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Return from the Natives

Return from the Natives

Peter Mandler
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Return from the Natives
    Book Description:

    Celebrated anthropologist Margaret Mead, who studied sex in Samoa and child-rearing in New Guinea in the 1920s and '30s, was determined to show that anthropology could tackle the psychology of the most complex, modern societies in ways useful for waging the Second World War. This fascinating book follows Mead and her closest collaborators-her lover and mentor Ruth Benedict, her third husband Gregory Bateson, and her prospective fourth husband Geoffrey Gorer-through their triumphant climax, when Mead became the cultural ambassador from America to Britain in 1943, to their downfall in the Cold War.

    Part intellectual biography, part cultural history, and part history of the human sciences, Peter Mandler's book is a reminder that the Second World War and the Cold War were a clash of cultures, not just ideologies, and asks how far intellectuals should involve themselves in politics, at a time when Mead's example is cited for and against experts' involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18970-4
    Subjects: History, Anthropology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-ix)
  4. Introduction: Return from the Natives
    (pp. x-xv)

    The journey out is also a journey home. When, at the end of the nineteenth century, the first modern anthropological fieldworkers went out in search of ‘primitive’ peoples in the South Pacific and in the remoter parts of North America, they were not only looking for people different from themselves, they were looking for themselves as well. The common view then was the social-evolutionary one, that the varieties of humanity were arrayed along the rungs of a ladder of civilization, with ‘primitive’ peoples at the bottom and modern Western peoples at or near the top – but it was a...

  5. CHAPTER 1 From the South Seas (to 1939)
    (pp. 1-43)

    Margaret Mead was born in Philadelphia in December 1901. Her parents were both social scientists, her father a professor of economics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, her mother a sociology graduate of the University of Chicago who started but never completed a PhD on the Italian immigrants of Hammonton, New Jersey. Mead liked to claim in later life that she was a third-generation feminist – her paternal grandmother, Martha Ramsey Mead, who lived with them, was a college graduate, a career schoolteacher and an advocate of progressive education. She was not always grateful for this supportive...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Culture Cracking for War: I. Allies (1939–44)
    (pp. 45-85)

    In the first phase of her career Margaret Mead was driven by many motives. Initially drawn to social science by her family background and by a conventional desire to ‘do good’, her loyalties were then broadened under the influence of the Boasian mission to explore and defend the integrity of ‘primitive’ peoples’ cultures. InComing of Age in Samoaand other popular books that followed, she used those understandings of ‘primitive’ cultures to comment on her own culture, increasingly convinced that a theoretically and methodologically rigorous anthropology ought to be able to shed light on cultures of any complexity. In...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Among the Natives of Great Britain (1942–5)
    (pp. 87-121)

    Before Pearl Harbor, Margaret Mead had already identified the Anglo-American relationship as one of the key targets for the application of ‘culture and personality insights’ to intercultural relations. In setting out the principal goals of the proposed Council on Intercultural Relations (CIR) in 1941, she prioritized, first, understanding the Germans, second, understanding the Americans and, third, understanding the British, ‘especially as it affects mutual understanding and ability to cooperate’. With her eye firmly planted on the postwar ‘orchestration of cultural diversities’, she saw the Anglo-American relationship as a natural starting point, ‘because cooperation between the United States and Great Britain...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Culture Cracking for War: II. Enemies (1942–5)
    (pp. 123-175)

    Margaret Mead was right to avoid associating herself too closely with the analysis of the national character of the Allies’ enemies, Germany and Japan. Her personal attraction to the idea of national character was as a means of building ‘culture consciousness’ for a postwar order, through which Americans would learn to understand and to accept many other, different cultures on a basis of equality. Anthropologists could best build up their credibility during the war, she felt, by showing Americans what their own culture looked like, how it differed from other cultures that they thought they knew well (like that of...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Culture Cracking for Peace (1945–50)
    (pp. 177-221)

    The techniques and methods of Mead’s national-character studies, while honed in wartime, were meant to be ‘as useful for peace as for war’: that was her mantra both during the war and after it. She had kept her own hands free in wartime precisely, she said, to ensure that her work didn’t fall into the hands of the ‘bastards’, so that it would thus be applicable to the making of a peaceful world rather than to the continuation of hostilities.¹ Subsequent generations have inclined to be sceptical about such claims, to say the least. Among the post-Vietnam generation, it has...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Swaddling the Russians (1947–51)
    (pp. 223-253)

    Even had she wanted to, Mead could not have avoided tackling the Russians in the immediate postwar years. Just as with the Germans and the Japanese during the war, after the war the Russians were the foreign people about whom Americans most needed and wanted to know. If anthropology were to demonstrate its usefulness to international relations, it had to show that it could say something cultural about the Russians that other analyses – based on communist ideology or ‘totalitarianism’ or some other framework – could not. But just as with the Germans and the Japanese during the war, tackling...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Return to the Natives (1947–53)
    (pp. 255-286)

    During her peak years of engagement with ‘modern’ cultures in the 1940s, Mead had not turned her back on the so-called ‘primitive’ cultures on which she had founded her reputation. BothAnd Keep Your Powder Dryat the beginning of the war and the uncompleted ‘Learning to Live in One World’ at the end of the war aimed to engage Americans’ imagination with a new vision of ‘one world’ of many cultures, each ‘valid in its own right’, without regard to size or power. After the war, her continuing concern with Great Power politics was motivated in no small part...

  12. Epilogue: To Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan
    (pp. 287-292)

    If Margaret Mead did lose the Cold War – if her own attempts to influence international relations were brought to an end by the Cold War, and in fact her imbroglio with the Cold War lost her influence in the wider anthropological community – why then have so many of the post-Vietnam accounts of her and her discipline’s history asserted the opposite? Why has Mead got a reputation as a Cold Warrior, and why are anthropologists today so keen to assert their discipline’s complicity with American imperial interests in the postwar decades? The answer is, of course, that after the...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 293-334)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 335-352)
  15. Acknowledgements
    (pp. 353-355)
  16. Index
    (pp. 356-366)