Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Rhizome and the Gift

Two Images that Revolutionize the Human Service Industry

I was seeing there the roots of human symmetry, beauty and ugliness, aesthetics, the human being’s very aliveness and little bit of wisdom. His wisdom, his bodily grace, and even his habit of making beautiful objects are just as “animal” as his cruelty. After all, the very word “animal” means “endowed with mind or spirit (animus).”

Gregory Bateson (1979), p. 5

I begin by revisiting Gregory Bateson – that maverick anthropologist and environmentalist whose thoughts played a role in inspiring the beginnings of the field of family therapy. As family therapy evolved, Bateson distanced himself from the profession. However, this very act of distancing, and the discourse around it, delivers much rich and beneficial wisdom. Bateson’s thinking on what I call the therapeutic (which goes far beyond simply family therapy) holds application for all professions within the human services realm, and is perhaps never more relevant that at this point in history. We present just a fragment of Bateson, yet, a fragment that carries with it much of that which moved him.

At times Bateson, when with a group of students, would put before them a crab and he would ask this question:

How could they know that this crab came from something that was alive? I want you to produce arguments which will convince me that this object is the remains of a living thing. You may imagine, if you will that you are Martians and that on Mars you are familiar with living things, being indeed yourselves alive. But, of course, you have never seen crabs or lobsters. A number of objects like this, many of them fragmentary, have arrived… You are to inspect them and arrive at the conclusion that they are remains of living things. How would you arrive at that conclusion?

Bateson (1979), p. 7.
I find this a truly beautiful question. It calls us to ponder, to wonder, and to wander with the mind, the eye and the hand through the diverse spaces of life, through that vast plateau which Bateson called the Creatura. When we see a crab shell, a blade of grass, a fossil trilobite, the jaw bone of a moose, a fish scale, an earthworm, a feather, a microscopic freshwater cyclops, a humback whale vertebrae, or the hand of a loved one – How do we know these things came from something that was alive? The question does much more than invite musings over the how-to(s), those details of life’s assemblages; it calls for a consideration of the movements of life itself, to a consideration of what I like to call the “Alive”.

The question continues... Look at the wheel on your car, look at the moving lines of the road, look at the contours and patterns of a book, look at the lines of movement which are invited through the process of reading a book, look at a toothbrush, at a key, at a guitar pick, at a spoon, look at a dance, a hockey game, look at the movements of two lovers, look at the posturing of two fighters. Look at all these things, and: How do you know these things came from something that was alive? Human creations cannot be removed from the Alive. The movements of life are not escapable. The Alive is always evident – but we must look.

What about in the communal realm? What movements of the Alive are we able to see, to touch, to hear? How can we recognize the Alive within our varied communal interactions?

When in the midst of human institutions, are we also able to sense the Alive at movement?
And, in a more particular way, are we able to sense the movements of the Alive within our work – particularly within the work of human services?

To explore these questions I particularly lean upon the world-shifting work of two French philosophers, Gilles Deleuze and Jacques Derrida.

I explore two primary images, that of the rhizome and the gift-exchange. I suggest that these two images produce revolutionary effects upon the work of the human services industry.

Image #1 -- Rhizome

In order to explore the idea of the Alive within its communal movements I introduce the idea of rhizome. This idea was developed by Gilles Deleuze, along with his friend and co-writer Felix Guatari. These writers present the idea of rhizome, but it is always paired with another image, that of ‘the tree’.

We are tired of the tree. We must no longer put our faith in trees, roots, or radicels; we have suffered enough from them. The whole arborescent culture is founded on them, from biology to linguistics. On the contrary, only underground stems and aerial roots, the adventitious and the rhizome are truly beautiful, loving or political.

Deleuze & Guattari (1983), p.33.


The tree, according to Deleuze and Guatarri, is an image which bears resemblance to modern institutions. The ‘tree of life’, they suggest, became a dominant metaphor layering structure and hierarchy over much of human and non-human experience.

