Margaret Mead: The Making of an American Icon

Nancy C. Lutkehaus, Author . Princeton Univ. $29.95 (374p) ISBN 978-0-691-00941-4

As an anthropologist who has herself conducted research in Papua New Guinea, Lutkehaus (Zaria’s Fire ) is well positioned to evaluate renowned forerunner Margaret Mead’s cultural influence in 20th-century American society. Her intriguing thesis examines Mead as a “representative figure” of public concerns and desires—and as a prism through which to view anthropology’s influence on the rapidly changing contours of American life. The argument remains too familiar and superficial, however, to be of much force. Lutkehaus stresses Mead’s early media-savvy participation in the construction of a public persona—from quintessential 1920s flapper to model modern woman, “Grandmother to the World” to emblem of gay rights. Mead had an instinct for resonant social commentary and notoriety. The author emphasizes (as do many Mead biographers) the connection between her subject’s personal life and her academic and popular writing (beginning with her highly influential crossover studies of Samoan adolescence and sexuality), but is too protective of her subject to allow a nuanced reading of Mead’s precise methodology or political liberalism, or their notable entanglement in the relationship between Mead’s version of cultural relativism, the new field of applied anthropology and American hegemony. (Dec.)

Reviewed on: 10/27/2008
Release date: 11/01/2008
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 374 pages - 978-0-691-14808-3
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