Margaret Mead and the Emergence of American Cosmopolitanism

Margaret Mead’s career took off in 1928 with the publication of Coming of Age in Samoa. Within ten years, she was the best-known academic in the United States, a role she enjoyed all of her life. In On Creating a Usable Culture: Margaret Mead and the Emergence of American Cosmopolitanism, Maureen A. Molloy explores how Mead was influenced by, and influenced, the meanings of American culture and secured for herself a unique and enduring place in the American popular imagination. She considers this in relation to Mead’s four popular ethnographies written between the wars (Coming of Age in Samoa, Growing Up in New Guinea, The Changing Culture of an Indian Tribe, and Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies) and the academic, middle-brow, and popular responses to them.

On Creating a Usable Culture presents a lucid and intriguing analysis of Margaret Mead’s place in U.S. culture in the 1920s and 1930s. By focusing on Mead’s early work at this important moment in the search for the meanings of ‘American,’ Maureen Molloy reveals both the relevance of that society to the genesis of Mead’s career as a public intellectual and why Americans were so receptive to her studies of Samoa, New Guinea, and Native America. Malloy also skillfully situates Mead, the anthropologist, within the intellectual world of the ‘arbiters of American culture’ who both criticized U.S. society and hoped to redefine it.”—Julia E. Liss, Scripps College

March 2008 / ISBN 978-0-8248-3116-5 / $39.00 (CLOTH)