Panels & Plenaries

Cultural Premises, Conscious Purposes, and Design: Conversing with the legacies of Gregory Bateson and Vern Carroll


Dialogue 02

Organised by Dulmini Perera

Anthropologist Vern Carroll was a postdoc of Gregory Bateson’s and developed what Bateson called “epistemological premises” into a theory of “cultural premises” and an associated practice of cultural analysis (V. Carroll, 1977, also see R. Carroll, 1988).  Analytically identifying “cultural premises” is a way of stating what goes without saying, the shared assumptions or ways of parsing the world and construing context that is socially learned, usually unconscious, embedded in stories as well as embodied in interaction, and shared in varying degrees in wider communities. Many social theorists and philosophers have proposed related concepts; cf. Bourdieu’s “doxa,” Gramscian hegemony, Michel Polanyi’s tacit knowledge, and Gadamer’s notion of “pre-understanding.”

We propose to discuss, through sharing cases from both ethnography and design practice, the relationship between cultural analysis and dialogic explorations of ‘sense-making’ (B. Dervin, 1998; B. L. Dervin, 2010) and whether there is a space for the identification of cultural premises and cultural analysis in “innovation research methods” (Peter Jones) that can serve the larger purpose of designing beneficial social interventions.  Bateson was deeply sceptical about the utility of conscious purpose for human adaptation. Contemporary systemic design practice arguably challenges narrow notions of conscious purpose


Eve C. Pinsker, Michael D. Lieber, Fred Steier, Tim Gasperak, and Daniel Wolk discuss the notions of premises (cultural/ epistemological), conscious purpose and how these notions affect the stories of design today.

Dulmini Perera and Simon Sadler will facilitate a discussion between panellists, who will question and respond to each other as well as ideas emerging from dialogue 01. Questions and comments will also be invited from the audience, both in-person and virtual.


The dialogue will be followed by Stephen Nachmanovitch’s story of Bateson – storytelling through words, poetry and music.

Different stories in design

This is dialogue 02 of the series organised by Dulmini Perera for the focus Different stories in design: provocations from the work of Gregory Bateson.

The RSDX panel, Dialogue 01 Gregory Bateson and the Political, was held as part of the RSDX series.

RSDX panels were held from October 3 to 9, 2022. They were hosted by the University of Brighton and the session organisers and were free and open to all.

Posted October 2022 content is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. This permits anyone to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or form according to the licence terms.

Suggested Citation Format (APA)

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

Posted October 2022