Updated: Nov 5, 2019
Margaret Mead is one of the best known anthropologists of the twentieth century. She studied at Columbia University under anthropologist Franz Boas. She is best known for writing Coming of Age in Samoa and Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies.
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COMING OF AGE IN SAMOA
Mead’s best-known work was Coming of Age in Samoa, a study of adolescence on the Samoan island of Ta’u. While living on Ta’u, Mead interviewed sixty eight girls and documented the relative lack of sexual mores that led to a culture of pre-marital promiscuity. A well-known section of the work describes the taupou system of institutionalized virginity among high ranking women.
Anthropologist Derek Freeman was an outspoken critic of Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa. Specifically, he argued that Mead was deceived by the girls she interviewed into believing that they practiced casual pre-marital sex. He detailed his criticism in Fateful Hoaxing and The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth
SEX AND TEMPERAMENT IN THREE PRIMITIVE SOCIETIES
In another well-known work, Mead compares the role of women in three different societies in Papua New Guinea (the Tchambuli, Mundugmor, and Arapesh).
A RAP ON RACE
In 1971, Mead published A Rap on Race, a transcription of a series of conversations she had with writer James Baldwin about racial issues.
Mead was married to anthropologist Gregory Bateson. With Bateson, she co-wrote Balinese Character, a photographic study of life in Bali.
Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:
* Derek Freeman’s New York Times obituary contains a nice summary of his work and his criticism of Margaret Mead.
* The Library of Congress has a great digital collection of writings and photographs of Mead’s time in Samoa.
* The Atlantic published an article about the influential work of Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, and Zora Neale Hurston (all of whom studied under Columbia professor Franz Boas).
* Here’s an interesting documentary that examines the controversy between Derek Freeman and Margaret Mead:
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