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Anthropology Margaret Mead
by
Paul Shankman

Introduction

Margaret Mead (1901–1978) was the best-known anthropologist of the 20th century. At the time of her death, she was also one of the three best-known women in the United States and America’s first woman of science. Born in Pennsylvania, Mead attended college at DePauw and Barnard before receiving her PhD from Columbia University, where she studied under the direction of Franz Boas. After completing her dissertation, Mead conducted fieldwork in American Samoa (1925–1926) and published her best-selling book Coming of Age in Samoa in 1928. In 1926, she became a curator at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, her professional home for her entire career. Between 1928 and 1939, Mead conducted fieldwork in seven more cultures, including five in New Guinea—Manus, Arapesh, Tchambuli, Mundugumor, and Iatmul—as well as in Bali and on the Omaha reservation, publishing professional and popular work on almost all of these cultures. Mead pioneered fieldwork on topics such as childhood, adolescence, and gender and was a founding figure in culture and personality studies. She advanced fieldwork methods through the use of photographs, film, and psychological testing, as well as the use of teams of male and female researchers. Her books from this period, such as Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies and Growing up in New Guinea, continue to be read today. During World War II, Mead supported the war effort by working on several applied projects, including national character studies and, later, the study of culture at a distance. She would become a founding member of the Society for Applied Anthropology and spent much of her career addressing important domestic issues in America. Mead was also an interdisciplinary scholar, networking broadly across disciplinary boundaries and organizing conferences. She became the head of the American Anthropological Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. As the public face of anthropology for much of the 20th century, she appeared in popular magazines like Redbook and on radio and television, as well as authoring books such as Male and Female and Culture and Commitment. Her opinions were widely sought after and often quoted. Mead’s ethnographic work has been subject of criticism, especially as the result of anthropologist Derek Freeman’s critique of her Samoan research. Her reputation was tarnished as a consequence, despite flaws in that critique. Nevertheless, Mead’s pioneering research and writing laid the foundation for work by other anthropologists; her tireless efforts on anthropology’s behalf put the discipline on the map; and her ability to reach the public remains unparalleled among anthropologists.

Bibliography

Gordan 1976 is the essential reference to all of Mead’s published professional and popular work, as well as her appearances on film, TV, and other media through 1975.

  • Gordan, Joan, ed. 1976. Margaret Mead: The complete bibliography, 1925–1975. The Hague: Mouton.

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    This bibliography contains over fourteen hundred entries and includes name and subject indices, as well as a useful introduction by Mead herself. It illustrates just how prolific Mead was an author.

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Autobiography

Mead’s autobiographical work emphasized her early life and the first decades of her career. She wrote relatively little about the last three decades of her life (1948–1978), although some information can be gleaned by reading her work from that period. Mead 1972 illuminates her early personal and professional life in a very readable manner, while Mead 1959 discusses her relationship with her graduate school mentor, Franz Boas, more professionally. Mead and Benedict 1959 contextualizes the 1920s at Barnard and Columbia, where both Mead and Ruth Benedict spent the formative years of their careers.

  • Mead, Margaret. 1959. Apprenticeship under Boas. In The anthropology of Franz Boas: Essays on the centennial of his birth, 29–45. American Anthropologist Memoir 89. Edited by Walter Rochs Goldschmidt. Menasha, WI: American Anthropological Association.

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    In this remembrance, Mead recalls her relationship with her mentor, Franz Boas.

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  • Mead, Margaret and Ruth Benedict. 1959. An anthropologist at work: Writings of Ruth Benedict. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

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    Mead edited this collection of writings by Benedict and authored five pieces on the different phases of Benedict’s career.

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  • Mead, Margaret. 1972. Blackberry winter: My earlier years. New York: William Morrow.

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    Mead’s popular autobiography focuses primarily on her personal life and professional work from her youth through college and graduate school and on to her fieldwork in Samoa, New Guinea, and Bali.

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Biographies and Biographical Background

There are several book-length biographies of Margaret Mead, but only one—Howard 1984—covers the many diverse threads of her complex life. Other works noted below cover parts of Mead’s life and career, including Banner 2003 and Lapsley 1999 about the relationship of Mead and Benedict, who were very close personally and professionally from the early 1920s until Benedict’s death in 1948. Mead’s life with Gregory Bateson, from the mid-1930s until her death in 1978, is the subject of Bateson 1984, by Mead’s daughter. Other essays help situate Mead’s early career including Metraux 1980 and Metraux and Silverman 2004. Francis 2004 discusses the often neglected influence of psychology on Mead’s thinking and methods, while Stocking 1992 reviews the intellectual and professional context of anthropological thought in the 1920s that helps locate Mead’s work during that period.

