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At Home She Feels Like a Tourist

Comrades!

For those of you who hold the fickle science of anthropology close to their heart as much as yours truly does, here’s a wee quote from Margaret Mead’s otherwise outstanding work Coming of Age in Samoa:


… a[n American] girl’s father may be a Presbyterian, an imperialist, a vegetarian, a teetotaller, with a strong literary preference for Edmund Burke, a believer in the open shop and a high tariff, who believes that women’s place is in the home, that young girls should wear corsets, not roll their stockings, not smoke, nor go riding with young men in the evening. But her mother’s father may be a Low Episcopalian, a believer in high living, a strong advocate of States’ Rights and the Monroe Doctrine, who reads Rabelais, likes to go to musical shows and horse races. Her aunt is an agnostic, an ardent advocate of women’s rights, an internationalist who rests all her hopes on Esperanto, is devoted to Bernard Shaw, and spends her spare time in campaigns of anti-vivisection. Her elder brother, whom she admires exceedingly, has just spent two years at Oxford. He is an Anglo-Catholic, an enthusiast concerning all things medieval, writes mystical poetry, reads Chesterton, and means to devote his life to seeking for the lost secret of medieval stained glass. Her mother’s younger brother is an engineer, a strict materialist, who never recovered from reading Haeckel in his youth; he scorns art, believes that science will save the world, scoffs at everything that was said and thought before the nineteenth century, and ruins his health by experiments in the scientific elimination of sleep. Her mother is of a quietistic frame of mind, very much interested in Indian philosophy, a pacifist, a strict non-participator in life, who in spite of her daughter’s devotion to her will not make any move to enlist her enthusiasms. And this may be within the girl’s own household. Add to it the groups represented, defended, advocated by her friends, her teachers, and the books which she reads by accident, and the list of possible enthusiasms, of suggested allegiances, incompatible with one another, becomes appalling.

Comrades! The total cluesness of Mead as to what constitutes a typical family in the part of the world she comes from illustrates to my mind the state of emergency anthropology finds itself in.  Although Mead’s work was published in 1928, the miscalculation of ‘developed’, ‘western’,'modern’ societies is still the bleeding wound of anthropology.

Here is a song from the 1980’s post-punk legends ‘Gang of Four’ which illustrates the problem better than any combination of words in prose form can.

Stay Vigilant
Uncle Joe


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