Trees and institutions both:

  • are concerned with power and centrality -- Trees and institutions both operate from a central core, with arms that branch off yet are always securely fastened to the central structure.
  • are concerned with hierarchy and structure -- In both trees and institutions things ideally move up only one cell at a time, and things move down also one cell at a time. This form of cellular transmission bears resemblance to the lines of a well-structured flow-chart.
  • focus upon upward growth and progress -- According to English legal traditions, institutions are treated as if they are persons. However, a person will be born, will live her life, and, in the end will die. Death is inescapable in her world. However, this is not so in the realms of institutions: successful institutions hold the promise of possibly living for many generations, if not forever. Institutions are supposed to be resolute upon upward movement, upon progress.
  • Institutional structures hold a seeming overpowering influence in the current world. They certainly must be taken into consideration within our movements within communal lives.
    There are two sure ways for identifying institutional assemblages.
  • First of all, there are always higher institutions set aside for the purpose of recognizing lower-level institutions.
  • This is always the case. A chain of recognition must occur within institutional spheres. If one looks carefully at the American dollar bill, the highest and final level of institutional recognition is provided – In God We Trust. God is thereby reduced to institutional contours. God is then to be understood through institutional eyes, as an institution, as an original and originating institution. A hierarchical chain of institutional structures is established, each in relation to the other through specified ties of control and authority, or through lateral connections of competition or alliance. Divinity tops this chain, and at the bottom are an assortment of bodies and parts and relations, usually connected with women, children, animals and things. This very chain of institutions appears arborescent/tree-like in its form and function.
Much in our daily life has been connected to this tree-like language.

Even the body is understood as arborescent. This is reflected in medical discourse and practice – the body as institution -- with the brain and the heart alternatively taking a ‘head’ or central position. It is also reflected in Christian theology, where Christ is considered the ‘head’ and the church is considered the “body”. Bodies, both physical and metaphorical, become hierarchical institutional structures.

A second way of identifying institutional assemblages:

If you look carefully, you will always find lawyers lurking in the corners, accountants also. These are the bureaucratic priests of the institutional empires.

This also is always the case. The setting up of an institution, as well as the reporting requirements demanded of institutions always necessitates the involvement of lawyers and accountants. Lawyers are to protect and challenge the boundary lines of institutional movements and expectations. Accountants ensure that institutional movements are always tied to numerical values.

Institutions are inescapable in modern life.

  • Our work is defined by them.
  • Money only legitimately flows along institutional lines -- therefore, we cannot receive a paycheque but through an institution.
  • We buy our food, clothing, housing and other goods through them.
  • We send our kids to get educated in them.
  • We receive health-care through them.
  • We get religion through them.
  • We play sports within the contexts of institutions.
  • We get much of our entertainment through them.
The tree -- an idea that cements us to the world of institutions and structures.

You set about opposing the rhizome to trees. And trees are not a metaphor at all, but an image of thought, a functioning, a whole apparatus that is planted in thought in order to make it go in a straight line and produce the famous correct ideas. There are all kinds of characteristics in the tree: there is a point of origin, seed, or centre; it is a binary machine or principle of dichotomy, with its perpetually divided and reproduced branchings, its points of arborescence; it is an axis of rotation which organizes things in a circle, and the circles round the centre; it is a structure, a system of points and positions which fix all of the possible within a grid, a hierarchical system or transmission of orders… it has a future and a past, roots and a peak, a whole history, an evolution, a development… Now there is no doubt that trees are planted in our heads: the tree of life, the tree of knowledge, etc. The whole world demands roots. Power is arborescent.

Deleuze and Parnet (1987), P. 24.

However, Deleuze and Guattari also present another concept. They call it the Rhizome. This image connects us to realms that are more tied to the communal.

Grass only exists between the great non-cultivated spaces. It fills in the voids. It grows between – among the other things. The flower is beautiful, the cabbage is useful, the poppy makes you crazy. But the grass is overflowing, it is a lesson in morality.

