Margaret Mead & Gregory Bateson

Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson were actually a married couple of anthropologists who worked together on several projects. While they later divorced in 1950 after having a girl, they still remained friends until death.

Margaret Mead was a cultural anthropologist from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who focused on broadening sexual mores within a context of traditional Western religious life. She was known to be very influential for the 1960’s sexual revolution, as a women’s rights activist. Mead is also credited for changing the way we study different human cultures.

Gregory Bateson was born in Grantchester, England. As an anthropologist, social scientist, and cyberneticist, he was greatly recognized for incorporating systems to cultural behavior. Bateson had the desire to re-introduce “the mind” back into scientific equations.

Mead and Bateson met one another in 1933, in New Guinea, and soon enough were working on anthropologic films together. The two intended to characterize schemas based on gender and temperament, wanting to center around the idea of child development, specifically comparing them to Western civilization. They worked together, Mead running field notes and Bateson being in charge of the photographic record. After observing the people of Bali, the pair discovered that mothers in this civilization ignore their child when they express extreme emotion of “affection or temper,” instead of giving them all the attention like those in Western cultures. Their work in Bali was some of the first uses of photography as a primary recording device rather than just as illustration.

Their films were all generally in black and white, since that was the norm at the time of their research. However, the couple had very different research styles. Bateson preferred to just observe enough as a small basis for his own theories and interests to go from there, while Mead was really passionate for specific details and intricate patterns. Their differences worked for them in the end, as during their research, Mead was responsible for their project’s detailed focus and Bateson took all photos.

Their film, Trance and Dance in Bali, was very influential for its time. It depicts a performance of Balinese people dancing while going through violent trances, stabbing themselves with daggers without injury. They are then restored to consciousness with hoy water and incense. It showed the difference in our society, in which trances such as these may be considered one of violence and possibly schizophrenia, but in another it is normal or sacred.

 

Bathing Babies in Three Cultures, is intended to show the different parenting methods between Balinese and New Guinea children from American practices. This is depicted through the differentiating bathing processes. In it, a native mother washes her own ad neighbor’s children in a river—washes them standing, holding the kid firmly by the arm. She splashes them with water then lifts them to the bank, shaking the child in the air to dry.

Both Mead and Bateson left great legacies within the anthropological world. It has been said that without these two, many cultural traditions of several societies may have been forgotten.