In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, and Visual Anthropology

  • Introduction
  • Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson: Archives and Websites
  • Margaret Mead: Bibliographies
  • Margaret Mead: Autobiography and Correspondence
  • Margaret Mead: Life and Career
  • Gregory Bateson: Life and Career
  • Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson: Double Portraits
  • Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson: Filmic Portraits
  • Margaret Mead as a Pacific Ethnographer
  • Margaret Mead in Samoa: Photography
  • Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead in New Guinea
  • Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson: Balinese Ethnographies
  • Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson: Balinese Photographic Ethnographies
  • Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson’s Balinese Research: Historical and Cultural Contexts
  • Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson’s Balinese Research: Commentaries
  • Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson: Balinese Art, Collections, and Exhibitions
  • Margaret Mead’s General Publications on Visual Anthropology
  • Margaret Mead’s Visual Anthropology after Bali
  • Gregory Bateson’s Visual Anthropology after Bali
  • Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead and Maya Deren
  • Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, and the Study of Ethnographic Photography and Film
  • Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, and the General Study of Visual Anthropology

Anthropology Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, and Visual Anthropology
Ira Jacknis
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 July 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 July 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0250


The work of Margaret Mead (b. 1901–d. 1978) and Gregory Bateson (b. 1904–d. 1980) has proven to be critical in forming the subdiscipline of visual anthropology. In 1933 Mead met Bateson on the Sepik River, while both were engaged in ethnographic fieldwork in Papua New Guinea. Soon a couple (they married in 1936), they decided to travel to Bali with the explicit intention of pioneering the use of still photography and film as a basic ethnographic methodology. Before their collaboration Mead had studied with Franz Boas at Columbia University (PhD in 1929), and Bateson was a student of Alfred C. Haddon at Cambridge (MA in 1930). During their lives, neither held a tenured regular academic appointment, although both were active teachers and mentors. In their early and middle years, both worked in the field that came to be known as “culture and personality.” The couple worked together in Bali between January 1936 and March 1938. Following a comparative period of fieldwork among the Iatmul of New Guinea (April 1938–February 1939), they returned to Bali (February–March 1939), before returning to America. From their shared Balinese fieldwork they created a corpus of about 25,000 still photographs and 22,600 feet of 16 mm. film footage—and from the Iatmul of New Guinea, another 11,000 feet of film, and another 8,000 still photographs. From these materials, they produced two photographic ethnographies and seven edited films. These were perhaps the first cultural representations to use images, coupled with texts, as the primary vehicles for making ethnographic arguments and analyses. Although this transformed both visual anthropology and the discipline at large, it took many decades for their achievement to be recognized. Bateson and Mead, each in their own way, continued to advocate for the importance of visual representations in anthropology and related disciplines. After their divorce in 1950, Bateson continued his peripatetic professional career, often working collaboratively. His later work in psychiatry and the behavior of animals (otters, dolphins, and octopuses) found a place for visual documentation of non-verbal forms of communication. Except for her first fieldwork, in Samoa (1925), Mead never took her own photographs, instead collaborating with her ethnographic partners, especially two of her husbands, Reo Fortune and Gregory Bateson. More so than Bateson, in later life Mead was active in helping create the institutions of visual anthropology, through archives, conferences, publications, and teaching. Bateson and Mead’s visual anthropology has been influential throughout the scholarly world, but given the relatively large literature on the couple, this bibliography has been confined to works published in English.

Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson: Archives and Websites

At her death, Margaret Mead left extensive archives; these included the preservation of the materials of her ethnographic collaborators such as Bateson. The most important of these are the Margaret Mead Papers and South Pacific Ethnographic Archives in the Library of Congress. Always less of an empiricist than Mead, Bateson left relatively less documentation. His major archival collection is the Gregory Bateson Papers at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Two excellent websites devoted to their lives and careers are the one by Francis and Wolfskill 2001, hosted at the Library of Congress, and the joint website produced by their daughter, anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson, The Institute for Intercultural Studies Archives.

  • Francis, Patricia A., and Mary Wolfskill, co-curators. 2001.“Margaret Mead: Human Nature and the Power of Culture.” US Library of Congress.

    This online exhibit was created in order to commemorate the one-hundredth anniversary of Margaret Mead’s birth. According to the website introduction, this collection of more than 500,000 items “includes manuscripts, diaries, letters, field notes, drawings, prints, photographs, sound recordings, and film. For this exhibition, items have been selected from the collection to document major themes in Mead’s life and work.”

  • Gregory Bateson Papers. University of California–Santa Cruz, Special Collections and Archives.

    This collection contains most of Bateson’s correspondence and the manuscripts for his publications. Most of it was produced after his Pacific fieldwork and after his divorce from Mead in 1950. Accordingly, little of it deals with his visual work, but there are notes and photographs from his studies of octopuses, dolphins, and African animals, from the 1960s.

  • The Institute for Intercultural Studies Archives, 1999–2009.

    Margaret Mead established the Institute for Intercultural Studies in 1944, as a foundation for the support of her work and the work of her collaborators. Especially after her death in 1978, when it was run by Mead and Bateson’s daughter Mary Catherine Bateson, it came to serve as a clearing house for research into the Mead and Bateson legacy. Although the Institute was closed down in 2009, its rich website has been maintained, and it is an extremely useful source of information about the couple.

  • Margaret Mead Papers and South Pacific Ethnographic Archives. Library of Congress, Manuscript Division.

    This collection contains all of the ethnographic material that Margaret Mead and two of her husbands (Reo Fortune and Gregory Bateson) had produced in the Pacific. In addition to Mead’s own personal and professional archives, this archive preserves Mead and Bateson’s original collaborative photographic work (both still and moving image) from Bali and New Guinea.

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