Mead and Bateson were married in 1936 in Singapore as they headed for fieldwork in Bali in the Netherlands East Indies (today Indonesia). In this pioneering work in visual anthropology, they used a variety of methods to explore the role of culture in personality formation.
They documented Balinese culture in extensive field notes and through the innovative use of still photographs and motion picture film. Collaborating with other Westerners living in Bali and with Balinese secretary-informants, Mead and Bateson produced multiple layers of documentation of such behaviors as parent-child interactions, ritual performances and ceremonies, and artists at work. In addition to other objects, they collected Balinese art from adults and children and acquired over 1200 pieces of artwork. Among the works they produced from their research in Bali are the film Trance and Dance in Bali (1952) and the book Balinese Character: A Photographic Analysis (1942). The latter contains a selection of 759 still photographs, arranged thematically to illustrate theoretical points about Balinese culture and character formation. For instance, they used photographs to show how children learned physical skills passively by having their bodies moved into the necessary positions by their teachers.
While this field work is still considered groundbreaking, it has been criticized, particularly for not accounting sufficiently for the role of religion in Balinese culture.
Going to Bali
Travel to the field was complicated and required elaborate planning. Sometimes plans changed at the last minute. Mead and Bateson intended to marry in Java on their way to Bali to do fieldwork, but the Dutch government would not allow it. Instead they flew to Singapore and were married, then returned to Java and went on to Bali. Shown here is Mead's admissions permit to return to Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia) after her marriage to Bateson.
Among Mead's many roles while working in the field was tending to medical needs of the people she was studying. Reducing people's suffering also gave Mead the opportunity to talk to those she was treating, gaining their confidence and getting information that helped with her anthropological work. In addition to being present at births and deaths, Mead diagnosed and treated injuries, as well as ailments ranging from scabies to malaria, with medical supplies she brought with her into the field. In this notebook, which Mead kept as a record of medical care she provided in Bali, she described treating children's infected ears.
As a woman, Margaret Mead had an advantage over male anthropologists in gaining access to women and children. In Bali, however, she found that her customary manner of dealing with children did not work. Mead wrote in Balinese Character: “Mothers whose babies I had medicated, although they returned for more medicine, remained so unwon that the babies screamed in terror in their arms whenever they saw me.” Mead attributed this to a prevailing emotional tone of fear in the culture, which babies experienced through their mothers. Mead found that when she expressed herself in an exaggerated, theatrical way, the mothers and children relaxed.
Afternoon with the Karmas
On the night of September 20, 1936, Margaret Mead wrote to Ruth Benedict about a “grand day” of fieldwork. While Madé Kalér recorded Nang Karma's answers to Mead's questions, she took notes on two Karma children, as Bateson photographed them. Then they recorded the children's interactions with their mother when she arrived. Mead reported that Bateson took approximately 60 still photos that day and 200 feet of motion picture film. After the success of this day, Mead and Bateson altered their fieldwork method, investing in much more intensive photography than they had planned. In conjunction with systematic notetaking by Mead and Madé Kalér, this new approach enabled them to recreate entire sequences of events. They ended up with about 25,000 still photographs, (instead of the 2000 they had planned) and 22,000 feet of film.
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Margaret Mead. “Afternoon with the Karmas,” September 20, 1936. Typescript. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (185)
Gregory Bateson, photographer. Margaret Mead medicating the feet of I Kenjoen, held by her father, Nang Karma. Bajoeng Gedé, Bali, September 20, 1936. Gelatin silver print. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (200b)
Gregory Bateson, photographer. Nang Karma holding infant daughter I Kenjoen in his lap, with son I Gata alongside. Bajoeng Gedé, Bali, September 20, 1936. Gelatin silver print. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (200n)
Gregory Bateson, photographer. Nang Karma holding infant daughter I Kenjoen in his arms, with son I Gata leaning across his lap. Bajoeng Gedé, Bali, September 20, 1936. Gelatin silver print. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (200v)
Gregory Bateson, photographer. Nang Karma holding infant daughter I Kenjoen in his arms, with son I Gata behind. Bajoeng Gedé, Bali, September 20, 1936. Gelatin silver print. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (200p)
Mead used certain categories to classify behavior across the cultures she studied. One of these was “child nurse.” She used this term to refer to older children charged with the care of younger children. In Balinese Character (1942), she devotes a section of photographs to the subject. Displayed here are photographs from a sequence of I Gati holding her younger sister, I Kenjoen, in a sling. Due to I Gati's inexperience using the sling, I Kenjoen was jostled around and began to cry. In a later photo [right], I Kenjoen is held by an older sister.
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Gregory Bateson, photographer. I Gati holding I Kenjoen in a sling, Bajoeng Gedé, Bali, August 19, 1937. Gelatin silver print. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (193a)
Gregory Bateson, photographer. I Karmi holding I Kenjoen on her lap, Bajoeng Gedé, Bali, February 12, 1939. Gelatin silver print. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (193b)
Madé Kalér and Margaret Mead at Work
Key to Mead's Balinese work were the Balinese secretary-informants she and her colleagues, Jane Belo (1904–1968) and Katharane Mershon (1892–1986) used. Mead and Bateson employed I Madé Kalér in this capacity. Madé Kalér, who spoke five languages, took notes on events, interviewed people, and collected other necessary information. He produced more than 500 Balinese language texts to supplement Mead's notes. Here, Madé Kalér is pictured with Mead, as they both take notes on a conversation Mead is having with Nang Karma and his son I Gata.
Mead returned to Bali in December of 1957, with photographer Ken Heyman, who collaborated on projects with her for the next two decades. In Heyman's words: “Dr. Mead loved this photograph, and the following year she used it as her Christmas card. Village mothers put a white spot on their babies' heads as a charm to protect them from evil, in accordance with the local form of Hinduism.”
Teaching and Learning
Mead and Bateson settled in the highlands of Bali, in the village of Bajoeng Gedé (now Bayung Gedé). Although this was their base, they traveled to other areas of Bali to conduct more specialized studies, particularly of the arts. Mead and Bateson used these two photographs to illustrate the concepts of visual and kinesthetic learning: the pupil learns either by observing an act or by having his body moved into the correct positions by a teacher. They argued that this teaches passivity and “a separate awareness in different parts of the body.”
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Gregory Bateson, photographer. Nang Oera teaching his son Karba, aged 393 days, to play the xylophone. Bajoeng Gedé, Bali, February 5, 1937. Gelatin silver print. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (204a)
Gregory Bateson, photographer. I Mario of Tabanan teaching I Dewa P. Djaja of Kedere to dance. Tabanan, Bali, December 1, 1936. Gelatin silver print. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (204c)
Mead and Bateson evolved a method in which she took notes on a scene while he took still and moving picture photographs, with her drawing his attention to scenes occurring outside his view. When she typed up her notes, she would include the date of the event at the top right and the date typed at the top left. She inserted the time of day at various points so her notes could be synchronized with other data collected, and she also indicated when still and moving picture film was shot. Mead's running narrative of events is in a column to the left and other thoughts or stage directions are on the right. This photograph shows I Karbo helping give I Sami a bath. Mead's notes at 9.46 and 9.47 indicate that Leicas (still photos) were taken of this activity.
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Margaret Mead. “Bathing I Sami (Sama),” field notes for April 30, 1937. Bajoeng Gedé, Bali. Typescript. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (204g)
Gregory Bateson, photographer. I Karbo, 14 ½ months, splashing water on I Sami, 7 months, who is in a wash tub, April 30, 1937. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (204e)