Letters by Mead

Mead was a dedicated correspondent in letters to her colleagues, family members, and friends. Many of these letters are preserved in the Library of Congress along with hundreds of thousands of other items from Mead’s life. There are two published collections of these letters: Mead 1977 and Mead 2006.

  • Mead, Margaret. 1977. Letters from the field, 1925–1975. New York: Harper & Row.

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    Mead selected these letters from her fieldwork in Samoa, on Manus, on the Omaha Reservation, among the Arapesh, Mundugumor, Tchambuli, and Iatmul, in Bali, and from her later revisits to some of these field sites.

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  • Mead, Margaret. 2006. To cherish the life of the world: Selected letters of Margaret Mead. Edited by Margaret M. Caffrey and Patricia A. Francis. New York: Basic Books.

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    This carefully selected collection of letters is organized by Mead’s relationships to her family members, husbands, lovers, friends, colleagues, and growing family. Many of these letters are quite personal.

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Films about Mead

There are a number of films about Mead. Margaret Mead: Taking Note (Peck 1981) and Margaret Mead: An Observer Observed (Yans 1995) are the two best introductions to Mead and her career. Margaret Mead: Coming of Age (Dakowski 1990) sets her early fieldwork in Samoa in context. Margaret Mead’s New Guinea Journal (Gilbert 1968) records a return trip to Manus to experience the many changes that occurred since she began working there in the late 1920s. Portrait by a Friend (Rouch 1977) provides an intimate glimpse of Mead.

  • Dakowski, Bruce, dir. 1990. Margaret Mead: Coming of age. VHS. Strangers Abroad: Pioneers of Social Anthropology. Princeton, NJ: Films for the Humanities & Sciences.

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    This is an interesting fifty-two-minute documentary about Mead in Samoa.

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  • Gilbert, Craig, dir. 1968. Margaret Mead’s New Guinea journal. Bloomington: National Educational Television and Radio Center, Indiana Univ.

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    This ninety-minute film features Mead returning to Manus and reviewing the many changes in that culture since her first fieldwork there in the late 1920s.

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  • Peck, Ann, dir. 1981. Margaret Mead: Taking note. VHS. Odyssey 212. Alexandria, VA: PBS Video.

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    This sixty-minute film is the best introduction to Mead’s life and career.

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  • Rouch, Jean, dir. 1977. Margaret Mead: Portrait by a friend. New York: American Museum of Natural History.

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    This short film by the great French filmmaker Jean Rouch follows Mead through the halls of the American Museum of Natural History, her professional home, where she informally discusses anthropology and related subjects.

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  • Yans, Virginia, dir. 1995. Margaret Mead: An observer observed. VHS. New York: Filmakers Library.

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    This eighty-five-minute film carefully traces Mead’s life and career, including reenactments of crucial episodes in her life.

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Assessing Mead’s Contributions

Mead’s contributions to anthropology were multifaceted. She was an ethnographer of several cultures, a field methodologist, a scholar of gender relations, a founder of the field of culture and personality, an applied anthropologist, a museum curator, and a major presence in American popular culture. She made important contributions in many different areas. After her death in 1978, American Anthropologist and other journals offered assessments of these diverse contributions, and in 2005 Pacific Studies published a special issue commemorating the centennial of Mead’s birth that evaluated her some of her work. Some of the articles in these special issues are listed below. Assessments of her ethnographic contributions are listed in a separate section (Ethnographic Restudies, Explications, and Critiques). In addition, Berghahn Books has recently reissued some of Mead’s works, as well as new edited collections of her articles; these books also contain new assessments and appreciations of Mead’s contributions. Assessing Mead’s work is difficult because her work was so voluminous, covered so many topics, and was produced over such a long period of time. McDowell 2005 recommends evaluating her work in historical context. Romanucci-Ross 1980 interprets some of Mead’s contributions in terms of her personal qualities as a fieldworker. Moving to topical contributions, Sanday 1980 explores Mead’s important work on gender. Hsu 1980 praises Mead’s work on psychological anthropology, while Sullivan 2005 offers a more nuanced view of the relationship between the individual and culture in Mead’s work on culture and personality. In terms of the psychological analysis of culture, Metraux 1980 reviews Mead’s contributions to the study of culture at a distance, now a historical curiosity. Thomas 1980 discusses Mead’s work on museums, another field to which she contributed. Turning to Mead’s applied work, Dillon 1980 records Mead’s many connections to government. Lastly, Lyons and Lyons 2004 analyzes Mead’s writing about sexuality across the cultures that she studied.

