RESA: Research School for Swedish Anthropology
Course title: Bateson Applied
Dates: This course was offered in spring 2014
ECTS: 7,5 p
Location: Uppsala

The object of this course is to introduce the ideas of Gregroy Bateson and to see the ways in which his systems approach, rooted in cybernetics and the theory of logical typing, elicits “patterns that connect” across both the natural and social sciences. Bateson is probably most known to the anthropological world for his early book Naven and for his filmatic study of Balinese Character; yet it was only after confronting the breakthroughs of cybernetics and communications theory developed toward the end of World War Two that he was in a position to recognize the similarities of communicative processes guiding developments as seemingly disparate as evolution and mental illness.

After accomplishing the course the student is expected to:

  • Possess an understanding of key aspects of systems theory and how they can apply to the study of cultural anthropology;
  • Gain an introductory knowledge of the works of Gregory Bateson, a pioneer of theories related to communication, evolution, and anthropology, and become sensitized to ways by which these are all related.
  • Gain valuable methodological skills derived from general systems theory and cybernetics for anthropological research.

By reading and discussing the works of Gregory Bateson, students will gain an understanding of his epistemology involving key concepts such as “runaway systems”, negative feedback, homeostatis, structural change, somatic change, and flexibility. This will bring the students to an appreciation of so-called embedded hierarchical systems and what Bateson terms an Ecology of Mind.

This is to be a so-called tutorial on Bateson, where participating students will meet regularly with the course leader to discuss the reading. They will meet researchers from various fields whose work has been guided by Bateson’s thinking in order to demonstrate this diversity and at the same time the pattern that connects their work.

The course leader Hugh Beach was a student of Bateson for the academic year 1970-71 and has been heavily influenced by him for his work with the analysis of transformations of reindeer herding as well as studies related to ethnicity.

Participants will be required to submit regular reflection specimens about their thoughts inspired by reading assignments. Students are also to write final essays of approximately 8-10 pages. Final essays can concern any topic, but they must demonstrate and refer to aspects of Bateson’s work and our discussions. Participants will be assessed for their active participation in class, their reflection specimens, and most importantly for the quality of their final essay. A passing grade requires at least 75% participation in class meetings.