HAR is pleased to announce the latest release from BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology: an in-depth analysis of Gregory Bateson’s theoretical body of work by Peter Harries-Jones.
Harries-Jones, Peter, 2021. “‘From Anthropology to Epistemology’: Extensions to an Autobiography of Gregory Bateson,” in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris.
Born in Great Britain and trained at Cambridge (in particular by A. C. Haddon), Gregory Bateson (1904–1980) was an anthropologist who crossed disciplinary boundaries and profoundly altered the epistemology of the human sciences. Peter Harries-Jones gives an in-depth analysis of his theoretical body of work. His first fieldwork took place between 1927 and 1930 in New Guinea among the Baining, the Sulka, and then the Iatmul. His analysis of one of their rituals inspired him to coin the concept of schismogenesis, which he used in his famous book 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 (1936). He spent two years in Bali (1936-1938) with Margaret Mead, whom he married in 1936, focusing on the education of children. They made a documentary film, Dance and Trance in Bali (1942), which marked a milestone in the history of ethnographic films. During WWII, he worked for the OSS in Southeast Asia. As one of the first participants in the Macy Lectures in the 1940s, along with Margaret Mead, he understood the importance of cybernetic theory and the centrality of information in cultural and biological processes. When working as an ethnologist at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Palo Alto, he founded the Palo Alto School, which developed an innovative approach to schizophrenia by forging the double-bind theory in 1956, making him one of the pioneers of family therapy. He developed an ambitious anthropology of communication linked to a theory of learning and social interactions and to a systems theory that embraced his holistic vision of the relationship between culture, evolution, and the environment. In his book Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972), he expressed his deep and aesthetic commitment to an ecological anthropology that rejects the dualism of nature/culture and body/spirit. He is one of the founders of biosemiotics.
After reading this piece, the reader grasps how much Bateson’s anthropology is still deeply relevant to our changing world, a world challenged by environmental upheavals and new scientific discoveries in cultural, biological and cognitive processes.