Margaret Mead

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Gregory Bateson, Margaret Mead, and Reo Fortune, Sydney, July 1933.
Born December 16, 1901(1901-12-16)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US
Died November 15, 1978(1978-11-15) (aged 76)
New York City, US

Margaret Mead was an American cultural anthropologist, who was frequently a featured author and speaker in the mass media throughout the 1960s and 1970s.


Mead earned her bachelor degree at Barnard College in New York City, and her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Columbia University (1929). She was both a popularizer of the insights of anthropology into modern American and Western culture and a respected, if controversial, academic anthropologist.

Mead was married three times. Her first husband (1923–1928) was American Luther Cressman, a theology student at the time. Her second husband was New Zealander Reo Fortune, a Cambridge graduate (1928–1935). Her third and longest-lasting marriage (1936–1950) was to the British anthropologist Gregory Bateson with whom she had a daughter, Mary Catherine Bateson. Her encounter with Bateson is described in the chapters 16 and 17 of her autobiography.

Visual anthropology[edit]

Mead studied anthropology with Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict at Columbia University before earning her Master's in 1924. Boas is considered by some specialists as the ‘father figure in visual anthropology’ (Ruby 1980, Jacknis 1984).

Along with Bateson, Mead was a pioneer in the use of film and photography in her ethnographic research. It helped to underscore the importance of visual evidence in ethnographic research as well as the value of images in conveying crosscultural information to the public. Not only was Mead one of the earliest anthropologists to integrate visual methods into her research, she was also one of the first anthropologists to focus on the study of visual communication, including nonverbal communication, kinesics (the study of body motion), and proxemics (the study of territoriality and personal space), and she pioneered teaching anthropology courses on culture and communication (both verbal and visual).

An ethnographic interview. Bateson and Mead's Balinese secretary I Made Kaler takes notes during Mead's talk with Nang Karma and his son, I Gata. Bajoeng Gede, Bali; photographer: Gregory Bateson, c1937. Gelatin silver print. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (217a)

Drawing upon her experiments among the Arapesh made before the 1930s, Mead came up with a system of "running field notes", essentially a chronological narrative of observations. Each photography was noted in this record, with its place in the ongoing social action, as well as the photographer's relative position. The running field notes were supplemented with a daily diary in which were recorded all the different kinds of activities in the field: photography, events ob- served, births and deaths, illnesses, letters and visits, etc. Although parts of this system of record keeping were present from the start, it was not until 12 May 1936 that the scenario method was begun, and not all these categories were noted in all notes.

Mead and Bateson arrived in Bali in March 1936 for a two-year stay during which they innovated their use of photography and film as ethnographic media. In the Bali research Mead was responsible for much of its substantive focus, as well as its vast scale and level of detail, while Bateson took all the pictures, devised innovative forms of notes, and did most of the final photoanalysis. Their stay generated a prodigious amount of data, including about 25,000 photographs and 22,000 feet of film. In June 1936 they moved to Bajoeng Gede, a small village in the mountains. In March of 1938, feeling the need for comparative material, they returned to Bateson's former field site among the latmul on the Sepik River in New Guinea. Here over eight months they shot about 8,000 stills and 11,000 feet of film, searching for material that could match their Balinese data. Around 1950 Mead returned to the material, assembling another photographic study and a series of six films made by Bateson.


The American Museum of Natural History used her name and image for their annual showcase of new documentary film and video. The Margaret Mead Film Festival began in 1976 in commemoration of Mead’s seventy-fifth birthday and since then has grown in size and importance.



