Among the most significant cultural anthropologists was Margaret Mead
Margaret Mead's innovative viewpoints reshaped our knowledge of human cultures, and she continues to be an influential person in the field of cultural anthropology. Her ability to mainstream anthropology and her insistence on the significance of culture in creating individuals were genuinely revolutionary. Thus, Mead's impact goes well beyond the academy, permeating the very institutions and worldviews that continue to shape America and the rest of the world.
Margaret Mead, a pioneer in the field of cultural anthropology, rethought the significance of culture in the lives of individuals and the ways in which societies function. As a result of her groundbreaking research, she is considered a pivotal figure in 20th-century anthropology.
Mead was born in Philadelphia in 1901 to a sociology professor father and a schoolteacher mother who had also studied the field. She started out at DePauw University, but after realizing anthropology wasn't for her, she switched to Barnard. While pursuing her doctorate in anthropology at Columbia University, she was taught by renowned scholars including Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict.
Mead's first foray into fieldwork took her to American Samoa in 1925–1926, when she conducted her famous Samoa Studies. The resulting book, "Coming of Age in Samoa" (1928), explored the ways in which cultural norms and expectations shaped the teen years of its characters. The novel idea presented in this groundbreaking study was that not all adolescents in the United States experience the social stress and uncertainty that are so prevalent at that age.
Continued research in Papua New Guinea by Mead yielded several seminal works, including "Growing Up in New Guinea" (1930) and "Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies" (1935). Western ideas about gender roles, childrearing, and cultural diversity were further challenged by these works.
Mead's unique methodology combined elements of psychology and anthropology to examine how cultural factors shape and are shaped by individual members of society. This concept is now central to cultural anthropology as a whole.
Mead used her academic credentials to establish herself as a respected member of the public intellectual community. She was a frequent voice in public discourse on pressing social concerns of the day through her writing for mainstream publications and media appearances.
Her controversial ideas nonetheless inspired important discussions about cultural relativism, gender roles, and other aspects of societal standards. Many of her once-radical views are now standard fare in the field of anthropology and beyond.