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Plenaries & panels

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

Format: Plenaries & Panels, RSD11, RSD11: Different stories in design (Bateson)

Organised by Dulmini Perera and Eve Pinsker

Drawing on Gregory Bateson and Vern Carroll, the relationship between cultural analysis and dialogic explorations of sense-making and whether there is a space for identification of cultural premises and cultural analysis in innovation research methods.

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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.”

Through sharing cases from both ethnography and design practice, we discussed the relationship between cultural analysis and dialogic explorations of sensemaking (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.

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

Bateson series

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Citation Data

Author(s): Dulmini Perera and Simon Sadler
Year: 2022
Title: Cultural Premises, Conscious Purposes, and Design: Conversing with the legacies of Gregory Bateson and Vern Carroll
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Volume: RSD11
Article No.: 014
URL: https://rsdsymposium.org/legacies-of-gregory-bateson-and-vern-carroll
Host: University of Brighton
Location: Brighton, UK
Symposium Dates: October 3–16, 2022
First published: 18 October 2022
Last update: 30 April 2023
Publisher Identification: ISSN 2371-8404