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Gregory Bateson

Gregory Bateson

English anthropologist, social scientist, linguist, visual anthropologist, semiotician and cyberneticist

Gregory Bateson (9 May 1904 – 4 July 1980) was an English anthropologist, social scientist, linguist, visual anthropologist, semiotician, and cyberneticist whose work intersected that of many other fields. His writings include Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972) and Mind and Nature (1979).

In Palo Alto, California, Bateson and colleagues developed the double-bind theory of schizophrenia.

Bateson's interest in systems theory forms a thread running through his work. He was one of the original members of the core group of the Macy conferences in Cybernetics (1941–1960), and the later set on Group Processes (1954–1960), where he represented the social and behavioral sciences. He was interested in the relationship of these fields to epistemology. His association with the editor and author Stewart Brand helped widen his influence.

Career

In 1928, Bateson lectured in linguistics at the University of Sydney. From 1931 to 1937, he was a Fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge. He spent the years before World War II in the South Pacific in New Guinea and Bali doing anthropology.

In the 1940s, he helped extend systems theory and cybernetics to the social and behavioral sciences. Although initially reluctant to join the intelligence services, Bateson served in OSS during World War II along with dozens of other anthropologists. He was stationed in the same offices as Julia Child (then Julia McWilliams), Paul Cushing Child, and others. He spent much of the war designing 'black propaganda' radio broadcasts. He was deployed on covert operations in Burma and Thailand, and worked in China, India, and Ceylon as well. Bateson used his theory of schismogenesis to help foster discord among enemy fighters. He was upset by his wartime experience and disagreed with his wife over whether science should be applied to social planning or used only to foster understanding rather than action.

In Palo Alto, California, Bateson developed the double-bind theory, together with his colleagues Donald Jackson, Jay Haley and John H. Weakland, also known as the Bateson Project (1953–1963).

In 1956, he became a naturalised citizen of the United States.

Bateson was one of the original members of the core group of the Macy conferences in cybernetics (1941–1960), and the later set on Group Processes (1954–1960), where he represented the social and behavioral sciences.

In the 1970s, he taught at the Humanistic Psychology Institute in San Francisco, renamed the Saybrook University, and in 1972 joined the faculty of Kresge College at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

In 1976, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. California Governor Jerry Brown appointed him to the Regents of the University of California, a position he held until his death, although he resigned from the Special Research Projects committee in 1979 in opposition to the university's work on nuclear weapons.

Bateson spent the last decade of his life developing a "meta-science" of epistemology to bring together the various early forms of systems theory developing in different fields of science.[

Personal life

From 1936 until 1950, he was married to American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead. He applied his knowledge to the war effort before moving to the United States. Bateson and Mead had a daughter, Mary Catherine Bateson (1939–2021), who also became an anthropologist. Bateson separated from Mead in 1947, and they were divorced in 1950. In 1951, he married Elizabeth "Betty" Sumner (1919–1992), the daughter of the Episcopalian Bishop of Oregon, Walter Taylor Sumner.They had a son, John Sumner Bateson (1951–2015), as well as twins who died shortly after birth in 1953. Bateson and Sumner were divorced in 1957, after which Bateson was married a third time, to therapist and social worker Lois Cammack (born 1928), in 1961. They had one daughter, Nora Bateson (born 1969).

Bateson was a lifelong atheist, as his family had been for several generations.He was a member of William Irwin Thompson's esoteric Lindisfarne Association.

Bateson died on July 4, 1980, at age 76, in the guest house of the San Francisco Zen Center.The 2014 novel Euphoria by Lily King is a fictionalized account of Bateson's relationships with Mead and Reo Fortune in pre-WWII New Guinea.

Philosophy

Where others might see a set of inexplicable details, Bateson perceived simple relationships.[20] In "From Versailles to Cybernetics," Bateson argues that the history of the twentieth century can be perceived as the history of a malfunctioning relationship. In his view, the Treaty of Versailles exemplifies a whole pattern of human relationships based on betrayal and hate. He therefore claims that the treaty of Versailles and the development of cybernetics—which for him represented the possibility of improved relationships—are the only two anthropologically important events of the twentieth century.

