we grow boundary objects

Bateson found himself among people from a range of knowledge worlds as he traveled among communities academic, new age, religious, artistic, and entrepreneurial. Today we use the term transdisciplinary to describe such movements. (Thompson Klein 2004) How we know anything, Bateson famously said, means that in “the pronoun we, I of course included the starfish and the redwood forest, the segmenting egg, and the Senate of the United States.” (Bateson 1979:4)

Not surprisingly communication tangles are something he endured, analyzed, humorously told stories about, and otherwise worked among reflectingly and recursively. His paradigm-altering work on double bind theory considered carefully how “both those whose life is enriched by transcontextual gifts and those who are impoverished by transcontextual confusions are alike in one respect: for them there is often a 'double take.' A falling leaf [or] the greeting of a friend…is not ‘just that and nothing more.’” (1972:272)

Such reflective analysis of “the transcontextual syndrome” inspired feminist theorist Susan Leigh Star, who, in a last essay before her sudden death in 2011, defined her concept “boundary objects” as “organic infrastructures” that address “‘information and work requirements’ as perceived locally and by groups that wish to cooperate.” (Star 2010:602; Star & Griesemer 1989, Star & Ruhleder 1996, Bowker & Star 1999)

Feminists and Bateson-style systems analysts should find in Star’s work an inspiration for practices for “growing” boundary objects, for inverting paradigms presuming that first we build consensus and then we can cooperate. Star offers us “steps toward an ecology of infrastructure” sensitive to anomaly. “Haunting social justice” are, she says, “the battles and dramas between… the standardized and the wild.” (Star 2010:614) A recursive humor makes clear that the concept of boundary object is itself a boundary object….