Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict

Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict - Margaret Mead and Ruth...

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Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict’s works were crucial in developing the anthropological necessity of cultural relativism. Mead’s work in Samoa documented the Samoan culture without applying her own culture’s prescriptions of morality into her findings, and it led to very interesting new knowledge that contradicted some old beliefs. In addition to helping remove ethnocentricity in the field of anthropology, Mead and Benedict’s work also led popular culture to confront traditional values on race, sexual freedoms, women’s rights, and gender identity. Mead’s work in particular is said to have been the starting point of the sexual revolution. Her work, Coming of Age in Samoa , “Became a bible for reform-minded and progressive parents, educators, pediatricians, and guidance counsellors throughout America”(Scheperhughes 1984). Between books, papers, and degrees, the two anthropologists developed a deep friendship and, despite both being married, developed romantic feelings for each other (Banner 2003). They didn’t always agree, but they read every bit of each other’s work and published similar results. Both of Mead’s parents were educated. Her father, Edward Mead, was a professor at the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce at the University of Pennsylvania. Her mother, Emily Mead, was a teacher and did research towards a master’s degree in Sociology on Italian immigrants in New Jersey (Metraux 1980). Margaret would later go on to finish the work her mother started. Her parents raised her encouraging autonomy, but reprimanding rebellion, and in her adulthood, she criticized arbitrary limits on autonomy and rebellion both. Margaret was the oldest of five children. There was a large age gap between her and her brother, and her 2 younger sisters (the third child died in infancy), and she felt that her frail younger brother was not an adequate companion. As a result, she developed a strong teacher-pupil relationship with her grandmother, her most important teacher until she enrolled in Bernard College. She stated in letters home from Samoa, “the one person whom I wanted most to understand what my work
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was about and the one it would be hardest to convince that I had chosen well in becoming an anthropologist” was her grandmother (Silverman 2004). After graduating from Benedict College, she went on to Columbia University where she was taught by future colleagues Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict. Though Mead knew she wanted to study a science, Boas and Benedict helped her decide on anthropology (Metraux 1980). She began to make many circles of friends and went through three marriages, all of which were to fellow anthropologists. In her third marriage, she had a child and she raised the child in accordance to the child-raising practices she found positive in other cultures she studied, including breast feeding according to the child’s needs rather than schedule. Her child’s pediatrician was an avid fan of her work, and her methods of child raising influenced his later
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Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict - Margaret Mead and Ruth...

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