In the shadow of sociology: Bateson through the lens of Durkheim

Journal of Classical Sociology 21 (2):165-187 (2021)

Authors
Jørn Bjerre
Aarhus University
Abstract
Gregory Bateson developed his transdisciplinary thinking in the shadow of sociology, but his ideas are not generally viewed as part of the field of classical sociology. This article will explain this exclusion by arguing that Bateson’s way of theorising – while attempting to make progress in the understanding of reality – returns to ideas that were already rejected within the field in which he first worked. Furthermore, as a reading of Bateson through the lens of Durkheim will show, Bateson’s theories fail to provide a better understanding of social reality than those of his predecessors. This type of critical analysis demonstrates the weakness of some of Bateson’s central claims and contributes to a more in-depth understanding and reassessment of his ideas from a sociological perspective. Pointing out that Bateson’s critique of the modern worldview is based on a pre-critical and pre-modern philosophy of wholeness is not to invalidate Bateson’s foundational intuition that our current mode of thinking challenges our chances of surviving as a species. However, in order to make a theoretically convincing argument concerning how our thinking challenges our survival, a more critical understanding of the relation between mind and society than the one Bateson offers is required.
Keywords Systems theory  Bateson  Cybernetic  Social reality  Sociology  Durkheim  Progress
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