Between 1953 and 1962 the eminent anthropologist Gregory Bateson and his research team, John Weakland, Jay Haley, Don D. Jackson, and William Fry, conducted one of the most important and influential series of research projects ever in the behavioral sciences. Using Russell and Whitehead's theory of logical types as a conceptual framework, the focus of inquiry was on the nature of communications processes, context, and paradox.
The first synthesis of the research Bateson and his team was the landmark article "Toward a theory of schizophrenia," published in 1956. During the ten years this group worked together they produced more than 70 articles and book chapters. This ground breaking research set forth a revolutionary approach to understanding human behavior, and in doing so laid the foundation upon which communication (i.e. interactional) theory, and a major part of the field of marriage and family therapy, and brief therapy are based.
The basic premise here proposed is that for research to go forward, the structure of inquiry should be consonant with the structure of the object of inquiry. Since scientific inquiry is a circular process - we do not know the nature of its object beforehand, or no inquiry would be needed - this is really a goal to be approximated more and more closely as concepts, methods and operations are refined in the course of work. However, [the basic characteristics of] communication and behavior already have corresponding general implications for inquiry. These include (1) Focusing behavioral research on directly observable communication - with a realization that important and observable messages may yet be very subtle and hard to see. (2) Deliberate concern with the influential aspects of communication, of which "information" is only one. (3) Keeping in mind that even the hardest "facts" and the clearest messages are subject to differing interpretations. (4) Attention to the complexities, including contradiction, in communication situations - even if these can at first be characterized only roughly, rather than inappropriate atomization and oversimplification to fit observational or statistical tools already available. (5) Especially, attention to the whole system involved in any communicative interaction, even when this means that the experimenter or observer must take account of himself equally with his subject (Weakland, 1967, Communication & Behavior - An Introduction, p.2).
Subsequent to these research projects, Gregory Bateson, who was among the most respected anthropologists of his era before the projects began, was to go on to achieve recognition as one of the most important founding thinkers and creators of cybernetics and communication theory as applied to understanding human behavior - and to be one of the most influential theoreticians ever in anthropology, psychiatry, and marriage and family therapy. Other members of the team went on to equally important positions in the creation of the marriage and family therapy field and, more recently, brief therapy.
In late 1958 Don Jackson established the Mental Research Institute, where he was joined by Virginia Satir, Jules Riskin, and later Paul Watzlawick to form one of the most creative teams of research/practitioners in the field of marriage and family therapy. Jackson was to become a major framer of family therapy as a distinct discipline. Jay Haley and John Weakland soon joined Jackson at MRI.
Building from his years of studying Milton Erickson which began in the Bateson Projects, Jay Haley went on to create what has come to be known as the Strategic Approach. In 1967 Haley left MRI to join Salvador Minuchin and Braulio Montalvo in a ten year collaboration at the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic.
John Weakland, remained at the MRI for the duration of his career, working collaboratively with Richard Fisch and Paul Watzlawick to develop one of the most influential Brief Therapy models in use today - the MRI model of Brief Therapy.
William Fry was to gain renown for his ground breaking studies of humor.
In the 38 years since the Bateson Projects came to an end, literally hundreds of books, book chapters and articles based upon this research have been published and countless copies sold. In addition, some of the most influential brief and family therapy orientations in use today, most notably the MRI Brief Therapy model, Steve de Shazer and Insoo Berg's Solution Focused Therapy, and the Milan Systemic Family Therapy orientation, trace their heritage directly to Gregory Bateson's research projects. Further, many leading systemic (Olga Silverstein, Keeney & Silverstein, 1987) narrative and post-modern approaches (Anderson, 1990; White, 1989; Hoffman, 1993), acknowledge the Bateson Projects as having been an important wellspring from which their own orientations derive.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the Bateson Research Projects remain one, if not, the most profoundly influential sources of the current interactional and systemic orientations to understanding of human behavior, as is recognized not only throughout the field of marriage and family therapy, but also in the fields of cultural anthropology, psychiatry, psychology and the other human sciences.
For detailed overviews of the Bateson Research project readers are encouraged to read Jay Haley's "Development of a theory: A history of a reseach project," in C. Sluzki & D. Ransom (Eds.). Double bind: The foundation of the communicational approach to the family. NY: Grune & stratton, Publishers, and John Weakland's "One thing leads to another," in C. Wilder-Mott & J. Weakland (Eds.) Rigor & Imagination: Essays from the legacy of Gregory Bateson, NY: Praeger.