Yeah, What Bateson said.

From a Batesonian perspective, it is the way we classify, make distinctions, and make sense of things that is fundamental. If it is the distinctions we ourselves make that are causes, then it is how we process information and map the territory that explains. Within this framework, any explanation or scientific activity becomes fundamentally recursive. It follows that if the world of mental process is recursive, then our descriptions of it should also be recursive and address the multiple layers of mutual influence in any relationship. Once it is understood that recursiveness is fundamental to the development of a science of human interacting systems, “the focus of explanation shifts from the world of matter to the world of form” (Bochner, 1981, p. 74). There are always different orders of recursion and different ways of slicing things up. Every picture can tell a multiplicity of stories.

Bateson believed that we should look for explanations in the ever larger units, rather than in the sort of microscopic reduction that constitutes explanations in the non-distinguishing world of physical things. He always called attention to the primacy of context in establishing meaning and to the multiple levels of meanings in any interaction. “In fact, the phenomenon of context and the closely related phenomenon of meaning defined a division between the hard sciences and this sort of science which I was trying to build” (Bateson, 1972, p. xvii). He proposed that “it is not the data itself that is important, but the process of mulling it over, loosely and then in great detail” (Bochner, 1981, p. 72). Bateson emphasized the importance of being as precise as possible, but never closing off any possibilities. He cautioned researchers not to end their research too early and stressed the value of knowing where one’s knowledge starts off and leaves off. When ideas are half-baked, he advised tying a knot in a handkerchief as a reminder “that the concepts behind them are vague and await analysis” (Bateson, 1972, p. 84).

Qualitative Research as Seen From a Batesonian Lens. Muriel Singer

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Filed under Gregory Bateson, science, sociology

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