Margaret Mead (1901 - 1978)
Mead, the first of five children, was born in
. Her father, Edward Sherwood Mead, was a professor of finance at the Philadelphia Wharton School of the , and her mother, Emily Fogg Mead, was a sociologist who studied Italian immigrants. Her family moved frequently, so her early education alternated between home-schooling and traditional schools. Born into a family of varying religious outlooks, she searched for a form of religion that gave an expression of the faith that she had been formally acquainted with, Christianity. In doing so, she found the rituals of the Episcopal Church to fit the expression of religion she was seeking. Margaret studied one year, 1919, at DePauw University, then transferred to Barnard College where she earned her Bachelor's degree in 1923. University of Pennsylvania
She studied with Professor Franz Boas and Dr. Ruth Benedict at
before earning her Master's in 1924. Mead set out in 1925 to do fieldwork in Columbia University Polynesia. In 1926, she joined the American City, as assistant curator. She received her Ph.D. from Museum of Natural History, New York in 1929. Columbia University
Mead's observation skills came from her grandmother and her mother. When Mead was a child they would observe and record her actions in a notebook. Mead realized the importance of observing and recording important findings.
Margaret Mead was married three times. Her first husband (1923–1928) was Luther Cressman, a theology student at the time who eventually became an anthropologist. Mead dismissively characterized their union as "my student marriage" in Blackberry Winter, a sobriquet with which Cressman took vigorous issue. Her second husband was New Zealander Reo Fortune, a
graduate (1928–1935). As an anthropologist, his Sorcerers of Dobu remains the locus classicus of eastern Papuan anthropology, but he is best known instead for his Fortunate number theory. She described her second marriage as more passionate than the first, embarked upon when she was told that she could not have children and abandoned when she was given hope by another physician that childbearing might indeed be possible. Cambridge
Her third and longest-lasting marriage (1936–1950) was to Englishman Gregory Bateson, also a
graduate, with whom she had a daughter, Mary Catherine Bateson, who would also become an anthropologist. Cambridge
During World War II, Mead served as executive secretary of the National Research Council's Committee on Food Habits. She served as curator of ethnology at the
of Natural History from 1946 to 1969. She was elected a Fellow of the American Museum of Arts and Sciences in 1948. She taught at The New School and Columbia University, where she was an adjunct professor from 1954 to 1978. She was a professor of anthropology and chair of the Division of Social Sciences at American Academy Fordham University's campus from 1968 to 1970, founding their anthropology department. Following the Ruth Benedict's example, Mead focused her research on problems of child rearing, personality, and culture. She served as President of the American Anthropological Association in 1960. She held various positions in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, notably president in 1975 and chair of the executive committee of the board of directors in 1976. Lincoln Center
Mead was featured on two record albums published by Folkways Records. The first, released in 1959, An Interview With Margaret Mead, explored the topics of morals and anthropology. In 1971, she was included in a compilation of talks by prominent women, But the Women Rose, Vol.2: Voices of Women in American History.
She is credited with the pluralization of the term "semiotics."
Mead died of pancreatic cancer on November 15, 1978.
The most famous book of Margaret Mead, Coming of Age in Samoa, was published in 1928. The book launched Mead as a pioneering researcher and the most famous anthropologist in the world. Since its first publication, Coming of Age in Samoa is still the most widely read book in the field of anthropology. The book has sparked years of ongoing and intense debate and controversy on questions pertaining to society, culture and science. It is a key text in the nature vs nurture debate as well as issues relating to family, adolescence, gender, social norms and attitudes.
In the foreword to Coming of Age in Samoa, Mead's advisor, Franz Boas, wrote of its significance:
Courtesy, modesty, good manners, conformity to definite ethical standards are universal, but what constitutes courtesy, modesty, very good manners, and definite ethical standards is not universal. It is instructive to know that standards differ in the most unexpected ways.
Boas went on to point out that at the time of publication, many Americans had begun to discuss the problems faced by young people (particularly women) as they pass through adolescence as "unavoidable periods of adjustment". Boas felt that a study of the problems faced by adolescents in another culture would be illuminating.
And so, as Mead herself described the goal of her research: "I have tried to answer the question which sent me to
Samoa: Are the disturbances which vex our adolescents due to the nature of adolescence itself or to the civilization? Under different conditions does adolescence present a different picture?" To answer this question, she conducted her study among a small group of Samoans — a village of 600 people on the island of Ta‘u — in which she got to know, live with, observe, and interview through an interpreter 68 young women between the ages of 9 and 20.
She concluded that the passage from childhood to adulthood — adolescence — in Samoa was a smooth transition and not marked by the emotional or psychological distress, anxiety, or confusion seen in the
. United States
As Boas and Mead expected, this book upset many Westerners when it first appeared in 1928. Many American readers were shocked by her observation that incest was common in the Samoan culture and her claim that young Samoan women deferred marriage for many years while enjoying casual sex but eventually married, settled down, and successfully reared their own children.
Mead's findings suggested that the community ignores both boys and girls until they are about 15 or 16. Before then, children have no social standing within the community. Mead also found that marriage is regarded as a social and economic arrangement where wealth, rank, and job skills of the husband and wife are taken into consideration.
In 1983, five years after Mead had died,
anthropologist Derek Freeman, published Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth, in which he challenged Mead's major findings about sexuality in Samoan society, citing statements of her surviving informants' claiming that she had coaxed them into giving her the answers she wanted. Most anthropologists have been highly critical of Freeman's arguments, even if they are often skeptical of Mead's popular works, such as Coming of Age in Samoa. A frequent critique of Freeman is that he regularly misrepresented Mead's research and views. New Zealand
Another influential book by Mead was Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies. This became a major cornerstone of the feminist movement, since it claimed that females are dominant in the Tchambuli (now spelled Chambri) Lake region of the Sepik
(in the western Pacific) without causing any special problems. The lack of male dominance may have been the result of the Australian administration's outlawing of warfare. According to contemporary research, males are dominant throughout basin of Papua New Guinea Melanesia (although some believe that female witches have special powers). Others have argued that there is still much cultural variation throughout Melanesia, and especially in the large . Moreover, anthropologists often overlook the significance of networks of political influence among females. The formal male dominated institutions typical of some areas of high population density were not, for example, present in the same way in Oksapmin, island of New Guinea , a more sparsely populated area. Cultural patterns there were different from, say, West Sepik Province . They were closer to those described by Mead. Mt. Hagen
Mead stated that the Arapesh people, also in the
Sepik, were pacifists, although she noted that they do on occasion engage in warfare. Her observations about the sharing of garden plots amongst the Arapesh, the egalitarian emphasis in child rearing, and her documentation of predominantly peaceful relations among relatives are very different from the "big man" displays of dominance that were documented in more stratified New Guinea cultures. They are a different cultural pattern.
On January 19, 1979, President Jimmy Carter announced that he was awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously to Mead. U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young presented the award to Mead's daughter at a special program honoring Mead's contributions, sponsored by the
of Natural History, where she spent many years of her career. The citation read: American Museum
"Margaret Mead was both a student of civilization and an exemplar of it. To a public of millions, she brought the central insight of cultural anthropology: that varying cultural patterns express an underlying human unity. She mastered her discipline, but she also transcended it. Intrepid, independent, plain spoken, fearless, she remains a model for the young and a teacher from whom all may learn."
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