Today in Literary History – November 15, 1978, Margaret Mead dies

The anthropologist Margret Mead died on November 15, 1978. She did extensive field work in Samoa, New Guinea and Bali, working mostly on gender roles and adolescent sexuality.

She is best known for her book Coming of Age in Samoa, published in 1928, where she showed that sexual development in children and adolescents is determined as much by culture as by nature. Her work showed that there are many different ways to experience sexuality.

Throughout her career she emphasized that cultural diversity was something to be celebrated and that so called “advanced societies” have things to learn from societies which had been previously considered “primitive.”

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I took an introductory Anthropology course in university and we studied Mead’s work. She was very much in vogue at the time and her style is very accessible and easy to understand.

In the decades since then her reputation has diminished slightly as standards of evidence gathering have become more stringent. Still, she is worth reading for her sharp observations and insights into human behavior.

 

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