Henry Miller p. 49.
  • The rhizome is also a botanical image. It describes a certain kind of assemblage that connects together through networks of nodes and lines.
  • Think potatoes, grass, poplar trees -- Many believe that the largest trees in the world are not sequoia or redwoods but rather poplar trees, for poplars are rhizomes. In the foothills of the Rocky Mountains one will notice that, in the fall, a large section of a hill will turn yellow, while the other sections are still green. These patches of poplar trees are actually one genetic organism, one large rhizome assemblage.
  • Think weeds – almost every weed in your garden -- Rhizomes are productive spaces, enabling effective and flourishing movement through terrain and barriers often seen as impenetrable and impossible.
  • Think of human creations such as telephone systems, the internet, and, to some extent, the power grid -- Human creations, even institutional creations are not always institutional in structure, sometimes they appear in rhizome form. This is especially true of some human creations that involve many diverse and loosely connected players.
  • Rhizomes are typically found underground. They are not usually conspicuous -- If one opens the paper or turns on the evening news, one is primarily given stories and information pertinent to institutional life. Rhizome life is not usually considered news-worthy. Rhizome movements are powerful, but are not as easily visible.
  • Rhizomes are made of nodes and lines that connect the nodes -- Nodes connected with numerous lines which in turn connect to other nodes and line. No Think the American interstate system. Think prairie dog towns. Imagine the ‘communal’ not as relations with local institutions, not as a realm of service institutions, but rather as rhizome connections, as lines connecting with people, places, animals, things. Think of our communal worlds as rhizome abundances.
  • Rhizomes have no practical beginning, ending or centrality -- Imagine that one wanted to get rid of the crab grass in one’s lawn. The idea of going after the beginning grass, the one that started it all; or the latest frontiers of crab grass; or the crab grass, the boss– this type of thinking is insanity in the worlds of rhizomes. Rhizomes are not influenced by such linear and rank-oriented interests. Military-type might is notoriously ineffective at influencing rhizome community.
  • Rhizomes are extremely difficult to destroy -- Rhizome in nature, or the communal rhizome– it is all most difficult to destroy. We must stop thinking of rhizome-like things as if they were vulnerable.

Overwhelming Rhizome Lines

The right way to begin to think about the pattern which connects is to think
of it as primarily (whatever that means) a dance of interacting parts and only
secondarily pegged down by various sorts of physical limits and by those limits
which organisms characteristically impose.

Bateson (1979), p. 13-14.

As with Bateson’s “pattern which connects”, so also with the rhizome, numerous lines extend not to points/nodes, but through them, beyond them, thereby inventing a plethora of dances, connecting up entire worlds.

We are suggesting a view of humanity, of relationships, of community, even of mind and body that is like rhizome. We are suggesting worlds outside of bodily encasement, beyond familial identity, outside of what is typically thought of with the language of ‘system’, toward lives that are tied by uncountable lines to uncountable bodies, where relationships of many different types become engulfing and repeatedly formative. These rhizome connections are certainly about relationships with people, but they are also about so much more -- they are about relationships with animals and plants, relationships with air and water, relationships with landscapes, relationships with buildings and rooms and spaces and lines of travel, relationships with relationships, relationships with countless other assemblages, whether created by people or by nature (as if that distinction can be maintained), relationships with cars and rivers and musical instruments, relationships with music, relationships with values and goods and affects such as love, humour, romance, sadness, loneliness, joy, annoyance. All these and numerous other assemblages not mentioned and not previously considered are connected to us and through us within rhizome space.

The rhizome is not simple metaphor, as we often understand metaphor. It is not an image that represents something else. The rhizome is rather a physical space, as well as a spiritual space, wherein synapse-like connections form and numerous movements occur. It is a physical and spiritual space of abundances and multiplicities. After all, the brain, the nervous ‘system’ is itself created with rhizome abundance, with movements of electricity following chemical lines, jumping from synapse to synapse, node to node, tracing numerous possible routes, thereby creating numerous possible worlds. It is this rhizome nervous system that enables human living and movement and thought. It also creates worlds and bodies that can never be understood in simple ways; that can never be mapped out by straight lines and right angles.

