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News & Events

Mary Catherine Bateson Visit

Mary Catherine Bateson Visit
Pic to be added:
from left to right: Tony Wright, Magnus Ramage, Chris Blackmore, John Martin, Mary Catherine Bateson, Steve Armstrong, Claire Appleby (photo: Ray Ison).

On a visit to the OU on 25 October 2004, Mary Catherine Bateson met with some members of the Group. The ensuing discussion was broadly around how systems thinking and practice has been meaningful to us in our lives and in our various roles in Higher education. OU Vice Chancellor Brenda Gourley joined us for some of the conversation, contributing her own personal reflections on how she has used systems ideas and who has influenced her in doing that.

It was a very rich hour and a half with much food for thought.

We’ll write something up and put it in the OUSyS newsletter but for now a few comments noted down from Mary Catherine’s contributions may give a flavour*….

  • "Cybernetics makes poets of us."
  • "Systems theory was part of the culture in which I grew up. ….the habits of thought and enthusiasms I grew up with were closest to cultural anthropology."
  • In response to some discussion about the word 'nature' and the constraints of language: "The words we work with retain our habits of thought".

Our discussion ranged from how we learn to think to the place of systems thinking in education to how we take ethical considerations on board, in particular in using boundaries. We talked briefly about some specific publications including Mary Catherine's 'Our own metaphor' which was about a conference Gregory Bateson had organised in 1968, written to read as a novel.

Some challenges from Mary Catherine for us as Systems academics:

  • "We have an emergency situation where many of our smartest people are being trained to be stupid. If we don’t learn to see things differently we get disastrous decisions. It is urgent to get systems thinking into education".
  • "I have heard your accounts as those of intellectual migrants. How will you all survive and function in the current state of the intellectual world?…. when you have different ways of representing patterns of thought that are alien to colleagues and there are many factors that require us all to function in boxes?"
  • "It is important to think systemically about the OU."