a research practice working at the intersection of architecture, technology, art and ecological pedagogy

Gregory Bateson, Critical Cybernetics and Ecological Aesthetics of Dwelling, in Field Journal

I have a paper in the new issue of the excellent Field Journal on Ecology, which can be downloaded online. My paper is titled “Gregory Bateson, Critical Cybernetics and Ecological Aesthetics of Dwelling”. The synopsis follows, and other papers are also listed below. It looks like a great issue, though I have yet to read the other contributions thoroughly. Other issues of the journal are also well worth downloading. Field is an important  young online peer reviewed architectural theory space … one  of the few.

Gregory Bateson, Critical Cybernetics and Ecological Aesthetics of Dwelling: Synopsis

In the last decade there has been a shift in our understanding and awareness of the scale and profundity of the global environmental crisis that industrial capitalism, combined with a certain cultural hubris regarding our ‘relation to nature’ (see below), has instantiated. Ecology, a term that emerged into popular consciousness in the 60’s as a byword for radical ‘holistic’ and ‘systemic’ thinking, has returned to prominence in recent years across all kinds of fields – once again as a way of signalling an attempt to engage with broader environmental questions.

Within the natural sciences, ecology is above all characterised by a non-reductive holistic approach that focuses on the organisation and internal/external relational dynamics of ‘wholes’ or ‘assemblages’ (such as ecosystems). This is in contradistinction to the orthodox ideology of modern scientific practice, which is based upon a reductivist analysis of phenomenal wholes into ‘fundamental’ parts. Through the twentieth century ecology co-evolved with associated disciplines such as cybernetics and systems theory, and many important theorists – including for example Ludwig von Bertallanfy, Gregory Bateson and James Lovelock – migrated between these different areas, making contributions to all. Outside of the biological sciences, ecology has come to signify something closer to a paradigm rather than a specific discipline, as a culture and holistic science of systemic interconnection in general.

As a discourse, ecology brings together many contradictory roots. It exists as a hard scientific discipline, yet it also has allegiances with the environmental movement and ecocentric theory in a wider sense that gives it an irreducible complexity; combining many of the insights of modern science but mixed together with intellectual, religious and romantic legacies, ideas and practices that are from beyond the enlightenment (either predating it, and/or from remote cultures). For example, ecocentric thinkers might typically assert that the western scientific method and ideology promotes views of the natural world as something to be exploited and experimented upon. They then go on to cite scientific evidence collected as proof of this damage!

Today, ecology as a suffix is frequently used to signify a general systems theory (often combined with environmental awareness) based approach to any complex area. Think for example of the growing plethora of disciplines such as human ecology, social ecology, deep ecology, industrial ecology and political ecology, to name but a few. In architectural theory and in design teaching especially, there have been proposed an ever-expanding series of ecology-based concepts: cybernetic ecologies; machine ecologies; stealth ecologies; performance ecologies and so on. Clearly, the role of ecological analysis in articulating the stresses that contemporary industrial systems are placing upon the biosphere has been a particularly important area of development. Below I focus on two such strands within ecological theory.

Understanding socio-economic-ecological systems in relation to social justice has become a key task of urban political ecology – perhaps the most important extension to ecological theory to emerge in recent years. In this paper I will explore some of the precursors of contemporary urban political ecology (UPE) in the basic relations between ecology, economics and the architectural-urban. In particular, I will turn to consider the thinking of the British post-war anthropologist, cybernetician and ecologist Gregory Bateson. In Bateson’s work we can find one the most innovative and important re-conceptions of the overall project of ecology – and I suggest that the work of this maverick thinker might have some important contributions to make to the development of urban political ecology today.


field: volume 4, issue 1 (December 2010)


Ecology Renata Tyszczuk and Stephen Walker


The perfect worlds of ecology Irénée Scalbert

Ecology and the Art of Sustainable Living David Haley

Gregory Bateson, Critical Cybernetics and Ecological Aesthetics of Dwelling Jon Goodbun

Ethics VS Aesthetics Architectural Design 1965-1972 Steve Parnell

Ecology without the Oikos: Banham, Dallegret and the Morphological Context of Environmental Architecture Amy Kulper

Learning from Ecosystems: The Deployment of Soft Systems in the

Canadian Arctic Neeraj Bhatia and Maya Przybylski

Cultural Ecology in the New New Orleans Benjamin Morris

The Lost Decade? Lisa Tilder

Bonjour Tristesse: Study for an art project. Cerdagne, France 2010 David Cross

The Edible City: Envisioning the Continuous Productive Urban Landscape (CPUL) Katrin Bohn and Andre Viljoen

Squatting My Mind – Towards an Architectural Ecosophy

Catharina Gabrielsson

Review Articles:

ECOLOGY Theory Forum Judith Sakyi Ansah and Robert Sharples

RHYZOM Doina Petrescu

SPATIAL AGENCY Tatjana Schneider

ATLAS of Interdependence Joe Smith and Renata Tyszczuk

Filed under: ecology, research

One Response

  1. […] there some similarities to  Gregory Bateson’s suggestion in Steps to an Ecology of Mind that art integrates the reasons of the heart with the […]

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