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RSD11–7 focus areas

Different stories in design

RSD Focus & Hubs, RSD11, RSD11 Programme

Provocations from the work of Gregory Bateson

The work of cybernetician Gregory Bateson provides a valuable entry point to explore the limitations and possibilities of mobilising design in the context of systemic complexity. Common throughout Bateson’s diverse work was the exploration of living systems of all kinds—octopuses, cities, families, institutions, minds, or ecosystems—in terms of communication and learning rather than matter and energy. For Bateson, these varied contexts all participate in the same sets of ecological relationships.

Addressing these contexts separately from each other, including in well-meaning attempts to mitigate problems, distorts the overall pattern of relationships, reinforcing the underlying causes of ecological crisis. This reductive way of engaging is embedded in the stories built around modernity, human agency, technology, innovation, and design. In their later work, Bateson explored themes such as dialogue, metaphor, and a secular rethinking of the ‘sacred’ as different logics of operations that could lead to different stories and other forms of engagement.

How may we use Bateson’s provocations to rethink the problematic stories around design and modernity as mobilised in contemporary design practices?


  1. Bateson, G., & Bateson, M. C. (2005). Angels fear: Towards an epistemology of the sacred. Cresskill, N.J: Hampton.
  2. Bateson, N. (2021) Aphanipoiesis. 65th Annual Proceedings for the International Society of the Systems Sciences.
  3. Boehnert, J. (2018). Design, ecology, politics: Towards the ecocene. Bloomsbury.
  4. Steier, F. (Ed.) (2005). Gregory Bateson: Essays for an ecology of ideas [Special double issue]. Cybernetics & Human Knowing, 12(1-2).

Thanks to those who have proposed and developed the focuses: Christopher Daniel, Gareth Owen Lloyd, Dulmini Perera, Sally Sutherland, Ben Sweeting, James Tooze, Jeffrey P. Turko, and Josina Vink.

Bateson series

dialogue 01

dialogue 02



Different stories in design