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Who is Margaret Mead?

By J.Gunsch
Updated May 23, 2024
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Margaret Mead was an internationally renowned American anthropologist who was born in 1901 and died in 1978. Raised by a family of successful intellectuals, Margaret Mead developed the skills and passion necessary to become extremely successful in her field as well.

Margaret Mead was saturated by the academic pursuits of her family, which exposed her to the scientific method at a young age and prepared her for her own invaluable contributions to the human store of knowledge. Her father, Edward Sherwood Mead, was a professor of finance at Wharton business school. Mead’s mother, Emily Fogg Mead, held a doctoral degree in sociology. Margaret Mead's grandmother was a school teacher who began instructing Margaret at a young age. Consequently, Mead spent her childhood recording detailed observations of her siblings and their development, along with other analyses of the natural and human world.

Margaret Mead is considered to be a pioneer in cross-cultural research. Most of her research focused on male and female sex roles, human temperament, child development, and how these themes differ between cultures. She sought to discover a truth in her own culture by comparing and contrasting American culture with that of other societies.

Margaret Mead was extremely curious about the problems that American adolescents face in their transition to adulthood, which led to her famous research conducted in Samoa in the 1920s. Fieldwork with Samoan girls between nine and 20 years of age led Margaret Mead to conclude that adolescent rebellion and difficulties are not inherent in all human beings, but in fact differ extensively between cultures. Mead found that Samoan teenagers passed to adulthood gracefully because of the values of their culture, which caused an uproar in America at the time.

Between 1928 and 1972, Margaret Mead authored ten nonfiction books, as well as a memoir of her life. Meads books are: Coming of Age in Samoa, Growing Up in New Guinea, The Changing Culture of an Indian Tribe, Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies, And Keep Your Powder Dry, Male and Female: A Study of the Sexes in a Changing World, New Lives for Old: Cultural Transformation in Manus, People and Places, Continuities in Cultural Evolution, Culture and Commitment, and Blackberry Winter: A Memoir.

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Discussion Comments
By burcidi — On Feb 25, 2011

I've read the book by Derek Freeman who argues that Margaret Mead's book "Coming of Age in Samoa" is based on misinformation and does not correctly represent adolescent sexuality in Samoa. Freeman says that Mead had only a short amount of time for her fieldwork so instead of doing a systemic study, she simply interviewed two of the Samoan girls that were accompanying her. But the girls did not take the interview seriously and told Mead exactly the opposite of their cultural customs.

The absolutely crazy part is that Mead never went further to confirm her findings and neither did her superior whom she was doing the research for. Her book has been used in anthropology, sociology and psychology courses since it has come out.

I think it's unbelievable that a pioneer of social sciences like Mead would form significant theories about culture and human behavior based on incorrect data and then allow this information to influence academics and students in her field. How could this happen?!

By turquoise — On Feb 24, 2011

Margaret Mead was much more than an anthropologist because her studies and efforts influenced so many other fields and subjects. The research that she did had implications for a lot of social issues in the United States. For example, she talked about how men needed to become fathers but that this was a hard task for society. Just recently, I read a study which said that many of the social issues that we have like teen pregnancy, poverty and drug abuse are somehow all related to the absence of a father figure. I think that Margaret Meade noticed some of these problems and trends much before anyone else.

And did you know that Margaret Mead also worked for environmental causes? She helped develop the Earth Charter which is a global network which works for justice, peace and sustainability in the world.

I really admire her because one can tell from her work that she really put her heart into it. She truly cared about people and the world we live in.

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