The shape of context: implications of Bateson's aesthetics for family therapy



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Texas Tech University


This dissertation attempts to readdress some of Gregory Bateson's fundamental ideas and connect them formally to aesthetics. These formal understandings are critically applied to the field of family therapy. The structure of the work follows a historical patterning of Bateson's writing and influence.

Following the Introduction, Chapter 2 outlines Bateson's epistemological foundation for understanding aesthetics. Several major ideas proposed by Bateson are described and related to his call for an aesthetic preference. In this regard, Bateson has stated, "By aesthetic I mean responsive to the pattern which connects."

Chapter 3 provides a thorough review of the conference "Size and Shape in Mental Health," held in 1979 and principally organized by Bateson. The conference addressed the dialectic nature of size and shape, of quantity and quality, of pragmatics and aesthetics. Following the review, a discussion focuses on linking these complex ideas to the notion of aesthetics.

Chapter 4 formally reviews the debate about pragmatics and aesthetics in the field of family therapy. Much of this debate appeared in two issues of the 1982 volume of Family Process. Many have called these issues family therapy's darkest moment, yet the appearance of recent articles which continue the debate only point to the vitality of the discussion.

Finally, Chapter 5 presents implications of Bateson's aesthetics for family therapy. Near the end of his life, Bateson began to explore the notions of aesthetics, shape, and pattern. Bateson had planned to unite a book entitled, "where Angels Fear to Tread," indicating his deep respect for these sacred notions. The works of Wendell Berry, Gary Snyder, and Steve Tyler are introduced as metaphors of action for family therapy, and living itself.