Assessing Mead’s Role in American Culture

There have been three noteworthy books examining Mead’s role in American culture since the late 1980s: Molloy 2008, Lutkehaus 2008, and di Leonardo 1998. These books are essential reading. Yans 2004 addresses the contemporary politics of criticizing Mead. And Stover 2005 reviews Mead’s presence on the Internet, the newest medium in which she appears.

  • di Leonardo, Micaela. 1998. Exotics at home: Anthropologies, others, American modernity. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    This wide-ranging book includes an extended discussion and critique of Mead’s role as social observer of America.

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  • Lutkehaus, Nancy C. 2008. Margaret Mead: The making of an American icon. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    This excellent overview of Mead’s life and work as seen in the media is the definitive statement on this subject.

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  • Molloy, Maureen A. 2008. On creating a usable culture: Margaret Mead and the emergence of American cosmopolitanism. Honolulu: Univ. of Hawaii Press.

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    This elegantly written book explores Mead’s place in American intellectual history during the first decades of the 20th century.

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  • Stover, Merrily. 2005. Tales from the Internet: Margaret Mead’s legacy in American culture. Pacific Studies 28.3–4: 142–161.

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    This article explores the representation of Mead on the Internet during its early years. There is now even more information about Mead in this medium.

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  • Yans, Virginia. 2004. On the political anatomy of Mead-bashing, or Re-thinking Margaret Mead. In Reading Benedict/Reading Mead: Feminism, race, and imperial visions. Edited by Dolores Janiewski and Lois W. Banner, 229–248. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

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    A historian specializing in Mead’s career responds to criticism by some anthropologists that Mead was a symbol of American power and the status quo for much of her professional life.

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Evaluation of Mead’s Writing

From the beginning of her career, Mead’s reviewers often commented on her writing. Some of the commentary was critical, referring to Mead as an “artist” or as a “novelist,” but many people appreciated her direct and accessible style. Mead 1976 and more recent assessments such as Lutkehaus 1995 and Tiffany 2009 set her writing in context for both popular and professional audiences.

  • Lutkehaus, Nancy C. 1995. Margaret Mead and the “Rustling-of-the-wind-in-the-palm-trees school” of ethnographic writing. In Women writing culture. Edited by Ruth Behar and Deborah A. Gordon, 185–206. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    This chapter is a sophisticated explication of why Mead’s writing appealed to the American public but sometimes not to professional anthropologists.

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  • Mead, Margaret. 1976. Introduction. Margaret Mead: The complete bibliography, 1925–1975. Edited by Joan Gordan, 1–19. The Hague: Mouton.

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    In this essay, Mead explains her “unorthodox” publishing choices and writing style.

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  • Tiffany, Sharon W. 2009. Narrative, voice, and genre in Margaret Mead’s Coming of age in Samoa. Pacific Studies 32.2–3: 163–201.

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    In this thoughtful article, Tiffany interprets the narrative style of Mead’s bestseller.

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Major Ethnographic Works

Mead was unusual in that she authored professional ethnographic works on several cultures and published popular work on most of these same cultures. Her major professional and popular books and monographs are listed below by culture and in accordance with the chronology of her fieldwork. These sections include general listings of Mead’s Oceanic and New Guinea ethnographies with specific sections on Samoa, Manus (Admiralty Islands), Omaha, Arapesh, Tchambuli, and Mundugumor, and Bali. For a complete listing of all Mead’s ethnographic books, articles, and chapters, see Gordan 1976 in the Bibliography section.

Oceanic and New Guinea Ethnographies

For a complete listing of Mead’s Oceanic ethnographic articles and chapters, see McDowell 1980. For a listing of Mead’s ethnographic work on New Guinea along with an appreciation, see Tuzin and Schwartz 1980.

Samoa

Mead worked in American Samoa for over eight months in 1925–1926 on two projects. Her professional report on adolescence for the National Research Council was transformed into Mead 1928, her first book and biggest seller. Her second research project was on Samoan social organization (Mead 1930).

