Anthropology Magazine
The Problems With Coming of Age
Unit 4

Margaret Mead’s Remarkable Career

In a grainy black-and-white image, women sit in a row, with an older woman to the left holding a staff in one hand and papers in another, speaks with dignity.

In this unit (to accompany SAPIENS podcast S6E2), students will learn about Margaret Mead’s career, including how her accomplishments impacted future anthropologists from a feminist perspective and how her developments influenced 20th-century America. Students will read about significant milestones in her career and learn how her academic journey led toward her research outcomes with the Samoans and other anthropological achievements.

Learning Objectives
  • Recall the significant milestones in Margaret Mead’s career as an anthropologist.
  • Summarize how Mead’s findings have affected anthropology, Samoans, and the American public.
  1. The belief in and advocacy of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes expressed especially through organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.

  1. The complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect, especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups.

Social Constructionism
  1. The idea that contends that categories of knowledge and of “reality” itself are actively created by and are the products of social and symbolic relationships and interactions, all within the given temporal and spatial boundaries of a cultural context

Professor Talking Points
  • Examine key moments in Mead’s career, including her work after Samoa. Provide students with a brief timeline of her career and the significant accomplishments she made in the field of anthropology. Consider how the key moments of her career impacted the legacy that she left behind.
  • Explain what a feminist perspective in anthropology is. Keeping this definition at the forefront of students’ minds, look at Mead’s accomplishments from a feminist perspective, analyzing what steps she took that led to positive changes and what could be seen as setbacks.
  • Describe to students the world that Margaret Mead experienced, the expectations for women in the 1920s, particularly the social constraints and behavior, and expectations toward sexuality. Also, consider the misconceptions the West often held about other cultures and how colonial attitudes dominated Western society. Lead students to examine lifestyle differences evident in today’s culture compared to what the average woman experienced during Mead’s time.
  • Discuss with students how Mead’s own experience coincides with the social constructionism of her time and the misconceptions she helped to perpetuate about Samoan women.
  • Examining Mead’s work suggests that people, including notable academics, are a complex composite of multiple sociocultural, political, and familial influences that shape our interpretation of the world around us. Consider what you think might prove controversial in the future when historians look at what today’s academics are writing about. Lead students to discuss their own beliefs on what could be controversial in the future.
Academic Articles
  1. Jarvie, Ian. “Mead and the Trajectory of Anthropology in the United States.” Philosophy of the Social Sciences 47, nos. 4-5 (2016): 359-369.

  2. Shankman, Paul. “The Public Anthropology of Margaret Mead: Redbook, Women’s Issues, and the 1960s.” Current Anthropology 59, no. 1 (2018).

Student Discussion Questions
  • What is an example of, or an opposing position to, social constructionism in Mead’s early career?
  • What examples of intersectionality are present in Mead’s career concerning her accomplishments with the Samoan people?
  • How can we see the impact of Mead’s work in the ongoing feminist struggle?
  • What is one positive and one negative effect of Mead’s work in Samoa?
  • How did Mead’s work in anthropology influence future academics in that field?
  • Construct a timeline of Mead’s career, which includes a section in each event that compares society’s expectations of women in her time compared to
  • Create a LinkedIn account for Margaret Mead, including three to five jobs, a bio based on your knowledge of her, and career goals, then post at least four times from her perspective.
  • Write an argumentative essay of five paragraphs that argues for or against the narrative that Mead’s career impacted feminism/intersectionality for the better.
  • Create a meme or a political cartoon that shows the social constructionism that Mead faced in her career.
Additional Resources
  1. Article: Barnard Center for Research on Women’s “Margaret Mead’s Legacy: Continuing Conversations

  2. Article: The Legacy Project’s “Margaret Mead – Nominee 1901-1978

  3. Article: Sam Dresser’s “The Meaning of Margaret Mead

  4. Video: Manufacturing Intellect’s “Margaret Mead interview on Cultural Anthropology (1959)

Unit By

Casie Gray, Freedom Learning Group

The Problems With Coming of Age
Unit 5

Samoan Voices

Three young men stand on a beach, wearing island-style shirts.