The French think in terms of trees too much: the tree of knowledge, points of arborescence, the alpha and omega, the roots and the pinnacle. Trees are the opposite of grass. Not only does grass grow in the middle of things, but it grows itself through the middle…Grass has its line of flight, and does not take root. We have grass in the head, not a tree: what thinking signifies is what the brain is, a particular nervous system’ of grass.

Deleuze and Parnet (1987), p. 39.

All reductionist and simple descriptions become repeatedly irrelevant. Rhizome abundance creates a necessary context for every description of things living, thereby overturning and challenging much that is considered scientific, and particularly social-scientific. This understanding revolutionizes scientific and professionalised descriptions of life, implying that rhizome complexity and rhizome connectivity must never be absent from our descriptions. For those of us involved in work often described as ‘therapeutic’, for those of us who are involved in work where we are desiring to see some form of change in a social realm there is particular relevance in the idea of rhizome. I propose that all meaningful change, everything powerful and productive and life-giving that occurs in the social realm transpires in a rhizome-like space along rhizome-like lines.

A Rhizome Dilemma

For those of us who work with people in community we find ourselves in a serious dilemma.
The work of human services, in its varied territories (from health to education, corrections to family therapy, child protection to the care of the elderly) is formed within the structures of institutions.

However, the success of this work, the capacity to connect to realms of change and productivity in life and community is dependent upon a work that moves within the lines of rhizome relations.

This dilemma is one which we should play significant attention to. It is here, in the midst of this dilemma, that we are faced with one of the most significant difficulties and opportunities facing the human services industry.

With my friend and business partner, Peter Finck, in our consulting work with Rock the Boat (a business that consults with businesses and organizations) we have heard all to may stories describing the pain of living with this dilemma. These stories have surfaced within realms of service as diverse as education, child-protection, community corrections, the prison system, nursing, medicine, family therapy, elder-care, etc. This pain is also felt, often intently, by those who receive such services, those people often called clients or patients.

It is interesting to note, however, that the pain felt in this dilemma is experienced by those who hold a value for a rhizome-honouring work. Those who hold little interest in acknowledging a rhizome work rarely experience this kind of discomfort from the context of the institutional expectations. Generally speaking, this pain is only felt on one side of the dilemma.

A Rhizome Work

The following statement may seem radical, may seem overstated, yet, it is a statement that I believe we should all consider.

Good work, effective work within the specific contexts of real people’s lives is not, and can never be an institutional requirement.

Following directives, maintaining the requisite flow of appropriate and designated paperwork, fitting into a specificity of work designated through a chosen model of therapeutic/professional action – these types of activities are certainly required and are often articulated as clear expectations within most (human service) institutional settings.

However, good work, effective work is always connected by rhizome lines to real bodies living in responsivity to the worlds around them. And, it is these relations of responsivity that lead us to the idea of gift-exchange (we will be discussing gift-exchange later in this chapter).

Everything flows down below, in a perpetual flux, with bits and pieces continually entering and exiting.

Deleuze (1987), p. 80.

Jacques Derrida and Rhizome Work

While the idea of rhizome as a philosophical concept is unique to Deleuze and Guatarri, there is much comparable to the thinking of Jacques Derrida.

Derrida explores certain questions which fit in a most uneasy way into institutional realms. He talked of things such as the gift, forgiveness, friendship, hospitality, and (though reluctantly) love (among many other topics). His line of thought on all these topics bears striking similarities. It often goes something like this (using forgiveness as an example):