  • Mead, Margaret. 1928. Coming of age in Samoa: A psychological study of primitive youth for Western Civilisation. New York: William Morrow.

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    In this classic book, Mead argued that culture shapes adolescence. Although sometimes referred to as an ethnography, Coming of Age was an ethnographically based work of social criticism written for a general audience of American parents and educators. It was a popular book rather than a professional monograph.

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  • Mead, Margaret. 1930. Social organization of Manua. Bulletin 76. Honolulu: Bernice P. Bishop Museum.

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    This little-known monograph represents Mead’s genuine ethnography of Samoa and is an important study of social organization that was well ahead of its time.

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Manus (Admiralty Islands)

Mead worked on Manus, an island off the coast of New Guinea, with Reo Fortune, her second husband, for several months between December 1928 and June 1929. She would return to Manus with Theodore and Leonora Schwartz in 1953 to record major transformations in Manus culture, and she conducted fieldwork on Manus with Theodore Schwartz and his second wife, Lola Romanucci, in the 1960s. Mead revisited this important field site several times during her career. Mead 1930 provided an accessible description of childhood in Manus and a commentary on its relevance for education in America. On the other hand, Mead 1934 offered a technical discussion of Manus kinship that she wrote to demonstrate her competence on this complex topic. Mead 1956 returned to a more popular style in her account of the cultural transformations on Manus from 1928 to1953.

Omaha

After their work on Manus, Mead and Fortune returned to the United States and worked together on the Omaha reservation during the summer of 1929. Mead 1932 used a pseudonym, “the Antlers,” to refer to this group.

  • Mead, Margaret. 1932. The changing culture of an Indian tribe. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    This work is unusual among Mead’s ethnographies because the Omaha’s history of contact and resettlement on a reservation had been devastating for them. In the later paperback edition, Mead wrote a new introduction entitled “Consequences of Racial Guilt: 1965” (New York: Capricorn, 1966).

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Arapesh, Tchambuli, and Mundugumor

Returning to the New Guinea mainland for more fieldwork, Mead and Fortune studied the Mountain Arapesh from December 1931 to August 1932. Mead 1938, Mead 1940, Mead 1947a, Mead 1947b, and Mead 1949 provide extensive descriptions of the Arapesh. They then moved to a lower Sepik tributary, where they did brief fieldwork among the Mundugumor and, in early 1933, among the Tchambuli. Mead 1935 is her popular study of gender roles in these three cultures. It was during this period that Mead and Fortune encountered Gregory Bateson, who was studying the Iatmul and who would later become Mead’s third husband. Intense discussions among Mead, Bateson, and Fortune about culture, biology, personality, and gender roles would profoundly influence Mead’s thinking. In l938, Mead and Bateson, now married, returned to New Guinea for eight months of fieldwork among the Iatmul, although Mead published very little on this group.

  • Mead, Margaret. 1935. Sex and temperament in three primitive societies. New York: William Morrow.

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    In this influential popular book, Mead argued that gender roles were shaped by culture. In the three societies that she described—the Arapesh, Tchambuli, and Mundugumor—gender roles were quite different than those in the West.

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  • Mead, Margaret. 1938. The Mountain Arapesh. Vol. 1, An importing culture. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History 36, pt. 3. New York: American Museum of Natural History.

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    This was the first of five of Mead’s professional studies of the Arapesh.

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  • Mead, Margaret. 1940. The Mountain Arapesh. Vol. 2, Arts and supernaturalism. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History 37, pt. 3. New York: American Museum of Natural History.

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    This study was among the first detailed ethnographic accounts of a non-Western religion.

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  • Mead, Margaret. 1947a. The Mountain Arapesh. Vol. 3, Socio-economic life and the Mountain Arapesh. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History 40, pt. 3. New York: American Museum of Natural History.

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    This study explored the traditional economy of the Arapesh.

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  • Mead, Margaret. 1947b. The Mountain Arapesh. Vol. 4, Diary of events in Alitoa. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History 40, pt. 3. New York: American Museum of Natural History.

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    Mead’s ethnographic diary of life in Alitoa was among the first to provide a relatively unfiltered account of the daily experience of a non-Western people by an anthropologist.

