The educational consequences of Bateson's economy of flexibility

Griffiths David (Institute for Educational Cybernetics, University of Bolton, Bolton, UK)


ISSN: 0368-492X

Publication date: 11 November 2013



The education system worldwide is regulated through the dominant paradigm of planning and enactment, but the representations of curricula and lesson plans underpinning the paradigm are poorly correlated to classroom practice. This paper aims to understand how despite this the paradigm remains dominant and explores the implications of its continued success for the current educational practice.


Bateson's concept of the economy of flexibility is applied to the education. Genetic control is mapped onto the formal specification of learning activities, while somatic control is mapped onto teachers' improvisatory practice. The conflicting regulatory messages generated within the dominant paradigm are discussed in terms of Bateson's double bind theory.


The success of the dominant paradigm is comprehensible when conceived of as an economy of flexibility. However, the analysis indicates that this success is dependent on two conditions: that sufficient flexibility is maintained in classroom practice, and that there should be a weak but reliable channel whereby innovations in classroom can filter through to the level of planning. Current developments in educational technology and management practice threaten both these conditions, by increasing the ability of managers to monitor educational activities, and by providing technocratic solutions to pedagogic questions. Flexibility is squeezed out of the system, and the contradictions of the dominant paradigm are increasingly enforced to place teachers in a double bind.


The analysis provides a model for relating the problems experienced by teachers in their practice to changes in technology, policy and institutional organisation.



Griffiths, D. (2013), "The educational consequences of Bateson's economy of flexibility", Kybernetes, Vol. 42 No. 9/10, pp. 1387-1395.

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