Intellectual genealogy of Margaret Mead





Intellectual genealogy of Margaret Mead

Anthropology is a branch of science concerned with the study of humans, human behavior, and societies both in the past and the present. There is cultural anthropology and social anthropology, physical anthropology, and linguistic anthropology. Social and cultural anthropology is concerned with the study of norms and values of society while physical anthropology is concerned with the study of the biological development of humans. Linguistic anthropology on the hand is all about the study of how language influences life CITATION Fra17 l 1033 (Boas, 2017). The sole purpose of anthropology studies is broad the understanding of the various aspects of human life and the experiences of humans both in the past and at present. The person who is involved in the anthropology study is referred to as an anthropologist. Just like any other career, anthropology has a lot of anthropologists worldwide. Franz Boas is the father of modern anthropology and the American anthropology. He is responsible for the scientific methodology in anthropology that was adopted after natural science. He also introduced the idea of viewing the culture of a people as learned behaviors which simplify the scope of anthropology. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the intellectual genealogy of Margaret Mead and her work and contributions to anthropology in general.

Margaret Mead was an American cultural anthropologist. She was famous in the 1960s and 1970s in the mass media for her books and speech CITATION Sha15 l 1033 (Shankman, Mead, Margaret (1901–1978), 2015). She was born on December 16, 1901, in Philadelphia to Edward and Emily Mead but was raised in Pennsylvania. She was the first born in her family. Edward Mead was a professor of finance at Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania while Emily Mead was a sociologist who majors in studying Italian immigrants. She died at the age of 76 on November 15, 1978, in New York. She was married thrice to Luther Cressman from 1923-1928, Reo Fortune from 1928-1935, and Gregory Bateson from 1935-1950. She was blessed with one child, Mary C. Bateson, who was born in 1939.

Her family moves frequently, and her first tutoring was from her grandmother at the age of 11. Her early education was majorly in Buckingham Friends School in Pennsylvania. She was later enrolled to DePauw University in 1919, but a year later she transferred to Barnard College where she graduated in 1923 and transitioned to graduate school of Columbia where she studies with her friend Ruth Benedict and Franz Boas. Both anthropologists, that is, Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict greatly her passion for anthropology. Margaret Mead received her bachelor’s degree in 1924 and a Ph. D in 1929 both from Columbia University.

After clearing from Columbia University, she traveled to the South Seas where she went to gather the material and knowledge to write her first book, Coming of Age in Samoa. The book was first published in 1928. Among the examples, her 23 books include; A Rap on Race of 1971 which she co-wrote with James Baldwin, Balinese Character: A Photographic Analysis of 1942 co-written with Gregory Bateson, Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies of 1935, Growing Up in New Guinea of 1930, and Continuities in Cultural Evolution of 1964. From her books, Coming of Age in Samoa, in particular, she comes out clearly with her belief in cultural determinism which was later questioned by some anthropologists by the precision of her observation and sensibility of her conclusions.

Margaret Mead was the first anthropologist to study child-rearing practices and the learning theory in various social groups.

She postulated that children learn through imprinting which is learning by watching the adult behavior and trying to emulate it. Apart from child-rearing, she studied personality and culture. She studied the non-literate people of Oceania which became top of her career. The study involved studying the cultural conditioning of sexual behavior, natural character, and culture change. In 1960, she served as the president of the American Anthropologists Association. During the 1960s, she also served as the president of New York Academy of sciences. Apart from that, she served in various positions in the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Later on, she mentored young anthropologists and sociologists owing to her recognizable academia figure in American. In 1976, she participated in the first UN forum for human settlements and the same year she was inducted to the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

She used morphological theories to study the way people lived. She studied the cooperation and competition patterns in 13 primitive societies, and she was able to document the different behaviors from the societies in question in her book, Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies in 1935 CITATION Mar18 l 1033 (Mead, 2018). She observed that masculinity is not necessarily represented by aggressiveness just the way femininity is not necessarily represented through submissiveness and compliance. There is more to personality than just masculinity and femininity and personality can be explained through biology, how people learn, and cultural norms. Culture itself is more relative to personality. She employs the theory of relativism in the way she studies the behavior difference in various cultures. The difference in behavioral patterns among a population is as a result of their culture.

Margaret Mead went to school with anthropologists such as Franz Boas; she connected and kept in touch with other anthropologists throughout her work. She outlined the intellectual lines of descent that connect her to even her parents, her husband and other anthropologists and sociologists such as Ruth Benedict and Franz Boas. Some of her books are co-written with other anthropologists, for instance, A Rap on Race of 1971 which was co-written with James Baldwin and Balinese Character: A Photographic Analysis of 1942 co-written with Gregory Bateson. Mead mentored most of the young and learning anthropologist and sociologists such as Jean Houston.

In 1939, she partnered with her husband Bateson in preparing the Balinese material for publication. Their skills were useful in helping the allied war effort in the United States. Furthermore, they used their skills to help the groups that applied behavioral sciences to issues such as for diminishing or lack of morale during the war. During a meet by the National Research Council’s committee on food habits, mead use anthropology to solve the problem of food preparation and distribution especially in the war zones. She also published a book, And Keep Your Powder Dry, in 1942 as an effort towards tackling the war problems in America.

She applied the anthropological methods in solving almost all the problems that stemmed out during that time. Anthropology was her major basis of analyzing the national character and explaining the behavior that the people in different countries especially those involved in war exhibited. She conducted such research by studying the immigrants during that, for example, the Italian immigrants. In other words, she was studying culture using the small group, that is the immigrants as a sample.

Margaret Mead was a cultural anthropologist who makes her major focus on studying the culture including the norms and values of societies. She was involved in studying culture especially during World War II when she allied with her long life friend Ruth Benedict in studying different cultures from afar through the study of the immigrants. The purpose of the study was to prepare for a postwar world, and the anthropologists sought to understand various cultures especially the warring countries. She continued with the study in which she was the chief leader after the death of her friend. The studies went on even after the war through an initiative chaired by mead called contemporary cultures project.

Her other dwelling was studied on human nature and human behavior CITATION Joh17 l 1033 (Morss, 2017). According to her theory, human behavior is learned. She did a study on rearing children where she pointed out that the learning theory for children is imprinting. A child watches adult behavior and emulates it, and that is exactly how he develops his/her behavior. She carried out the study in Samoa and to back up her theory she published a book Coming of Age in Samoa which has all her research from the adolescent girl from Samoa.

The issue she dealt in is feminism CITATION Pau17 l 1033 (Shankman, The Public Anthropology of Margaret Mead: Redbook, Women’s Issues, and the 1960s, 2017). Through her book, Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies she addresses the male domination and the apparent need for women to be submissive. She illustrates that there should not be specific roles for specific genders. Her study on gender was however criticized as much as it had a feminist base as demeaning towards women.

In conclusion, Margaret mead contributed a lot in the modern anthropology in America in as much as some of her work was criticized. She still was featured in the women’s hall of fame for the remarkable contribution she made to solving problems using anthropology in America.


BIBLIOGRAPHY Boas, F. (2017). Anthropology and Modern Life. New York: Routledge.

Mead, M. (2018). Cooperation and Competition Among Primitive Peoples. New York: Routledge.

Morss, J. R. (2017). The Biologizing of Childhood. New York: Routledge.

Shankman, P. (2015, April 15). Mead, Margaret (1901–1978). Retrieved from Wiley Online Library:

Shankman, P. (2017). The Public Anthropology of Margaret Mead: Redbook, Women’s Issues, and the 1960s. Current Anthropology.

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