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In Search of Continuity in Discontinuity


G. Asha

WILLING TO LEARN: PASSAGES OF PERSONAL DISCOVERY
By Mary Catherine Bateson
Steerforth Press, 2004, pp. 458, $27.00

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 10 October 2005

Mary Catherine Bateson refuses to be easily classified. The only daughter of two famous parents, Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, she was inducted into the life of the mind at a very young age. ‘ Participant observation’ was not something she merely learned as a graduate student but a way of life that she picked up at home. This book is a collection of essays and transcribed talks spanning a period of over forty years. For those of us who like demarcations, it is divided into four sections – Family Matters, The Shapes of Lives – Age and Gender, Culture and Conviction and Ways of Knowing. But there are underlying themes that connect these sections and again and again one goes back and forth trying to make sense of how all these threads ultimately weave to produce the special tapestry of this unique woman’s life.   Though Mary got her Ph.D in Linguistics and Middle Eastern studies, she soon found herself in the Philippines with her husband J. Barkev Kassarjian, an Armenian. Like many women who followed their husband’s careers in the U.S in the late sixties, she found herself changing fields and becoming an anthropologist like both her parents. Back in the U.S she worked on mother-infant communication and ritualization. From 1972-79, she spent time in Iran where her husband was teaching at a newly established school of management, while she too was actively involved in research and teaching. Back in the U.S in 1979 after the revolution in Iran, she found herself unemployed. She finally became Dean of faculty at Amherst College and later its President. She took leave several times to either complete books or due to illness. She also taught at Spelman, a Black women’s college and finally retired from George Mason University as the Clarence J. Robinson Professor of Anthropology. She continues to hold a visiting professorship of Education at Harvard.   The reader might wonder at this stage as to why I have gone into such details about her resume. To some extent to describe her life in a nutshell in conventional terms. But more so to illustrate one of the overarching themes of her life – that of finding continuity in discontinuity. She returns to this theme either while discussing her own life or that of her friends and students. Her book Composing a Life is a collection of narratives with friends whose ...


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