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Who is Margaret Mead?

Margaret Mead was a pioneering cultural anthropologist whose insightful work on social patterns revolutionized our understanding of human behavior. Her field studies reshaped the way we perceive culture and relationships, challenging societal norms. As we explore her legacy, consider how her findings still resonate in today's global community—what can we learn from her observations about our own societal dynamics?

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's research found that teen defiance and rebellion only exist in some cultures.
Margaret Mead's research found that teen defiance and rebellion only exist in some cultures.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who was Margaret Mead and why is she significant in anthropology?

Margaret Mead was a pioneering cultural anthropologist who gained fame for her work on the socialization of children and gender roles in various cultures. Born on December 16, 1901, she is best known for her studies and publications on the peoples of Oceania, particularly her book "Coming of Age in Samoa" (1928), which was groundbreaking in its detailed observation of adolescent behavior in different cultures. Her work significantly influenced the sexual revolution of the 1960s and contributed to the field of anthropology by emphasizing the importance of culture in shaping human behavior.

What were some of Margaret Mead's most influential works?

Margaret Mead's most influential works include "Coming of Age in Samoa" (1928), where she examined the lives of adolescent Samoan girls, and "Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies" (1935), where she explored variations in gender roles among different cultures in New Guinea. These works challenged Western perceptions of gender and sexuality and suggested that culture plays a key role in the development of personality and social norms.

How did Margaret Mead's fieldwork in Samoa impact our understanding of adolescence?

Margaret Mead's fieldwork in Samoa, detailed in her book "Coming of Age in Samoa," had a profound impact on our understanding of adolescence. She argued that the experience of adolescence varied greatly between cultures and was not universally a time of stress and turmoil, as was commonly believed in Western societies. According to Mead, Samoan adolescents experienced a more relaxed social atmosphere, which led to fewer conflicts during their transition to adulthood. This work suggested that cultural context is crucial in shaping the experiences of young people.

What was Margaret Mead's approach to studying cultures, and how did it differ from her contemporaries?

Margaret Mead's approach to studying cultures was characterized by immersive fieldwork and a focus on the qualitative aspects of human life. Unlike many of her contemporaries who favored grand theories or armchair speculation, Mead lived among the people she studied, learning their languages and observing their daily practices. She emphasized the importance of considering each culture on its own terms rather than through the lens of Western biases, which was a departure from the ethnocentric views prevalent at the time.

What is Margaret Mead's legacy in the field of anthropology today?

Margaret Mead's legacy in anthropology is enduring. She is remembered for her methodological contributions, her advocacy for cultural relativism, and her ability to communicate complex anthropological ideas to the public. Mead's work continues to be a touchstone for discussions on cultural diversity, gender roles, and the role of the individual in society. Despite some criticisms and debates over her findings, her influence extends beyond anthropology, affecting fields such as psychology, sociology, and education.

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Discussion Comments


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?!


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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    • Margaret Mead's research found that teen defiance and rebellion only exist in some cultures.
      By: bertys30
      Margaret Mead's research found that teen defiance and rebellion only exist in some cultures.