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  • Mead, Margaret. 1949. The Mountain Arapesh. Vol. 5, The record of Unabelin with Rorschach analysis. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History 41, pt. 3. New York: American Museum of Natural History.

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    A detailed account of Mead’s use of psychological testing techniques in the field.

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Bali

For two years, between March 1936 and March 1938, Mead and Bateson conducted fieldwork in Bali, integrating photographic and film analysis into their work. In 1939 they returned for six more weeks of fieldwork. Two volumes, Bateson and Mead 1942 and Mead and Macgregor 1951, document this project.

  • Bateson, Gregory, and Margaret Mead. 1942. Balinese character: A photographic analysis. New York: New York Academy of Sciences.

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    This volume makes use of the unrivaled photographic archive that Mead and Bateson assembled to analyze Balinese culture, including images of parents and children, trance, dance, play, and rites of passage. They found that the photographs embodied Balinese culture and allowed for more detailed analysis of the culture.

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  • Mead, Margaret, and Frances Cooke Macgregor. 1951. Growth and culture: A photographic study of Balinese childhood. New York: G. P. B. Putnam.

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    This second volume also uses the Mead-Bateson photographic archive (See Bateson and Mead 1942) to analyze Balinese childhood.

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Ethnographic Restudies, Explications, and Critiques

Since Mead’s early ethnographic work from 1925 to 1939, a number of cultural anthropologists have conducted fieldwork in these same cultures. These ethnographers sometimes supported Mead’s findings, sometimes critiqued her work, and often recast her work in light of new data and theories. The subsections are by culture: Samoa, Manus (Admiralty Islands), Arapesh, Tchambuli (Chambri), Mundugumor, Iatmul, Bali, and The South Pacific in General. There is a separate section on The Mead-Freeman controversy.

Samoa

Explicit restudies of a culture are relatively rare in anthropology. Among the earliest was Holmes 1957, a restudy of Mead’s Samoan research on Manu’a. Tiffany 2005 provides an analysis of Mead’s Samoan photography.

  • Holmes, Lowell D. 1957. The restudy of Manu’an culture: A problem in methodology. PhD diss., Northwestern Univ.

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    In the 1950s, Holmes conducted this explicit restudy of Mead’s 1925–1926 fieldwork on Manu’a. In his unpublished doctoral dissertation, he found Mead’s Samoan research to be largely accurate.

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  • Tiffany, Sharon W. 2005. Contesting the erotic zone. Margaret Mead’s fieldwork photographs of Samoa. Pacific Studies 28.3–4: 19–45.

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    This article analyzes Mead’s first use of photography in representing another culture.

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Manus (Admiralty Islands)

Personal discussions of how fieldwork was conducted, especially collaborative fieldwork, are relatively new to anthropology. Romanucci-Ross 1985 revisits the author’s research in Manus with Mead in this unusual book.

  • Romanucci-Ross, Lola. 1985. Mead’s other Manus: Phenomenology of the encounter. South Hadley, MA: Bergin & Garvey.

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    Romanucci-Ross and her then-husband, Theodore Schwartz, worked with Mead on Manus in the 1960s. In this experimental ethnography, she reflects on her relationship with Mead and Schwartz, as well as discussing what Mead saw and may not have seen among the different groups on Manus.

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Arapesh

Restudies of the Arapesh have been contentious. The controversy over Arapesh warfare, initiated by Fortune 1939 and explored by Roscoe 2003 and Dobrin and Bashkow 2010, raises intriguing questions about how and why anthropologists can view the same culture differently. Tuzin also worked among the Arapesh, and Tuzin 1976, with a short foreword by Mead, demonstrates how new theoretical perspectives can change the way a culture is viewed.

Tchambuli (Chambri)

In another instance of additional fieldwork and new theoretical perspectives, veteran New Guinea specialists Gewertz and Errington revisit the interpretation of gender roles that Mead first explored in Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (Errington and Gewertz 1987).

  • Errington, Frederick, and Deborah Gewertz. 1987. Cultural alternatives and a feminist anthropology: An analysis of culturally constructed gender interests in Papua New Guinea. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Gewertz and Errington conducted fieldwork among the Chambri (whom Mead referred to as the Tchambuli), and they raise questions about the accuracy of her original depiction of gender roles in light of contemporary theory and their own experiences as a husband and wife research team.

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Mundugumor

Mead and Fortune never wrote an ethnography of the Mundugumor. Only their field notes and short descriptions remain. Nancy McDowell was nevertheless able to reconstruct an ethnography from them (McDowell 1991).

