Coming of Age Margaret Mead



Summary


This video is about the life (and academic work) of the famous anthropologist Margaret Mead. She was a young woman of 23 years old when she went into studying anthropology. Margaret Mead was very influential both within the field of anthropology as well as outside, in the way Americans lived their lives especially with respect to women and they way they raised children. This is due to her study specifically in the field of adolescences and later in women's child-rearing practices. Apart from these, she also studied the gender roles amongst different cultures. The first society she studied was in Samoa, whereby her findings were published to accommodate the public, hence increasing the publicity of anthropology as an academic field. However, she did her first fieldwork within a period of six months, staying mainly amongst an American family and hence was criticized for these two points. Amongst her fieldwork, she is arguably most well-known for her work in the Pere village on the Manus island, in which she visited seven times within a 50 year span of her life. This aided her in observing the change that the Pere society went through with each visit that she made back to the village. She became famous because of the extent in which her fieldwork was invested in the culture she studied and also because of the many writing opportunities she was given outside the academic realm. Hence she was recognized arguably more for her influence outside of the anthropological field of study. As a result to her work in anthropology, she influenced the Pere society to become arguably the most studied society to date. In addition to that, anthropology as a field was able to gain significant recognition and maturity, in the sense that there was greater understanding and depth in the field due to her contributions.

Commentary


Margaret's contribution as an anthropologist is important because she gave much-needed differing perspectives in the field of anthropology. This is both true due to her identity as a young woman, as well as the topic that she chose to study. Anthropology was increasingly an androcentric field that was studied mainly by men, especially in the earlier years of anthropology. This aids to tackle the debate about the crisis of representation present within anthropology, whereby critics scorned the narrow-minded ethnographies of cultures that often were written by affluent, white, male anthropologists.

In reference to the focus on adolescences, Margaret's work in the field helped to dispel the myth that adolescence had to be a time of tension and anxiety due to the numerous biological changes. On the contrary, her work showed that adolescence can instead be a period of relative carefree ease, as seen in the society of Samoa. This reminded me yet again of the highly influential nature of anthropology, in which we as humans are able to understand each period of our lives better through the knowledge of other cultures. Other cultures serve to showcase the alternative that society could be, but yet is not. With the focus on our own society only, we fail to look at these alternatives and hence end up with a narrow-minded perspective towards different issues in our lives, in this case with regards to the period of adolescence. Margaret has been credited for the sexual revolution in the 1960s, further proof of the highly influential nature of her work.

Her short amount of time in her fieldwork immersing herself in a culture for only six months further triggers me to question about the extent in which we ourselves are able to understand and grasp our own culture, despite being part of it for an extended period of time. It is difficult to assimilate and identify exactly with the culture that we ourselves are part of. Time does not seem to be the only factor needed to understand one's own culture. If so, what is really needed to understand our own culture? I feel that this is a very difficult question to answer. Culture is constantly changing, we being active an active influence to it while it is influencing is as well. The more we spend time in it, the more we will be changed but also change it as well. To me, it represents the difficult and complicated role that an anthropologist has to play in an attempt to understand a new culture, or even one of their own. For anthropologists like John Waiko, it may not be any much easier than it is to assimilate into his own culture as compared to a new culture.

The extent that Margaret was invested in her fieldwork in the Pere village is evident through the testimonies of the villagers, and especially spoke to me when a villager described the mourning process when he heard the news that Margaret had passed away. This dedication that she had is admirable and above the call of duty. In the middle portion of the field whereby she described being used to waking up and experiencing a morning in the Pere village but not thinking of her apartment in New York determines the extent in which she had adopted the Pere culture as her own. For me, as a budding anthropologist unable to visit a culture new to me, it makes me think about such a feeling, being divorced from the society and culture that I am familiar with. I am sure that as a person, it would change me significantly and would enable me to learn much more about myself. This is the process that I believe Margaret went through herself and I accredit the large degree of influence she had due to this.

Therefore, anthropology as a field was greatly benefited due to the contributions of Margaret Mead. This is due to the differing focus that she had in cultures that she studied namely in regards to adolescences and child-rearing. In addition, she was able to bring publicity to anthropology as a field due to her work that was published to the public. This helped anthropology to rise in popularity and gain credibility as an academic field in which she has proven to influence society. She was a breath of fresh air amongst the numerous male anthropologists and her influence can still be felt today especially in the American society.

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