on one of the trains that is running thinking about our #rhizo15 time together (and alone), especially as the informally formal part of it is nearing its end.

I posted a question in the #rhizo15 Facebook group about any experiences people had or thought about regarding travel and the rhizome, and I got the most interesting responses that helped push my thinking a bit further. In some ways, I have started to rely on this, my informal network, and can even envision maintaining contact with some of my new colleagues from here. Anyway, I digress.

There I was walking through Munich and I found myself in an antique coin dealer’s shop where a World War II era  coin was of interest and shortly thereafter purchased by one of my travel partners. Never much interested in coins, I did not at first pay attention to it until I noticed its date. Odd that the coin at first seemed to be missing a certain characteristic symbol, but upon closer inspection, there it was.

Covered by a tiny piece of tape.

You know the image I mean, right? That mark of a totalitarian and brutal regime, reproduced on nearly every item that originated and was used during that dark period in history. In some ways, it is not surprising that it is still around; to be realistic, it was used for a number of years. As that party originated in Munich itself, it would almost be surprising to not see it in any way.

Yet, it is nowhere to be found, unless you peel back the tape.

You see, it is illegal in Germany to show this. In some ways, it may not be surprising. After all, such a brutal symbol that reminds us of so many awful things done to, with, and by people, including even by their neighbors from down the street, would be a fitting thing to limit. No sense reminding people of so much hatred and brutality, especially with those who may still harbor certain affections for such an awful past. It makes sense we were now protected from it via this little piece of tape.

Alas, for an American, given our protected freedom of speech, it may seem odd that it is illegal to surpress any symbol as thoroughly as this one is outlawed here, though it seems such symbols that may stir such strong emotions need not be publicly depicted. This may not necessarily deny it is there, had profound effects, or still invite strong passionate responses. An elephant in the room may be safer than one that is there, loudly blowing its trumpet. Thank you, piece of tape. 

This is one of the best examples of actor-network theory I have experienced while traveling, namely how a simple line drawing stamped onto an old coin could have such power that it must be surpressed. Hidden, even, by tiny piece of white tape smaller than a fingernail. Actor-network theory is so useful here to see how non-human actors, such as ideas, exert power. This agency is so strong and its power to enroll people into extremism is so powerful that it has to be countered (cf. Callon’s (1986) Scallops, and her really exerted power and influence over another). Interesting that an image can still exertso much power and emotion over others. Then again, the American Flag, images of Mohammed, and a Crucifix have all been known to mobilize people into action and translate the new web of relations into a darker world order (cf. John Law,  2008). Better to formalize a suppression of images than for one issue of translation to fail and all sorts of awful things begin, again, in some way.

What does hiding really do, however? Do ideas go away, or lose their power to influence or enroll those who are so moved to act as a result of them? Will ideas temper or mellow by keeping them safely isolated? Perhaps they can be replaced with more appropriate ones, or at least those more fitting the current social norms or mores of society?

Thinking about the open world of #rhizo15, how can rhizomatic learning account for these things, especially as we can never really know how people or things will react once ideas are allowed to roam free?

This may be how the rhizome acts, in that ideas may influence us to act or believe or think differently about something (or not), as it is so representative for how our histories and experiences affect how we learn things or when things occur that challenge our taken-for-granted meaning making and moves us to a new place?

Let’s try a tiny case in point. What have I been considering and how have you understood it? I am ending with my meandering here without mentioning what symbol I have been considering. That is the rhizome; now what will you do with this?