Iatmul

Mead published very little on the Iatmul, yet the period spent researching them in 1938 with Gregory Bateson had important implications for her work. Silverman 2005 presents his field research in the same area and clarifies the nature of the Mead-Bateson project.

  • Silverman, Eric Kline. 2005. Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson in the Sepik, 1938: A timely polemic from a lost anthropological efflorescence. Pacific Studies 28.3–4: 128–141.

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    A review of the Iatmul fieldwork by Mead and Bateson in 1938 that argues for its relevance today.

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Bali

Although the photographic work of Mead and Bateson and the analysis that accompanied it has been criticized, Sullivan 1999 sets their research in context.

South Pacific in General

Foerstel and Gilliam 1992, a volume that is critical of Mead, reviews her body of work on the South Pacific and finds that it had a politically conservative bent. Foerstel (then Leonora Schwartz) worked with Mead and Theodore Schwartz in the 1950s on Manus.

Work on National Character and the Study of Culture at a Distance

As America entered World War II in December 1941, Mead became involved in morale building and national character studies as an extension of her earlier work on character in non-Western cultures; see Mead 2000. She would write about American national character well into the 1950s in both professional and popular venues. Mead 1951a and Mead 1951b reflect her professional contributions to the study of national character. She would continue to write about the prospects for peace and democracy for much of the remainder of her life. Immediately after the war and growing out of wartime studies of other cultures for military purposes, a major interdisciplinary research project was launched to consolidate the study of culture at a distance, that is, the study of cultures where direct research was impossible. Mead was a central figure in this well-funded project; see Mead and Métraux 1953. Although now viewed with skepticism, this research was considered important at the time.

Studies in Applied Anthropology

Mead was a founder of the Society for Applied Anthropology. During World War II, Mead was involved in additional applied anthropological projects as part of the war effort, including projects involving food distribution policies and the romantic interests of American soldiers abroad (Mead 1943, Mead 1944). These applied interests would continue throughout her career and included an important UNESCO study (Mead 1955) on the consequences of technological change. In one of her last publications (Mead 1977), Mead reviewed the state of applied anthropology.

  • Mead, Margaret. 1943. Food and feeding in occupied territory. Public Opinion Quarterly 7.4: 618–628.

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    In this article and others, Mead addressed questions of food distribution and food preferences during a period of wartime food rationing.

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  • Mead, Margaret. 1944. The American troops and the British community: An examination of the relationship between the American troops and the British. London: Hutchinson.

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    In this influential public relations pamphlet, Mead discussed how American servicemen and British single women brought different expectations to their romantic involvements, creating problems for both parties; she also recommended how these misunderstandings could be resolved.

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  • Mead, Margaret, ed. 1955. Cultural patterns and technical change: A manual. New York: New American Library.

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    This volume, prepared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), addressed the problems, especially psychological problems that arose when traditional cultural patterns were challenged by technological change.

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  • Mead, Margaret. 1977. Applied anthropology: The state of the art. In Perspectives on anthropology, 1976. Edited by Anthony F. C. Wallace, 142-161. Washington, DC: American Anthropological Association.

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    Mead’s assessment of the state of applied anthropology in light of its recent history.

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Comparative Studies

Mead not only did extensive fieldwork in a number of different cultures, as well as national character studies and studies of culture at a distance, she also wrote about culture in comparative terms as illustrated [by] the books in this section. Much of Mead’s popular writing also involved explicit comparisons between America and the non-Western cultures in which she worked. In some of these studies, Mead attempted to answer “big” questions. For example, Mead 1961 was an ambitious professional attempt to understand the extent to which some societies were cooperative, competitive, or individualistic. Mead 1949 revisited her earlier work on gender roles and the relationship between biology and culture. On the other hand, Mead and Wolfenstein 1955 was much more limited in scope, as was Mead 1928, her dissertation on stability and change in Polynesian cultural patterns.

  • Mead, Margaret. 1928. An inquiry into the question of cultural stability in Polynesia. Columbia Univ. Contributions to Anthropology 9. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    This little-known comparative study of tattooing, house design, and canoe design in Polynesia was the published version of Mead’s PhD dissertation. It was based entirely on library research and written under the supervision of Franz Boas.

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  • Mead, Margaret. 1949. Male and female: A study of the sexes in a changing world. New York: William Morrow.

