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The aim of this paper is to give insight into the behaviour of inequivalent representations of 3-connected matroids. An element x of a matroid M is fixed if there is no extension M′ of M by an element x′ such that {x, x′} is independent and M′ is unaltered by swapping the labels on x and x′. When x is fixed, a representation of M.\x extends in at most one way to a representation of M. A 3-connected matroid N is totally free if neither N nor its dual has a fixed element whose deletion is a series extension of a 3-connected matroid. The significance of such matroids derives from the theorem, established here, that the number of inequivalent representations of a 3-connected matroid M over a finite field F is bounded above by the maximum, over all totally free minors N of M, of the number of inequivalent F-representations of N. It is proved that, within a class of matroids that is closed under minors and duality, the totally free matroids can be found by an inductive search. Such a search is employed to show that, for all r ≥ 4, there are unique and easily described rank-r quaternary and quinternary matroids, the first being the free spike. Finally, Seymour's Splitter Theorem is extended by showing that the sequence of 3-connected matroids from a matroid M to a minor N, whose existence is guaranteed by the theorem, may be chosen so that all deletions and contractions of fixed and cofixed elements occur in the initial segment of the sequence. © 2001 Elsevier Science.

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Journal of Combinatorial Theory. Series B

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