How Many Ecologies? From Bateson to Guattari and back again -80

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Jon Goodbun

Fifty years ago, 1972 saw the publication of two broadly systems-theoretic books, both of which, by any reckoning, had a significant impact: Gregory Bateson’s Steps to an Ecology of Mind and Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus.

In this short paper, I extract and summarise some moments from a larger study I am working on, in which I speculatively read Bateson and Guattari (and with Deleuze) together. This is partly an exercise in historically and conceptually unpacking the various brief though significant references to Bateson that are to be found in Deleuze and Guattari’s writings. But it is also a transversal historical speculation, in which I suggest that we can find a much bigger, much more interesting and largely unflagged pattern of responses to Bateson in their work. 

Extending recent scholarship that has started to re-explore Deleuze and Guattari’s relationship to Bateson, I argue that in fact there are no less than three distinct periods of -always a combination of explicit and implicit – engagement: Firstly, in Anti-Oedipus, they acknowledge and work creatively with Bateson’s ‘double-bind’ concept, even whilst being critical. However, I argue that their engagement with Bateson is much more extensive and interesting, than a normative reading suggests. 

In their second joint work, A Thousand Plateaus, published in 1980, their previously critical concerns about Bateson seem to have abated, and in addition to a couple of respectful short remarks at a few points in their text, they also acknowledge the concept of the ‘plateaux’ and the ‘rhizome’ as borrowed from Bateson. 

And finally, a decade later again, in Guattari’s sole-authored The Three Ecologies, the central concept is once again developed out of Bateson, and moreover, Guattari gives Bateson the opening epigraph. 

I revisit this material not simply out of historical curiosity nor simply to contribute to a gap in the existing understanding of the relations between these important bodies of work. Rather, I argue that reading these texts together today presents significant new openings and new work for us to do, important work pertaining to how we think about ourselves ecologically, and our responses to anthropogenic environmental change and the dangers and possibilities of a ‘conscious’ political project of ecological planning.

Keywords: Gregory Bateson, Felix Guattari, Ecosophy, Three Ecologies, Mental Ecologies, Ecology of Mind, Subjectivity, epistemological error

RSD TOPIC(S): Different stories in design: Provocations from the work of Gregory Bateson, Architecture & Planning, Learning & Education, Health & Well-Being, Socioecological Design, Sociotechnical Systems

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Posted September 2022

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Author(s) (20XX). Article title. Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSDX) Symposium. rsdsymposium.org/LINK.