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The life and contributions of margaret mead to the anthropological fields

The Great Anthropologists: Margaret Mead

We are very appreciative and even a little smug about the miracles of modern science, the benefits of modern technology, and even the superiority of modern viewpoints.

One of the people who best helped us explore this problem was Margaret Mead, perhaps the most famous anthropologist in the world. Margaret Mead in 1942 Margaret Mead was born in 1901, the oldest of five children.

Her father was a professor of finance, and her mother was a sociologist who studied Italian immigrants. When Margaret was little, her family moved frequently, and she alternated between attending traditional schools and homeschooling.

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She also shopped different religions because her family members had different faiths and eventually chose Episcopalian Christianity. Her experience sampling different beliefs and navigating new schools may have influenced her decision to study the wildly different ways people think and interact. After studying psychology as an undergraduate at DePauw University and then Barnard College at a time where higher education was very unusual for a womanMead began a PhD at Columbia University in the relatively new field of anthropology.

Her supervisor, Franz Boas, was essentially the founder of the discipline in the United States. The modern western world was not the pinnacle of human achievement, but simply one specific example of what humans could achieve. View of Falefa Valley, Samoa Boas suggested that Mead travel to Samoa, a few tiny volcanic, tropical islands in the centre of the Pacific Ocean, for her fieldwork.

She also believed it was critical to do this quickly; she feared that primitive cultures were slipping away, soon to be lost forever. Starting in 1925 and lasting until the beginning of the Second World War, Mead travelled to Samoa and then to other islands in the south seas of the Pacific Ocean.

She lived among native people there as an anthropologist, recording their ways of life.

  1. It is instructive to know that standards differ in the most unexpected ways.
  2. The Changing Culture of an Indian Tribe. The book was her first and most famous research project, for which she studied girls only a bit younger than herself.
  3. American teenagers at a dance c. She was an advocate of birth control, repeal of anti- abortion laws, and right to die legislation.
  4. The groups Mead studied included many fishermen and farmers, and few literate people.

The groups The life and contributions of margaret mead to the anthropological fields studied included many fishermen and farmers, and few literate people. Mead learned to carry babies around by having them cling to her neck and to dress in native dress.

She had no access to recording devices other than still cameras, so she mostly relied on her memory and written notes—and, of course, her ability to quickly learn native languages and become popular with native people.

People came to visit her at all hours of the day and night, often just to chat. Mead herself led an unconventional life, simultaneously involved with successive husbands and her ever-present female lover—another famous anthropologist named Ruth Benedict. In her 1928 book Coming of Age in Samoa, Mead described Samoan culture as more open and comfortable with sex. The book was her first and most famous research project, for which she studied girls only a bit younger than herself: She wanted to understand whether their experiences were very different than those of American teenagers, and, if so, whether their experiences could be learned from.

Loving more than one person was accepted and understood to be common. Then towards the evening [the betrayed husband] will say at last: Eat the food which I will set before you and we will cast our trouble into the sea. For example, she found that such norms made adolescence much less difficult for Samoan girls than for American girls, because Samoan girls had relatively few responsibilities and there was little pressure for them to conform to a particular kind of sexual life.

They were neither pressured to abstain from sex or to achieve particular milestones like having boyfriends or getting married. The converse of this situation meant that being an American teenager was stressful largely because of the nature of being American, rather than being teenaged. Here Mead tapped into a deeper criticism of her own culture.

Margaret Mead

Our adolescents are still pressured to conform to particular models of human sexual behaviour, and these pressures, along with the pressures that we experience long into adulthood, make our lives more difficult and empty than they would otherwise be.

Our modern life does not allow us to be as freely loving and sexual, as complex and full of change, as other cultures allow. American teenagers at a dance c. For example, Americans thought of men as productive, sensible, and more aggressive, while women were more frivolous, peaceful, and nurturing. She recorded that in the Arapesh tribe both men and women were peaceful and nurturing, while among Mundugumor, men and women were both ruthless and aggressive.

We might think, for example, that men like football because they are the more warlike sex, but in fact they have been the more warlike sex because for some arbitrary reasons or matter of convenience they have been the sex at war. Similarly, we may believe that women have tended to children because they are nurturing, but actually they have been guided to be nurturing because they were assigned the task of raising children.

In making these assumptions, we forget about human potential for gentleness and roughness that other cultures have forgotten. In making this criticism, Mead followed in a long line of thinkers who recognised that modern civilisation, with all of its technological advantages and rapid developments, had left some aspects of human experience behind—either unrecognised, misunderstood, or poorly tended to. In this sense, she was much like the Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712-1778 who had described human beings as originally having a very different, and far more solitary nature.

  1. In a time of pessimism about the future of human society, she became known for her optimistic view.
  2. American women doing men's work in the arsenals of war in the US, c.
  3. Coming of Age in American Anthropology.

Rousseau suggested that as civilisation developed, human nature was moulded by society—often for the worse; this artificial construction of social order often through violence and oppressionhe argued, limits human potential. She believed that by studying other cultures, especially primitive ones that had developed apart from our own, we could better explore these possibilities.

Perhaps, for example, we can choose when to be loving and when to be aggressive, when to demand a certain standard of sexual behaviour and when to learn how to gracefully and conscientiously accommodate our differing needs. American women doing men's work in the arsenals of war in the US, c. She imagined that each culture, like a tribe cast out from the Tower of Babel and given a unique language, had something unique to contribute culturally as well: For example, she brought up her daughter, Mary Catherine Bateson, on some of the parenting of the primitive people she worked with.

Mead enlisted a new physician, Dr. She was also asked to turn her research to war purposes, first by studying how to maintain morale during wartime, and then by studying the social complexities of food distribution. With the help of her husband Gregory Bateson, she founded the Institute for Intercultural Studies in order to establish further study of other cultures. After the war, Mead also worked for the US Military, studying Russian responses to authority in order to try to predict what the Soviets might do during the cold war.

She grew increasingly famous, travelling widely, giving lectures, and teaching at universities. For 50 years, from 1928 until her death in 1978, she worked for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City as a curator for their projects. She wrote 20 books, was made a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, was awarded 28 honorary degrees, and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

She encouraged her readers and listeners to also think of social problems as culturally conditioned, issues that could be overcome by new efforts and ideas.

Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. She suggested that we see human nature less as a singular and universal fact and more as an ever-changing landscape, one through which we should travel in order to become wiser.