  • Forgiveness is necessary.
  • Forgiveness is impossible.
  • The impossibility of forgiveness does not remove it from the realm of the possible.
  • The impossibility of forgiveness imbeds it in our desires, making it not only possible, but impossible to not be possible.
  • The impossibility possibility of forgiveness can never be realized through relations of sovereignty, or through relations that are institutional.
  • The impossible possibility of forgiveness can only be realized through encounters/events which are outside of the realm of sovereignty.
  • The impossible possibility of forgiveness can best be realized through encounters/events where faces meet faces.
  • The impossible possibility of forgiveness can never be truly realized. All these possible, impossible possibilities are prefaced by the idea of the “perhaps”. Perhaps, they are impossibly possible. No guarantees whatsoever – just perhaps.
These ideas are seen as Derrida discusses the idea of forgiveness within the context of apartheid in South Africa. He suggests that sovereign powers can never forgive. They can assist in making restitution. They can create contexts where understandings can occur. But, they cannot create forgiveness. Forgiveness is something that must come from near-the-bone, from flesh-and-blood. It must be connected to human hearts in relation – if it is possible at all, perhaps.

Derrida felt a strong connection with Deleuze’s thought. He stated, upon Deleuze’s death:

Deleuze undoubtedly still remains, despite so many dissimilarities, the one among all those of my “generation” to whom I have always considered myself closest. I have never felt the slightest “objection” arising in me, not even potentially, against any of is works…

Derrida (2001) p. 193.
Derrida left room for institutions. However, the relations between institutions and things such as the gift or forgiveness are primarily relations clearly in some future. As in his “democracy to come”, the institutions of this day are not able to carry rhizome, are not able to openly and joyfully face such goods as forgiveness and the gift while refraining from doing injustice and violence to them. All of this possibility in the future was prefaced by the idea of “perhaps”.

Derrida believed that the future can only be discoursed within the framework of the “perhaps”. These thoughts, as outlined above, bear significant connections with Deleuze. The world Derrida describes is one where the circulation, the bringing to light of certain goods occurs in places that he describes as beyond sovereignty. He describes locations for goods like forgiveness, the gift, friendship that are outside of institution and within places that look strikingly like rhizome.

This is what I call the ‘democracy to come’. In the radical evil of which we are speaking, and consequently in the enigma of the forgiveness of the unforgivable, there is a sort of ‘madness’ which the juridico-political cannot approach, much less appropriate. Derrida (2004), p. 55. In all the geopolitical scenes we have been talking about, the word most often abused is ‘forgive’. Because it always has to do with negotiations more or less acknowledged, with calculated transactions, with conditions…

Derrida (2001), p. 39.
Image #2 -- Gift Exchange

The human services realm has built its edifices upon the ground of deficit and problem. For monies to flow, for work to be created, deficits must be produced and people must be reduced to prescribed descriptors of lack. This system or edifice feels fixed and prevailing.

Those who enter human services institutions, in their entering must go through a filtering process of assessment and intake. They are to be sifted through words and phrases, previously designated and professionally-determined words and phrases. However, for the filtering process to be effective the object which is to be filtered, that is the person entering the human service institution, must first be pulverized. He/she must be disassembled into minute fragments/particles. Some of these tiny pieces are then caught in the filtering process. Most of the disassembled person simply washes through and evades the filtering process. These remaining pieces are reassembled. People are reassembled. This time the new assemblage is a mini-institution, but it is a defective mini-institution, an inadequate and weakened hierarchy, an organization clearly broken and lacking.

How tragic is this tale? How limited and lifeless are the recreated assemblages?

However, this is not simply a story of oppression and tragedy; it is at the same time a story of impotence. These processes of negation emerging from the institutions of human services are unable to access the vitalities of life, those lines which open flows of change and hope. Change does not occur along these lines. Productive human living does not occur along these lines. These processes of lack and deficit simply open doors which enable money to flow, and usually the flows of money are most slim. These processes do nothing to encourage the production of the good life.

The world of deficit inevitably succumbs to its own language. It produces its own return of deficit, and it brings it upon itself. The administration of deficit within human institutions cannot but instigates its own demise.