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    In one of her best-known popular books, Mead discussed childhood, courtship, sex, love, marriage, and parental roles in America and a number of other societies. Mead argued that biology led to cross-cultural similarities in gender roles but also allowed for a range of cultural differences.

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  • Mead, Margaret, ed. 1961 Cooperation and competition among primitive peoples. Rev. ed. Boston: Beacon.

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    Originally published 1937.This edited volume was a scholarly attempt to integrate the study of social forms and cultural character. There are thirteen descriptive chapters on different cultures, including three by Mead. She then classifies these cultures as being cooperative, competitive, or individualistic to a greater or lesser extent.

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  • Mead, Margaret, and Martha Wolfenstein, eds. 1955. Childhood in contemporary cultures. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    This eclectic volume presents case studies about childhood in different cultures, some reviews of fantasies for and about children, clinical studies, and other related chapters.

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Other Books for Professional Audiences

Mead wrote on so many diverse topics and issues that some of her professional work defies easy categorization; this is the case with the books for professional audiences listed below. For example, Mead wrote a great deal about education; Mead 1951 is but one illustration. She also wrote a good deal about race, a topic that she revisited in Mead, et al. 1968. Mead 2005a is a biography of Ruth Benedict, and Mead and Bunzel 1960 is one of the best compendiums on the early history of anthropology in North America. Mead 1999 offers her views on cultural evolution, which coincided to some extent with her interest in the future (Mead 1977, Mead 2005b).

Popular Books for American Audiences

Much of Mead’s work was written for general audiences, including works listed elsewhere in this bibliography, such as Mead 1928 in Samoa, Mead 1930 in Manus (Admiralty Islands), Mead 1935 in Arapesh, Tchambuli, and Mundugumor, Mead 2000 in Work on National Character and the Study of Culture at a Distance, and Mead 1949 in Comparative Studies. Yet Mead wrote much more, including her monthly columns for Redbook (1962–1978), a mainstream women’s magazine that reached millions of women each month; see Mead and Metraux 1970, Mead 1979, and Mead and Metraux 1980. Mead collaborated with the photographer Ken Heyman (Mead and Heyman 1965, Mead and Heyman 1975) on two photo essays. She wrote about the generation gap (Mead 1970), and Mead and James Baldwin conversed together in a “rap” on race (Mead and Baldwin 1971). Mead, who was deeply interested in religion, wrote still another popular book on the role of faith in modern society (Mead 1972).

Films by Mead

In the late 1930s, Mead and Bateson pioneered the use of still photography and film in their work in Bali. In the early 1950s, Mead released a series of influential short documentaries based on their earlier collaboration (Bateson and Mead 1951, Bateson and Mead 1952). Her contribution to visual anthropology is commemorated in the annual Margaret Mead Film Festival sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History.

The Mead-Freeman Controversy

The Mead-Freeman controversy began in 1983, several years after Mead’s death in 1978, with the publication of Freeman 1983 (cited in Books). Freeman, an anthropologist and expert on Samoa, argued that Mead was fundamentally wrong about the culture of these Pacific Islanders. Samoans were not sexually permissive, as Mead believed, but rather extremely restrictive. Adolescence was not a time of relative ease, as Mead found, but rather a time of storm and stress. And, according to Freeman, biology was an important determinant of these outcomes, contrary to Mead who was, in Freeman’s words, an “absolute” cultural determinist. The book received extensive favorable publicity in the media, although there was a great deal of critical response from anthropologists. In his first book on Mead, Freeman reported on what he believed Mead had gotten wrong about Samoa. In his second book, Freeman 1999 (cited in Books), he attempted to show why Mead got Samoa wrong. He asserted that Mead was told innocent lies about the personal lives of adolescents by two Samoan women that Mead believed as the truth, publishing them in Mead 1928 (cited in Samoa). According to Freeman, Mead was young, naive, and gullible, and for these reasons she was “fatefully hoaxed.” Again, there were telling critiques of Freeman’s argument. Nevertheless, he was successful in getting his views about Mead into the public arena and in severely damaging her reputation. The most recent work on the controversy demonstrates that Freeman failed to disclose crucial evidence, manipulating the controversy to his advantage. Much of his argument is now in question. There is a vast literature on the controversy dating from 1983 to the present. The selections here include major Books on the controversy as well as Special Journal Issues devoted to it. Each of these publications has an extensive bibliography on the controversy.

