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Ruth Benedict

Beyond Relativity, Beyond Pattern

Virginia Heyer Young

Publication Year: 2005

Considered one of the most influential and articulate figures in American anthropology, Ruth Benedict (1887–1948) was trained by Franz Boas and Elsie Clews Parsons and collaborated with the equally renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead, a student of hers with whom she was for a time romantically involved. When Benedict died suddenly at the age of sixty-one, she was popularly known for two best-selling works: Patterns of Culture, which became an exemplary model of the integration of societies, and The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, a study of Japanese culture commissioned by the U.S. government during World War II.
Benedict's lasting contribution to anthropology, however, cannot be appreciated solely through her more famous works. Equally innovative were her unpublished or little-noticed writings, which covered such topics as cross-cultural attributes of free societies, the national cultures of Thailand and Romania, and the comparison of Asian consensus politics with American political patterns. This biography by one of Benedict's last graduate students, Virginia Heyer Young, draws on these works, on Benedict’s correspondence and collaborative work with Margaret Mead, and on unpublished course notes. Young finds the ordering patterns in the rich materials Benedict left in her papers and demonstrates that Benedict was embarking on new interpretive directions in the last decade of her life—bringing her methods of holistic comparison to bear on contemporary cultures and on the dynamics of social cohesion. Benedict’s work, in fact, anticipated trends in anthropology in the decades to come by projecting a framework of individuals not only shaped by their culture but also using their culture for personal or collective objectives.
Young's arresting and nuanced portrait of Benedict in her last years leads one to wonder what direction American anthropology might have taken had Benedict completed the book she was working on at the time of her death.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v

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Series Editors’ Introduction

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pp. vii-viii

Ruth Benedict’s Patterns of Culture was a bestseller in 1934, catapulting its author to prominence as an articulate spokesperson for examining different cultural patternings. Her ability to write clearly and aesthetically opened the insights of cultural anthropology...

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xii

I could never toss out my graduate school notes from Ruth Benedict’s courses. They became eventually the beginning point for this book. In each culling of my files for an office or house move, I threw out some of my Columbia anthropology notes, but with just...

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1. Ruth Benedict’s Life and Work

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pp. 1-37

Ruth Benedict is a central figure in cultural anthropology, yet her thought is generally known only by one book, Patterns of Culture, published in 1934, fourteen years before her sudden death. Her later books...

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2. The Search for Boas’s Successor

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pp. 39-51

The lengthy process of replacement of the aging Franz Boas in the Columbia University department of anthropology was significant in Ruth Benedict’s career as well as in anthropological history. The history of these deliberations during the 1930s has been recounted in the biographies...

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3. Friendship with Margaret Mead

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pp. 53-76

Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead wrote each other every few weeks or oftener during Mead’s frequent field trips. The correspondence records the dynamics of personal and intellectual encounter between these two quite extraordinary persons...

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4. Beyond Cultural Relativity

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pp. 77-102

Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict designed a project in 1930 that would sponsor fieldwork on North American Indians “with emphasis on . . . the reinterpretation of culture traits that is unique for each cultural center.” Investigations in at least ten...

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5. Beyond Psychological Types

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pp. 103-143

In the Office of War Information (owi), Benedict was assigned the problem of discerning patterns in strategic cultures for general guidance in dealing with their governments and providing specific knowledge that would predict behavior under conditions expected...

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6. Teachers and Students

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pp. 145-162

After Franz Boas’s illness in 1931, he gave up many of his responsibilities, and Ruth Benedict carried on the main work of administration and teaching. She thus was a principal arbiter of a student’s fate, and their opinions of her reflected this. Student accounts...

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7. Ruth Benedict’s Contribution to Anthropology

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pp. 163-200

Ruth Benedict remained interested in the big problems taken on by the nineteenth-century anthropologists and in some of their modes of thought. Although she taught and wrote mainly about the diversity of cultural behavior, she was interested in the...


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pp. 201

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Introduction: Writing the Course “Texts”

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pp. 203-208

From the beginning of her teaching career, Ruth Benedict’s responsibilities had been to take over much of the teaching of cultural anthropology from Franz Boas,who often alone, or with visiting faculty, had taught all four fields and all culture...

Appendix 1: Social Organization of Primitive Peoples

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pp. 209-221

Appendix 2: Personality and Culture

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pp. 223-269

Appendix 3: Seminar in Contemporary European Cultures

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pp. 271-276

Appendix 4: Religions of Primitive Peoples

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pp. 277-297

Appendix 5: Theory, Culture

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pp. 299-330


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pp. 331-339


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pp. 341-357


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pp. 359-379

Further Reading

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E-ISBN-13: 9780803205116
E-ISBN-10: 0803205112

Publication Year: 2005