Work

New Guinea

Bateson's beginning years as an anthropologist were spent floundering, lost without a specific objective in mind. He began in 1927 with a trip to New Guinea, spurred by mentor A. C. Haddon. His goal, as suggested by Haddon, was to explore the effects of contact between the Sepik natives and whites. Unfortunately for Bateson, his time spent with the Baining of New Guinea was halted and difficult. The Baining were not particularly accommodating of his research, and he missed out on many communal activities. They were also not inclined to share their religious practices with him. He left the Baining frustrated. Next, he set out to study the Sulka, belonging to another native population of New Guinea. Although the Sulka were very different from the Baining and their culture more easily observed, he felt their culture was dying, which left him dispirited and discouraged.

He experienced more success with the Iatmul people, an indigenous people living along New Guinea's Sepik River. The observations he made among the Iatmul people allowed him to develop his concept of schismogenesis. In his 1936 book Naven he defined the term, based on his Iatmul fieldwork, as "a process of differentiation in the norms of individual behaviour resulting from cumulative interaction between individuals" (p. 175). The book was named after the 'naven' rite, an honorific ceremony among the Iatmul, still continued today, that celebrates first-time cultural achievements. The ceremony entails behaviours that are otherwise forbidden during everyday social life. For example, men and women reverse and exaggerate gender roles; men dress in women's skirts, and women dress in men's attire and ornaments.Additionally, some women smear mud in the faces of other relatives, beat them with sticks, and hurl bawdy insults. Mothers may drop to the ground so their celebrated 'child' walks over them. And during a male rite, a mother's brother may slide his buttocks down the leg of his honoured sister's son, a complex gesture of masculine birthing, pride, and insult, rarely performed before women, that brings the honoured sister's son to tears.Bateson suggested the influence of a circular system of causation, and proposed that:

Women watched for the spectacular performances of the men, and there can be no reasonable doubt that the presence of an audience is a very important factor in shaping the men's behavior. In fact, it is probable that the men are more exhibitionistic because the women admire their performances. Conversely, there can be no doubt that the spectacular behavior is a stimulus which summons the audience together, promoting in the women the appropriate behavior.

In short, the behaviour of person X affects person Y, and the reaction of person Y to person X's behaviour will then affect person X's behaviour, which in turn will affect person Y, and so on. Bateson called this the "vicious circle." He then discerned two models of schismogenesis: symmetrical and complementary. Symmetrical relationships are those in which the two parties are equals, competitors, such as in sports. Complementary relationships feature an unequal balance, such as dominance-submission (parent-child), or exhibitionism-spectatorship (performer-audience). Bateson's experiences with the Iatmul led him to publish a book in 1936 titled Naven: A Survey of the Problems suggested by a Composite Picture of the Culture of a New Guinea Tribe drawn from Three Points of View (Cambridge University Press). The book proved to be a watershed in anthropology and modern social science.

Until Bateson published Naven, most anthropologists assumed a realist approach to studying culture, in which one simply described social reality. Bateson's book argued that this approach was naive, since an anthropologist's account of a culture was always and fundamentally shaped by whatever theory the anthropologist employed to define and analyse the data. To think otherwise, stated Bateson, was to be guilty of what Alfred North Whitehead called the "fallacy of misplaced concreteness." There was no singular or self-evident way to understand the Iatmul naven rite. Instead, Bateson analysed the rite from three unique points of view: sociological, ethological, and eidological. The book, then, was not a presentation of anthropological analysis but an epistemological account that explored the nature of anthropological analysis itself.

The sociological point of view sought to identify how the ritual helped bring about social integration. In the 1930s, most anthropologists understood marriage rules to regularly ensure that social groups renewed their alliances. But Iatmul, argued Bateson, had contradictory marriage rules. Marriage, in other words, could not guarantee that a marriage between two clans would at some definite point in the future recur. Instead, Bateson continued, the naven rite filled this function by regularly ensuring exchanges of food, valuables, and sentiment between mothers' brothers and their sisters' children, or between separate lineages. Naven, from this angle, held together the different social groups of each village into a unified whole.

The ethological point of view interpreted the ritual in terms of the conventional emotions associated with normative male and female behaviour, which Bateson called ethos. In Iatmul culture, observed Bateson, men and women lived different emotional lives. For example, women were rather submissive and took delight in the achievement of others; men fiercely competitive and flamboyant. During the ritual, however, men celebrated the achievement of their nieces and nephews while women were given ritual license to act raucously. In effect, naven allowed men and women to experience momentarily the emotional lives of each other, and thereby to achieve a level of psychological integration.

The third and final point of view, the eidological, was the least successful. Here Bateson endeavoured to correlate the organisation structure of the naven ceremony with the habitual patterns of Iatmul thought. Much later, Bateson would harness the very same idea to the development of the double-bind theory of schizophrenia.