Books

The key books on the controversy are Freeman 1983, Freeman 1999, Holmes 1987, Caton 1990, Côté 1994, Orans 1996, and Shankman 2009.

  • Caton, Hiram, ed. 1990. The Samoa reader: Anthropologists take stock. Lanham, MD: Univ. Press of America.

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    Caton, a professor of politics and philosophy in Australia, was a colleague and friend of Freeman. This edited volume is sympathetic to Freeman’s arguments. Later Caton would become a critic of Freeman.

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  • Côté, James E. 1994. Adolescent storm and stress: An evaluation of the Mead-Freeman controversy. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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    A sociologist and an expert on adolescence, Côté authored this little known but very perceptive book on the controversy that is critical of Freeman.

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  • Freeman, Derek. 1983. Margaret Mead and Samoa: The making and unmaking of an anthropological myth. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    This book launched the controversy, making the front page of the New York Times months before its actual publication.

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  • Freeman, Derek. 1999. The fateful hoaxing of Margaret Mead: A historical analysis of her Samoan research. Boulder, CO: Westview.

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    In Freeman’s second book on Mead (for the first book see Freeman 1983), he traces her field research in Samoa and presents his hoaxing hypothesis.

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  • Holmes, Lowell D. 1987. Quest for the real Samoa: The Mead/Freeman controversy and beyond. South Hadley, MA: Bergin & Garvey.

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    As an expert on Samoa who conducted a restudy of Mead’s research in the islands during the 1950s, Holmes reviews the controversy and the evidence, and defends Mead.

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  • Orans, Martin. 1996. Not even wrong: Margaret Mead, Derek Freeman, and the Samoans. Novato, CA: Chandler & Sharp.

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    Orans, an expert on Samoa, wrote this important scientific critique of both Mead and Freeman.

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  • Shankman, Paul. 2009. The trashing of Margaret Mead: Anatomy of an anthropological controversy. Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press.

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    In a more recent book on the controversy, Shankman reviews the personalities involved, the role of the media, responses of Samoans, Freeman’s critique of Mead, the history of sexual conduct in Samoa, the hoaxing hypothesis, and the nature-nurture controversy. He finds that Freeman had neglected crucial evidence favorable to Mead, and that, as a result, much of his argument is of little value.

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Special Journal Issues

Professional journals devoted special issues to the controversy including the American Anthropologist (Brady 1983), two issues of Canberra Anthropology (Acciaioli 1983, Freeman 1983), and the Journal of Youth and Adolescence (Côté 2000).

  • Acciaioli, Gregory. 1983. Special issue: Fact and context in ethnography: The Samoa controversy. Canberra Anthropology 6.1.

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    This issue, edited by Greg Acciaioli, featured articles by Holmes, Shore, and Shankman, as well as an article by anthropologist Penelope Schoeffel and her Samoan husband, historian Malama Meleisea, among others. These articles are largely critical of Freeman.

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  • Brady, Ivan, ed. 1983. Special issue: Speaking in the name of the real: Freedman and Mead on Samoa. American Anthropologist 85.4.

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    This issue, edited by Ivan Brady, features important articles by Samoan experts Bradd Shore, Lowell Holmes, and Annette Weiner, among others, and was based on a symposium about the controversy at the American Anthropological Association Meetings in 1983. These articles are largely critical of Freeman.

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  • Côté, James, ed. 2000. The Mead-Freeman controversy in review. Journal of Youth and Adolescence 29.5.

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    This issue, edited by James Côté, featured articles by Côté, Shankman, Regna Darnell and Stephen O. Murray, and Hiram Caton, with an appendix that has excerpts from Mead’s Samoan correspondence with Franz Boas. These articles are critical of Freeman.

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  • Freeman, Derek. 1983. Special issue: Inductivism and the test of truth: A rejoinder to Lowell D. Holmes and others. Canberra Anthropology 6.2.

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    This entire issue is devoted to Freeman’s lengthy rejoinder to the authors in the previous issue of Canberra Anthropology (Acciaioli 1983).

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Documentary Films and Television Programs

The controversy was also featured on television in the widely viewed Donahue as well as two documentaries, Margaret Mead and Samoa (Heimans 1988) and Tales from the Jungle: Margaret Mead (Oxley 2006).

LAST MODIFIED: 01/11/2012

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199766567-0014

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