The Gift

In turning from this realm of deficit, I am suggesting a certain re-turning emerges – a returning to the movements of life and community, a rhizome re-turn. We all know this turning; it is an exchange; it is a repetition and returning of exchange. It is a realm where gifts flow. It is a realm where things and goods, where affections and passions, where compassions and kindnesses, where moments of life and hope turn in exchanges, from hand to hand, voice to voice, heart to heart. Not simple turns, no easy circles, just turbulent turns, exchanges that move along complicated rhizome lines.

The gift-exchange has often been associated with aboriginal peoples. In the Pacific Northwest coast from Washington State, through British Columbia and Alaska, the gift-exchange was often associated with the cultural activity of the potlatch. This was an activity where communities which were often in the midst of conflict came together and gave gifts. However, this was not an exchange of gifts like anything the Western world was familiar with, for these gift-exchanges were processes of utter abundance. Each community gave in outrageous plenitude. There seemed to be a certain competition of giving. Who could give the most?

These potlatch ceremonies were outlawed by the colonizing powers in both Canada and the United States. Many believe these ceremonies were outlawed for religious reasons. These ceremonies were not Christian and thereby undermined the role of the church. I doubt that this was a significant reason for outlawing the potlatch ceremonies, however. The first contacts by the colonizing powers, at least those contacts that the governing authorities would have been concerned about, were not the religious institutions but the traders, those with economic motives. I suggest that the potlatch ceremonies were outlawed because they were seen as undermining of the economic purposes of the colonizing powers. This is clearly seen in these words by Charles Darwin as he contemplated his encounters with aboriginal peoples of the New World. Darwin stated:

They are the most unfortunate men in the world because of the perfect equality that reigns among individuals... Actually, if anybody gives one of them a piece of cloth, he tears it to pieces and everyone else has his part. No one can be richer than his neighbor...

It seems impossible that the political situation will improve until a chief invested with enough power appears. On the other hand, such a chief will not appear until these people acquire the idea of property, which would enable them to manifest superiority and increase power.
The gift, and its circulation in rhizome realms, is frequently seen as in conflict with the movements of institutions.

I must emphasize that the gift-exchange is not something that is limited to aboriginal worlds, it is connected to all people, it is necessary for human survival. It may be marginalized in certain realms, but it cannot be removed from our worlds in its entirety. Historically, the world of gift-exchange was something that was belittled and marginalized by institutional powers. It was something seen as belonging to a world of women and heathens. It was something which may have been required but it was not viewed as an important activity, it was not perceived as of the movements of men -- white, Western men, preoccupied with power, ambitious in institutions.
In spite of its subjugation, the gift is still turning in all our worlds. Imagine that you are walking on the street and you run into an old friend who you haven’t seen in years. What do you do? What do you do instinctively, without conscious thought? Most people immediately engage in gift-exchange. They exchange words of greeting, they exchange hugs, handshakes. They invite further connection, going for coffee, or meeting for lunch. Gifts immediately begin to circulate, and they circulate in abundance.

Imagine instead what would occur in the meeting if one of the parties behaved in a manner similar to that which is required within the human service industry. Imagine in the meeting that instead of exchanging gifts, one of the parties immediately examined the other person, looked her up and down, searching for fault, searching for deficit. This activity would not simply halt connection it would in all probability force disconnection and dissention.

The gift-exchange is all about relationship. Deficit identification, problem description do the opposite, they engender disconnection and isolation.

Two Economies

In order to bring to light the movements of gift-exchange within communal life I compare two forms of economy.

An expected, moderate, measured, or measurable gift, a gift proportionate to the benefit or to the effect one expects from it, a reasonable gift… would no longer be a gift; at most it would be a repayment of credit, the restricted economy of difference, a calculable temporization or deferral. If it remains pure and without possible appropriation, the surprise names that instant of madness that tears time apart and interrupts every calculation.

Derrida (1992), p. 147.
The idea of a gift economy seems to me important, the idea of an economy in which things move, continue to move, circulate in their excesses and heterogeneities, contrasted with economies in which wealth, money, and time are stored up, producing commodities for possession and exchange.

