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


“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.”

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