Epistemological error, levels of learning, and the double bind: A workshop on Gregory Bateson’s theories of mind

Joanna Jody Boehnert, Ben Sweeting

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNConference contribution with ISSN or ISBN


This workshop examines how the work of anthropologist and cybernetician Gregory Bateson informs deeper understandings of the complexities of environmental crises and the practical challenges of designing adaptive responses. It offers participants an opportunity to consider how Bateson’s ideas manifest in tangible ways and how they might inform design practice. For example, Bateson’s Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972) describes a fundamental “epistemological error” in ways of knowing. The error is part of the denial of ecological context with wide-reaching implications from schizophrenia at an individual level to pollution in Lake Erie at the regional ecological level. The concept of epistemological error suggests a major reframing of design practice in line with more contemporary debates on ecological and plural ontologies in design, as described by Arturo Escobar (2018), Renata Leitão (2023), and others. This workshop makes time to explore three key Batesonian concepts: the ideas of epistemological error, levels of learning (deutero-learning), and the double bind. We explore how these ideas manifest in everyday life and in design practice with the aim of interrogating how they can be used in systemic design. We invite participants to spend time with concepts that disentangle errors in modernist siloed and dis-embedded ways of knowing and invite situated learning on complex feedback loops. Finally, and only briefly, we consider if and how these concepts might inform practice in regenerative architecture and design.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Number of pages3
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2023

Publication series

ISSN (Electronic)2371-8404


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