Margaret Mead and Mary Catherine Bateson: Like Mother, Like Daughter?
A Research Paper
Dr. William Reckmeyer
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for
December 15, 2010
Margaret Mead and Mary Catherine Bateson are not household names, but to anthropologists and other academics these two women have helped advance and shape the world of Anthropology. In the early 20th century, Margaret Mead was a part of small but influential group of people to bring anthropology to the forefront of people’s minds. With the likes of Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead has helped compose the standards used throughout anthropology as a discipline. She has compiled more than 500,000 works during her incredible career and is still one of the most read Anthropologists not only within undergraduate classrooms, but all over the world. As follows, Mary Catherine Bateson, the daughter of Margaret Mead, is an amazing Social Anthropologist who has taught around the world in places like the Philippines and Iran. She has been a professor at Harvard, Northeastern University, Amherst College, and Spelman College, and has been a visiting Professor to many other Universities. Bateson has written and co-authored a multitude of books, journals, and articles that have shed light on cultural issues among different societies around the globe. This paper examines Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa and Mary Catherine Bateson’s Composing a Further Life: The Age of Active Wisdom. The focus will be on each woman’s overall writing style within the books being discussed and their research methods used to conduct their fieldwork. Culture and development are important themes throughout both women’s work, so the specific developmental life cycle stages they are focused on will be addressed, as well as the specificity of cultural demands placed on each research group. Further examination will look at the individual anthropological field studies of each woman and if there have been trends in their life’s work. Being that these two incredible women are mother and daughter, how has the work of Margaret Mead influenced her daughter’s life and career ambitions? Anthropology has been thought of as a humanistic science, how has being an anthropologist helped shape their personal relationships and their political and social agendas? These questions will be discovered through the in depth analysis and comparison of these two amazing women and their great books. Difference in Research and Writing
In 1928 the young Margaret Mead had her first fieldwork experience on the Samoa Islands on the coast of the Ta’u Island, in the Manu’a Archipelago. She spent nine months gathering information on 68 young adolescent girls ranging in age from nine to twenty years old, of whom were living in three different villages in close proximity to one another (Mead 1928). Mead describes her research proposal and says, “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” (1928: 10)? Mead’s purpose for her research was to compare adolescents in Western civilization to that of adolescents in “primitive” societies like Samoa in the late 1920’s. Her method of research is participant observation, which is a technique used by the social sciences to gain a close and intimate familiarity with a given group of individuals and their practices through an intensive involvement with people in their natural environment, usually over an extended period of time. Mead spent most of her time studying the cultural norms and demands placed upon adolescent girls. “Speaking their language, eating their food, sitting barefoot and crossed-legged upon the pebbly floor, I did my best to minimize the...
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