The Family as Machine: Film, Infrastructure and Cybernetic Kinship in Suburban America

28 February 2017, 12:00 - 13:30

Seminar room SG2, Alison Richard Building

Dr Bernard Geoghagen (Media, Coventry)
Discussant: Dr Christopher Ball (Anthropology, Notre Dame)


How did the American family become a machine? Starting in the 1950s a community of progressive mental health therapists, ethnographers, and artists around the Bay Area put forth visions of the modern American family as a cybernetic machine. Researchers including anthropologist Gregory Bateson, filmmaker Weldon Kees, and psychiatrist Don Jackson proposed that family members encode and decode informational streams in feedback loops that promote the stability (or “homeostasis”) of the individual as well as the group. Mental illness, in this account, sprang from atypical coding patterns.  This talk examines how technical affordances of mid-twentieth century “new media” such as experimental film and information theory facilitated this production of cybernetic families. 

(A primary source text will be pre-circulated and may be read in advance. You can receive a copy of the text, Toward a Theory of Schizophrenia'by Gregory Bateson et. al., by writing to Nima Paidipaty at

Coffee and tea will be served after.  



Part of Cybernetics and Society Reading Group, series.
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