  • An Inquiry into the Question of Cultural Stability in Polynesia, New York: Columbia University Press, 1928; 1969.
  • The Maoris and Their Arts, New York: The American Museum of Natural History, 1928.
  • From the South Seas: Studies of Adolescence and Sex in Primitive Societies, New York: Morrow, 1939.
  • And Keep Your Powder Dry: An Anthropologist Looks at America, New York: Morrow, 1942; 1965; 1971.
  • Male and Female: A Study of the Sexes in a Changing World, New York: Morrow, 1949; 1955, ARG/epub.
  • The School of American Culture, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1951; 1964.
  • Soviet Attitudes toward Authority, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1951; 1955.
  • editor, Cultural Patterns and Technical Change: A Manual Prepared by the World Federation for Mental Health, Paris: UNESCO, 1953.
  • editor, with Nicholas Calas, Primitive Heritage: An Anthropological Anthology, New York: Random House, 1953.
  • editor, with Rhoda Metraux, The Study of Culture at a Distance, University of Chicago Press, 1953.
  • with Rhoda Metraux, Themes in French Culture: A Preface to a Study of French Community, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1954.
  • editor, with Martha Wolfenstein, Childhood in Contemporary Cultures, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955; 1963.
  • New Lives for Old: Cultural Transformation in Manus, 1928–1953, New York: Morrow, 1956.
  • Israel and Problems of Identity, New York: Theodor Herzl Foundation, 1958.
  • editor, An Anthropologist at Work: Writings of Ruth Benedict, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1959; 1966.
  • People and Places, Cleveland and New York: World Publishing, 1959; 1963. A book for young readers.
  • editor, with Ruth L. Bunzel, The Golden Age of American Anthropology, New York: Braziller, 1960.
  • Continuities in Cultural Evolution, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964; 1966.
  • Food Habits Research: Problems of the 1960s, Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences—National Research Council, Publication 1225.
  • Anthropologists and What They Do, New York: Watts, 1965; 1969.
  • with Ken Heyman, Family, New York: Macmillan, 1965.
  • with Muriel Brown, The Wagon and the Star: A Study of American Community Initiative, St. Paul, Minn.: Curriculum Resources, 1966.
  • The Mountain Arapesh I. The Record of Unabelin with Rorschach Analyses, Garden City, N.Y.: Natural History Press, 1968. First published as an article in 1949.
  • Culture and Commitment: A Study of the Generation Gap, Garden City, N.Y.: Natural History Press/Doubleday, 1970.
  • The Mountain Arapesh II. Arts and Supematuralism, Garden City, N.Y.: Natural History Press, 1970. First published as two articles in 1938 and 1940.
  • with Rhoda Metraux, A Way of Seeing, New York: McCall, 1970.
  • with James Baldwin, A Rap on Race, Philadelphia and New York: Lippincott, 1971.
  • The Mountain Arapesh III. Stream of Events in Alitoa, Garden City, N.Y.: Natural History Press, 1971. First published as an article in 1947.
  • Blackberry Winter: My Earlier Years, New York: Morrow, 1972. Autobiography.
  • Ruth Benedict, New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1974.
  • with Ken Heyman, World Enough: Rethinking the Future, Boston: Little, Brown, 1976.
  • Letters from the Field 1925-1975, New York: Harper & Row, 1977.
  • with Rhoda Metraux, An Interview with Santa Claus, New York: Walker, 1978.
  • with Rhoda Metraux, Aspects of the Present, New York: Morrow, 1980.

Selected articles[edit]

  • "The Cybernetics of Cybernetics", in Purposive Systems: Proceedings of the First Annual Symposium of the American Society for Cybernetics, eds. Heinz von Foerster, John D. White, Larry J. Peterson, and John K. Russell, New York, NY: Spartan Books, 1968, pp 1-11. Excerpt. 1967 keynote address to the inaugural meeting of the American Society for Cybernetics (ASC). Mead had been a participant at the Macy Conferences, while this talk was a defining moment in the development of second-order cybernetics. She characterised "cybernetics as a way of looking at things and as a language for expressing what one sees". This paper was social and ecological in focus, with Mead calling on cyberneticians to assume responsibility for the social consequences of the language of cybernetics and the development of cybernetic systems. [2]. See also: Glanville 2015. [3]
  • "L'Anthropologie visuelle dans une discipline verbale", in Pour une Anthropologie visuelle, ed. Claudine de France, Paris/La Haye/New York: Mouton & EHESS, 1979. (Cahiers de L'Homme, n.s., XIX).



See also[edit]