Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 31(3) pp 434-450

It has become commonplace to describe new social movements as ‘rhizomic’ in form, yet the full implications of this metaphor are rarely teased out, and the corollary that other political organisations are arborescent in form has been largely neglected in social science research. In this paper we employ Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of rhizomic and arborescent assemblages to theorise a transition in the practice of political representation, drawing on an empirical study of British rural politics. We outline the principles of arborescent political assemblages, associated with traditional forms of political organisation, and the principles of rhizomic politics, associated with new social movements and protest activity. However, we proceed to argue that the binary opposition of arborescent and rhizomic forms of political assemblage is misleading, and contend that the spatial strategies associated with the state as an arborescent machine are critical to understanding both the lines of flight that produce periodic rhizomic flaring, and the entanglement of rhizomes and arborescent structures that mean that rhizomic politics never entirely escapes the arborescent. Therefore, the paper suggests that the rhizomic character of new social movements is not a revolutionary shift in political organisation, but rather is part of the ongoing, dynamic, and cyclical interplay of rhizomic and arborescent forms.