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Margaret Mead

2013-09-07 20:35:42 from en8848 Click:

Margaret Mead (December 16, 1901 – November 15, 1978) was an American cultural anthropologist, who was frequently a featured writer and speaker in the mass media throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

 

She was both a popularizer of the insights of anthropology into modern American and Western culture, and also a respected, if controversial, academic anthropologist. Her reports about the attitudes towards sex in South Pacific and Southeast Asian traditional cultures amply informed the 1960s sexual revolution. Mead was a champion of broadened sexual mores within a context of traditional western religious life.

 

An Anglican Christian, she played a considerable part in the drafting of the 1979 American Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.

 

Birth, early family life and education

Mead was the first of five children, born into a Quaker family, and raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Her father, Edward Sherwood Mead, was a professor of finance at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and her mother, Emily Fogg Mead,was a sociologist who studied Italian immigrants. Her sister Katharine (1906-1907) died at the age of nine months. This was a traumatic event for Mead, who had named this baby, and thoughts of her lost sister permeated her daydreams for many years.Her family moved frequently, so her early education alternated between home-schooling and traditional schools. Margaret studied one year, 1919, at DePauw University, then transferred to Barnard College where she earned her Bachelor's degree in 1923.

 

She studied with Professor Franz Boas and Dr. Ruth Benedict at Columbia University before earning her Master's in 1924. Mead set out in 1925 to do fieldwork in Polynesia. In 1926, she joined the American Museum of Natural History, New York City, as assistant curator. She received her Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1929.

 

Both of Mead's surviving sisters were married to famous men. Elizabeth Mead (1909-1983), an artist and teacher, married cartoonist William Steig, and Priscilla Mead (1911-1959) married author Leo Rosten. Mead also had a brother.

 

Career and later life

During World War II, Mead served as executive secretary of the National Research Council's Committee on Food Habits. She served as curator of ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History from 1946 to 1969. She taught at The New School and Columbia University, where she was an adjunct professor from 1954 to 1978. She was a professor of anthropology and chair of the Division of Social Sciences at Fordham University's Lincoln Center campus from 1968 to 1970, founding their anthropology department. Following the Ruth Benedict's example, Mead focused her research on problems of child rearing, personality, and culture. She served as President of the American Anthropological Association in 1960. She held various positions in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, notably president in 1975 and chair of the executive committee of the board of directors in 1976.

 

Mead was featured on two record albums published by Folkways Records. The first, released in 1959, An Interview With Margaret Mead, explored the topics of morals and anthropology. In 1971, she was included in a compilation of talks by prominent women, But the Women Rose, Vol.2: Voices of Women in American History.

 

In later life, Mead was a mentor to many young anthropologists and sociologists, including Jean Houston.

Mead died of pancreatic cancer on November 15, 1978. She was buried at Trinity Episcopal Church in Buckingham, Pennsylvania

 

Work

Coming of Age in Samoa

Main article: Coming of Age in Samoa

 

Samoan girl, c. 1896In the foreword to Coming of Age in Samoa, Mead's advisor, Franz Boas, wrote of its significance:

 

"Courtesy, modesty, good manners, conformity to definite ethical standards are universal, but what constitutes courtesy, modesty, very good manners, and definite ethical standards is not universal. It is instructive to know that standards differ in the most unexpected ways."

 

Boas went on to point out that at the time of publication, many Americans had begun to discuss the problems faced by young people (particularly women) as they pass through adolescence as "unavoidable periods of adjustment". Boas felt that a study of the problems faced by adolescents in another culture would be illuminating.

 

And so, as Mead herself described the goal of her research: "I have tried to answer the question which sent me to Samoa: Are the disturbances which vex our adolescents due to the nature of adolescence itself or to the civilization? Under different conditions does adolescence present a different picture?" To answer this question, she conducted her study among a small group of Samoans — a village of 600 people on the island of Ta‘u — in which she got to know, live with, observe, and interview through an interpreter 68 young women between the ages of 9 and 20. She concluded that the passage from childhood to adulthood — adolescence — in Samoa was a smooth transition and not marked by the emotional or psychological distress, anxiety, or confusion seen in the United States.

 

As Boas and Mead expected, this book upset many Westerners when it first appeared in 1928. Many American readers were shocked by her observation of incest that was common in the Samoan culture and that young Samoan women deferred marriage for many years while enjoying casual sex but eventually married, settled down, and successfully reared their own children.[citation needed]

 

In 1983, five years after Mead had died, New Zealand anthropologist Derek Freeman published Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth, in which he challenged Mead's major findings about sexuality in Samoan society, citing statements of her surviving informants' claiming that she had coaxed them into giving her the answers she wanted. After years of discussion, many anthropologists concluded that the truth would probably never be known, although most published accounts of the debate have also raised serious questions about Freeman's critique.

 

Other research areas

Mead has been credited with persuading the American Jewish Committee to sponsor a project to study European Jewish villages, shtetls, in which a team of researchers would conduct mass interviews with Jewish immigrants living in New York City. The resulting book, widely cited for decades, allegedly created the Jewish mother stereotype, a mother intensely loving but controlling to the point of smothering, and engendering guilt in her children through the suffering she professed to undertake for their sakes.

 

She also cofounded the Parapsychological Association, a group advocating for the advancement of parapsychology and psychical research.-from en8848