Margaret Mead: Human Nature and the Power of Culture
Sections: Shaping Forces | To the Field and Back | “Learning to Live in One World”

Margaret Mead and Rhoda MetrauxThe World War II period marked a shift in Mead's work. She increasingly paid more attention to contemporary so-called “complex” cultures, including the United States, and less time to fieldwork among distant cultures. She also began commenting on issues of direct concern to American society. One of Mead's major interests during the war and postwar period was global interdependence, and she became increasingly involved in international organizations working on global human issues. In addition to her continued writing of popular books and magazine articles, she traveled frequently within the U.S. and overseas. She lectured to diverse groups, did radio interviews, and, from the early years of the new medium, appeared on television. In these years, Mead continued to take notes incessantly, filling nearly 200 volumes of notebooks on her everyday activities.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Mead was easily identified by her tall, forked walking stick, which she began using after recovering from a break in a chronically weak ankle in 1960, and her trademark cape. In addition to becoming widely recognized, Mead became an increasingly controversial figure during this period and was criticized by some people, including other anthropologists, for offering her views on many different contemporary topics outside the scope of her research or expertise.

When Mead died in 1978, she was widely eulogized. Senator Jacob K. Javits of New York recalled her lasting contribution in a eulogy in the Congressional Record: “Margaret Mead lives on. She is with us in the brilliant studies she conducted on human behavior; she lives on in the many books she has authored . . . her ideas thrive in the minds of her students whom she stimulated with her zeal and zest for the search for knowledge and truth.”