Ross (1996), p. 19.
One economy is named by Ross as the restricted economy. It is called restricted because value in these types of exchanges resides in restriction. Value is found in things which are restricted, things such as gold, or real estate in Vancouver or New York City. In the restricted economy value is even found in professions which are the most restricted, where entry into these professions requires the highest cost, the most valued sacrifice, and where entrance is permitted only to those with what is considered the highest educational accomplishments.

The other form of exchange is the gift-economy. In this economy value rises not in restriction but in abundance. Those things which are the most abundant are the most valuable.

I compare these two economies.

Economic Actions

Property ownership and protection
Keeping Property in movement

Not about giving – that is more akin to charity
Emphasis on responding to the gift of the other not on the giving of the gift

Economic Quantification

The world is a place of scarcity
hoard and protect

The world is a place of abundance
So give

Economic Processes

Define the numerical ‘value’ of things (value as a mathematical term)

Expand and enhance the capacity of things

Economic Purposes

Acquisition and accumulation


Human Economics


Emphasis on the worth or value (or more typically, the lack of worth or value) inside human bodies and communities

Emphasis on the gifts and potential gifts circulating within the lives and relationships of people.

What if we were to think of the work of human services as gift-exchange? How would the work look different? What would happen to the work of assessment? How would the flows of money move in response to gift rather than deficit and problem? How would the ‘therapeutic’ work change? How would those realms of human services with certain police-like roles (such as child-protection and corrections) look with an orientation around gift-exchange? How would medicine, education, psychiatry, psychology operate when taking seriously the gift-exchange? While gift-exchange and the purposes of institutions may seem quite at odds, somehow, through this mess, through all the challenges, the gift-exchange gets through, it leaks through, and repeatedly so.

Through those impossibilities that Derrida alludes to, through the arborescent restraints that Deleuze describes, through a virtual wall of tree-like hinderances, the gift, in its rhizome movements still influences the work of human services, and it does so repeatedly and in abundance. It is these points of leakage, these break-throughs, these breaches in the code whereby the gift is able to emerge wherein we discover the how-to(s) of gift-exchange in institutional contexts. Pay attention to the leaks, it is there where the Alive springs forth.


We propose that the gift-exchange is an essential process in communal life.

We also suggest that effective work in the human services realm, work that is productive, that acknowledges and leads toward the living of the good life, is work that honours the rhizome movements of gift-exchange within people’s lives and communities.

John McKnight has for many years been one who challenges the human service industry. He is also one who utilizes a language of gift in his talk of other people, in his talk of those he works with, interacts with. According to McKnight:

To the degree that all of society is committed to and interested in fixing people, it creates huge and increasingly burdensome and increasingly tyrannical institutions intervening in the lives of people, when what we needed was a community that saw their gifts and said, those gifts need to be given.

A return to Bateson -- to Bateson’s crab shell. How do we know that this came from something that is Alive? Are we able to see those lines of Alive as they move in communal, rhizome ways? I am proposing that the Alive, the communal Alive, lives and moves in rhizome places, amidst lines of connection, complex and diverse lines which connect to numerous other people, places, animals, things, relationships, etc. Within these lines of connection, these rhizome tangles, Alive emerges. And, the Alive emerges not just in the rhizome place, but within the complexities of gifts as they traverse along these rhizome lines. Gifts -- there to be received, there being given, there to pass through the giver and receiver, awaiting response, awaiting return and exchange.



Bateson, G. (1979). Mind and Nature: a Necessary Unity. New York: Bantam.

Deleuze, G. (1987). The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Deleuze, G & F. Guattari (1983). On the Line. New York: Semiotext(e).

Deleuze, G. & C. Parnet (1987). Dialogues. New York: Columbia University Press.

Derrida, J. (1992). Given Time: 1. Counterfeit Money. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Derrida, J. (2001). The Work of Mourning. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Derrida, J. (2004). On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness. New York: Routledge.

Derrida, J. (2005). Sovereignties in Question: The Poetics of Paul Celan. New York: Fordham University Press.

Miller H. Hamlet. Paris: Correa.

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