Last week, I experienced exactly what I had hoped I would in the Cultural Anthropology class I’m taking this semester. To say my curiosity was ignited and my fascination stimulated by the content and focus of this class would not adequately describe my experience.
Although I’m familiar with Margaret Mead, the details of her background, life, and significant contributions had not…up until now…peaked my interest. This oversight is clearly shameful. I’m not one to make excuses…but, maybe I was just too young at the time to understand (or embrace) the accomplishments of this very gifted woman – one who was way ahead of her time. Ms. Mead’s work in anthropology as well as her ambitious spirit (despite Derek Freeman’s attempt to debunk her work in Samoa) provided a deeper view into (and enticed us to consider) the dynamics of other cultures beyond our borders. This step is particularly relevant today as our exposure to cultures within and beyond our borders – more aptly termed globalization – takes hold and is on the rise. The details of Ms. Mead’s immersion – especially into the cultural climate for young girls in Samoa during the 1920’s – not only offered an opportunity to consider other cultures, but coaxed us to take a deeper look into our own.
As with most complex and dynamic subjects of this nature, a true understanding is best gained by broadening one’s scope in search of knowledge. Open dialogue and discussion infuse the process of learning, absorbing and interpreting. Interpretation, however, can be tricky and often plays a powerful role and can influence (even sabotage) our own understanding. A complete picture – rather than a snapshot – into various aspects and components of life and society allows for a broader and more grounded comprehension.
COMING OF AGE: Margaret Mead:
TALES FROM THE JUNGLE: Margaret Mead (6 parts)
In my humble opinion, the work undertaken by Margaret Mead while in Samoa need not be discounted despite the controversy unearthed by Derek Freeman. Their debate did, however, cause many questions to surface and encouraged much discussion that remains relevant even today:
- Does a time period during which information/content is captured, recorded, and presented (i.e. 1920 vs 1940) impact or affect the research/results?
- Will that timeframe influence how we view, interpret – even understand – the research and outcome?
- Does the gender – male vs. female – of the researcher/interviewer affect the answers/outcome?
- Can the answers to the questions (potential ‘fibs’) influence the interpretation and results?
- Does the specific setting/environment within which questions are asked – i.e. chief vs. young girls – influence the results/outcome?
These questions – and many more – clearly seem to have the potential to alter the nature of anthropology, the discipline of anthropological research, and our understanding
By now, though, you are you’re probably wondering…what does all of this mean to and for me…???
Well…while I sat in class for listening for several days and viewed many videos on this subject on my own pondering Margaret Mead and the challenges she faced both in the field and at home – I wondered:
Was the work and fame Margaret Mead initially gained through her efforts really worthwhile? Would I be willing to undergo that level of scrutiny to become an “oracle” or the “goddess” (as she was fondly termed) of anything ?
- DATA and UNDERSTANDING
If one considers this highly charged period in history – especially within the discipline of Anthropology – is it even possible to truly grasp and understand – in a grounded way – the data and information placed in front of us?
Within so many fields that demand it, is it ever possible to remove one’s own thoughts, opinions and biases from questions, interviews, observations, etc. which might, therefore, truly allow one to garner “the truth”…or is everything subjective?
Wow… now that I’ve recorded my experience and all aspects of my curiosity, it definitely seems like I did an awful lot of wandering and questioning – especially on topics that could eternally be written on (and probably have been).
So…in the end, my take away from all of this is that life – like Cultural Anthropology – demands continual inquiry and an ability to create a framework or means by which one can objectively observe, process and convey information. As so eloquently shared by Professor Bradd Shor of Emory University (Part 6 of Tales From the Jungle: Margaret Mead) it is important to be aware that “in trying to describe a society (or in this writer’s opinion…anything for that matter) all understanding to some extent is ‘positioned’.” What that means is that the context, the interviewer, and the specific environment/setting all need to be considered when attempting to establish a true understanding of what’s actually occurred or is being presented. The listener or viewer needs to be in a place that allows them to determine, grasp and truly understand “the truth” – in their own mind.
Given the blurred boundaries and borders of current culture and societies, and the highly capricious nature of information, the many lessons learned from Margaret Mead and her work provide an ideal springboard for objective inquiry.
One quote in particular that offered some great insight when considering research and the exchanged of cultural or social ideas was shared by Dr. Barbara Roll…
“… not only do we influence the culture, but they influence our lives – and change our lives – and it’s a reciprocal agreement.”
Crafted, researched and written by: |LIZ CARLOCK
The Write Resources, LLC™
© 2014 EM Carlock