US anthropologist noted for her studies of preliterate societies and her work on the role of culture in character development.
Mead studied psychology at Barnard College, where she encountered the distinguished anthropologist Franz Boas. In 1925 she travelled to Samoa to study the transition of native girls from adolescence to adulthood and published her findings in Coming of Age in Samoa (1928). In 1926 she was appointed assistant curator of ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, becoming associate curator in 1942 and curator in 1964. She was made adjunct professor of anthropology at Columbia University in 1954.
In the late 1920s a trip to New Guinea enabled her to examine intellectual development in young children in relation to their cultural environment (Growing Up in New Guinea, 1930) and later, on the Indonesian island of Bali, she made innovative use of film to record aspects of the society and compiled the photographic study Balinese Character (1942). During World War II, Mead conducted a survey of eating habits in the USA and was also concerned with the social impact of US troops stationed in Britain. Her postwar work concentrated more on contemporary US society, especially the influence of cultural phenomena in psychiatry, mental health, child development, and education. She served on several government committees and lectured widely. Critics pointed to her tendency to disregard established sociological methods in favour of a more subjective approach. In the late 1960s, her concern with the disillusionment among the young and the problems of overpopulation and environmental crisis led to such works as Culture and Commitment (1970) and A Way of Seeing (1970). Since her death Mead's reputation as a field anthropologist has come under sustained attack from some critics, who have accused her to tailoring her data to suit preconceived theories.
Subjects: Arts and Humanities.