Deleuze and Guattari and Photography Education

Rob Coley, Dean Lockwood & Adam O'Meara
School of Media, University of Lincoln, UK

Listen to the project:

Audio: «m4a» | «mp3»

Video (Vimeo): «Student as Producer»

"The events of 1968 provide a powerful historical and political framework within which to re-conceptualise the relationship between teaching and research in higher education in a way that offers a challenge to the notion of student as consumer and the politics of marketisation. The problem is how to recover the radicality of the '68 agenda, in the current contemporary crisis."
— (Neary & Hagyard, 2010)

[1] One of the exemplary texts for '68 which emerged from this line of thinking is the essay 'The Author as Producer' (1934) by Marxist thinker Walter Benjamin. In that essay, Benjamin argued that in times of great urgency, well-meaning political correctness on the part of authors is utterly inadequate. The revolutionary author must innovate technically, must be willing to experiment with form towards the functional transformation of the organization of production. Benjamin conceived a 'meltdown' of forms, of machines and apparatuses into an 'incandescent liquid mass from which the new forms will be cast'. And this must occur as a function of a community.

[2] This insight can fuel the urgent task of transforming the production of knowledge in the context of higher education. The agenda must be no less than the functional transformation of education for an alternative society. In the terms of the business logic which is the conformism of current university culture, the student is cast as a consumer, an appendage to the process of knowledge production. Inspired by Benjamin and others, Student as Producer, a radical pedagogical initiative instituted at the University of Lincoln, UK, urges collective, social teaching and learning which contributes to the experimental production of something that we will not be able to know ahead of time; that is, the production of the new. The organizing principle of Student as Producer is collaboration of student and lecturer together in the production of the new. The individual teaches and learns for all.

[3] Let's put this bluntly in relation to our own specific case. In the study of Media Production, fostering Student as Producer must mean overpowering the conformism that serves the exigencies of the so-called Creative Industries. This brings us to the pulse of Student as Producer – it is about nurturing a community that is willing and able to seize the potentialities of the current situation and challenge the notion that There Is No Alternative.

[4] It is our contention that Deleuze and Guattari's concept of the rhizome is a profitable avenue of exploration emerging from the '68 agenda and more pertinent to life in a society increasingly subject to a new diagram of power and in the grip of new techniques of control.

[5] We teach photography at Lincoln. Photography has long had an intimate relationship to power; it's used to record and classify the world, and for surveillance of the people in it – to pin down the world, pin down people, organize it and them. But we might start to think about photography not as representing and documenting the world out there, as part of a reproductive apparatus, but as something we can connect up with, becoming part of its movement, interfering with and creatively transforming the world, contributing to its life as process. Not representing the world, but encountering it anew and being part of its process. Photography not as fixing things, but rather as freeing things up, sending out new shoots, new probes, joining things up that weren't joined up before, getting inside things and showing how messy and changeful they are rather than static, separate and ordered.

[6] We have begun to look for previous examples of pedagogy that have drawn upon rhizomes. There isn't a lot. Dave Cormier's 2008 article, 'Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum,' is interesting. For Cormier, the traditional curriculum is planned by experts from beginning to end, and foregrounds the acquisition of an independently verified body of knowledge. It is extremely arborescent. He insists that rhizomatic education would involve a constant tutor-student negotiation of the curriculum and of what constitutes knowledge. His ideas are similar to ours, but the critical, political pulse of Student as Producer is largely absent. Cormier is also complacent with regards to new media as a tool. He argues that the rhizome is especially relevant today when the canon has become fluid because of new communication technologies working at greater speeds. He argues that these same technologies also foster a communal negotiation of knowledge (as in the phenomenon of wikis), but we would have some reservations about this. Having worked on some issues around network politics, we are more sceptical of claims for an inherently emancipatory, rhizomatic digitality. This is precisely something to be struggled for, part of what is at stake. Cormier's approach lacks a sense of the intransigent 'capitalist realism' ('You'll just make things'll end up with chaos') that characterizes our contemporary media and cultural context.

[7] Where we are agreed, however, is that a rhizomatic model of education would be based on the principle that 'the community is the curriculum'.

"Franny is listening to the program on wolves. I say to her, Would you like to be a wolf? She answers haughtily, 'How stupid, you can't be one wolf, you're always eight or nine, six or seven'." (Deleuze and Guattari, 2004, p.32)

[8] The community-curriculum spontaneously maps its knowledge, constructing its own connections, creating its own space. What is useful information, useful material, what counts as knowledge? The answers to these questions constitute new nodes from which further lines will shoot. Rhizomes might quicken the pulse of Student as Producer, sensitize us to the importance of speed and flow. The rhizome can have all the intensity of Benjamin’s incandescent meltdown.

Scenes from rhizomatic exhibition on the streets of Lincoln.

  1. Take a group of forty undergrads, most of them preoccupied with their own vocational aspirations, fixated on grades, fetishizing the equipment and looking to their tutors for an unequivocal and programmatic structure.
  2. Introduce the concept of the rhizome – some basic reading. Become a rhizome out on the streets, making images as a pack, stitching them together, seeing what unfolds.
  3. Back in the seminar, talk about Tahrir Square (see Gaston Gordillo, 2011), tap into this and other resonating events.
  4. Show them some work to plug in to these discussions, work that frustrates representationalist expectations, work that deterritorializes war photography (Broomberg and Chanarin), work that deterritorializes street photography (Michael Wolf, Mishka Henner), deterritorializes the photograph as document of truth (Edgar Martins). Get some of these people in to talk to.
  5. Refuse to stipulate the destiny of the project.

This is how we began.


Student as producer, student as consumer. Compositional assemblage or appendages to the machine. Students and tutors have their various refrains, not everybody liked the tunes we played, not everybody wanted to jam along. As Massumi says, in his foreword to 'A Thousand Plateaus', you might prefer to buy a record instead.


Broomberg, A. & Chanarin, O. (2008) 'The Day Nobody Died'
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Cormier, D. (2008) 'Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum' Innovate vol.4 (5) [online]
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Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (2004) A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Trans. B. Massumi, London: Continuum.

Gordillo, G. (2011) 'The Speed of Revolutionary Resonance' [blog] 5
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Henner, M. (2011) 'No Man's Land' [online]
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Martins, E. (2011) 'This is Not a House' [online]
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Neary, M. & Hagyard, A. (2010) 'Pedagogy of Excess: an alternative political economy of student life'
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Wolf, M. (2009) 'Paris Street View' [online]
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Still images taken from O'Meara, A. (2011) 'Student as Producer' [video]
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