Gregory Bateson, the Double Bind, and the Rise of Ecological Consciousness

By Anthony Chaney

320 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 17 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6867-3
    Published: November 2021
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3173-8
    Published: October 2017
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-3174-5
    Published: August 2017

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The anthropologist Gregory Bateson has been called a lost giant of twentieth-century thought. In the years following World War II, Bateson was among the group of mathematicians, engineers, and social scientists who laid the theoretical foundations of the information age. In Palo Alto in 1956, he introduced the double-bind theory of schizophrenia. By the sixties, he was in Hawaii studying dolphin communication. Bateson’s discipline hopping made established experts wary, but he found an audience open to his ideas in a generation of rebellious youth. To a gathering of counterculturalists and revolutionaries in 1967 London, Bateson was the first to warn of a “greenhouse effect” that could lead to runaway climate change.

Blending intellectual biography with an ambitious reappraisal of the 1960s, Anthony Chaney uses Bateson’s life and work to explore the idea that a postmodern ecological consciousness is the true legacy of the decade. Surrounded by voices calling for liberation of all kinds, Bateson spoke of limitation and dependence. But he also offered an affirming new picture of human beings and their place in the world—as ecologies knit together in a fabric of meaning that, said Bateson, “we might as well call Mind.”

About the Author

Anthony Chaney teaches history and writing at the University of North Texas at Dallas.
For more information about Anthony Chaney, visit the Author Page.


“Helps to provide a foundation for the ecological consciousness that emerged from the counterculture ideas in the mid-20th century.”--Library Journal

"A penetrating, informative, and insightful study that should be of special interest to a wide variety of scholars and scientists, including anthropologists, ecologists, environmentalists, and historians."--CHOICE

Runaway should inspire further scholarship following Gregory Bateson and other difficult-to-place characters. Perhaps the history of science can help illuminate how our world arrived at the brink of runaway—and how it might find an alternative path forward.”--Isis Review

“A fascinating book.”--American Historical Review

“This is a fascinating and ambitious study dealing with the cultural history of a concept--Gregory Bateson’s double bind--as it emerged and wove its way through twentieth-century thought. In the process of narrating this complex intellectual and cultural history, Chaney draws upon not only Bateson’s archive but a host of literary and scientific sources, demonstrating the shared influences and overlap between bodies of thought that to my knowledge have never been explored so deeply or with as much skill.”—Frank Zelko, University of Vermont

“This is a remarkable piece of work by a gifted scholar. Indeed, it is something of an intellectual page-turner. Chaney has managed throughout to convert abstract ideas into riveting narrative episodes. The book opens up windows onto both Bateson’s psyche and the many worlds in which he moved, creatively reading a wide range of texts to reveal some of the deepest cultural and intellectual dynamics of the mid-twentieth century.”--Andrew Jewett, Harvard University