In the Epilogue to the book, Bateson was clear: "The writing of this book has been an experiment, or rather a series of experiments, in methods of thinking about anthropological material." That is to say, his overall point was not to describe Iatmul culture of the naven ceremony but to explore how different modes of analysis, using different premises and analytic frameworks, could lead to different explanations of the same sociocultural phenomenon. Not only did Bateson's approach re-shape fundamentally the anthropological approach to culture, but the naven rite itself has remained a locus classicus in the discipline. In fact, the meaning of the ritual continues to inspire anthropological analysis.

Bali

File:Trance and Dance in Bali.webmPlay media

Trance and Dance in Bali, a documentary by Bateson and Margaret Mead

Bateson next[when?] travelled to Bali with his new wife Margaret Mead to study the people of the village Bajoeng Gede. Here, Lipset states, "in the short history of ethnographic fieldwork, film was used both on a large scale and as the primary research tool." Bateson took 25,000 photographs of their Balinese subjects.

He discovered that the people of Bajoeng Gede raised their children very unlike children raised in Western societies. Instead of attention being paid to a child who was displaying a climax of emotion (love or anger), Balinese mothers would ignore them. Bateson notes, "The child responds to [a mother's] advances with either affection or temper, but the response falls into a vacuum. In Western cultures, such sequences lead to small climaxes of love or anger, but not so in Bali. At the moment when a child throws its arms around the mother's neck or bursts into tears, the mother's attention wanders".[22] This model of stimulation and refusal was also seen in other areas of the culture. Bateson later described the style of Balinese relations as stasis instead of schismogenesis. Their interactions were "muted" and did not follow the schismogenetic process because they did not often escalate competition, dominance, or submission.

New Guinea, 1938

In 1938, Bateson and Mead returned to the Sepik River, and settled into the village of Tambunum, where Bateson had spent three days in the 1920s. They aimed to replicate the Balinese project on the relationship between childraising and temperament, and between conventions of the body – such as pose, grimace, holding infants, facial expressions, etc. – reflected wider cultural themes and values. Bateson snapped some 10,000 black and white photographs, and Mead typed thousands of pages of fieldnotes. But Bateson and Mead never published anything substantial from this research.

Bateson and Margaret Mead contrasted first and Second-order cybernetics with this diagram in an interview in 1973.

Bateson's encounter with Mead on the Sepik river (Chapter 16) and their life together in Bali (Chapter 17) is described in Mead's autobiography Blackberry Winter: My Earlier Years (Angus and Robertson. London. 1973). Their daughter Catherine's birth in New York on 8 December 1939 is recounted in Chapter 18.

Double bind theory of schizophrenia

Main article: Double bind

In 1956 in Palo Alto, Bateson and his colleagues Donald Jackson, Jay Haley, and John Weakland articulated a related theory of schizophrenia as stemming from double bind situations. The double bind refers to a communication paradox described first in families with a schizophrenic member. The first place where double binds were described (though not named as such) was according to Bateson, in Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh (a semi-autobiographical novel about Victorian hypocrisy and cover-up).

Full double bind requires several conditions to be met:

The victim of double bind receives contradictory injunctions or emotional messages on different levels of communication (for example, love is expressed by words, and hate or detachment by nonverbal behaviour; or a child is encouraged to speak freely, but criticised or silenced whenever he or she actually does so).

No metacommunication is possible – for example, asking which of the two messages is valid or describing the communication as making no sense.

The victim cannot leave the communication field.

Failing to fulfill the contradictory injunctions is punished (for example, by withdrawal of love).

The strange behaviour and speech of schizophrenics was explained by Bateson et al. as an expression of this paradoxical situation, and were seen in fact as an adaptive response, which should be valued as a cathartic and transformative experience.

The double bind was originally presented (probably mainly under the influence of Bateson's psychiatric co-workers) as an explanation of part of the etiology of schizophrenia. Currently, it is considered to be more important as an example of Bateson's approach to the complexities of communication which is what he understood it to be.

Timeline

May 9, 1904
Gregory Bateson was born in Grantchester.

Patents

Further Resources

Title
Author
Link
Type
Date

AN ECOLOGY OF MIND (Bullfrog Films clip)

Web

February 10, 2012

Consciousness & Psychopathology - Gregory Bateson

Web

August 5, 2019

Gregory Bateson, Ecology of Mind and Double Binds

Web

December 1, 2020

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