Mary Catherine Bateson

Mary Catherine Bateson (December 8, 1939 – January 2, 2021) was an American cultural anthropologist and writer whose work explored themes of life, learning, and the human experience. Born in New York City to renowned anthropologists Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, Mary Catherine was raised in an intellectually stimulating environment that shaped her future career.

Bateson received her early education at the Brearley School before earning her B.A. from Radcliffe College in 1960. She then pursued a Ph.D. in linguistics and Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, where her dissertation examined linguistic patterns in pre-Islamic Arabic poetry.

Throughout her career, Bateson’s research interests evolved from human patterns of communication to highly-formalistic studies, marking her transition into anthropology. Her unique approach to writing, which drew from her personal experiences as a woman, daughter, mother, scholar, and anthropologist, distinguished her from her contemporaries. Bateson’s engaging style encouraged readers to question her ideas and explore their own thoughts, making her work both accessible and thought-provoking.

Bateson’s memoir, “With a Daughter’s Eye,” was a pivotal work that reflected on her early life with her famous parents and served as a catalyst for self-discovery. This introspective piece laid the foundation for her subsequent book, “Composing a Life,” in which she skillfully drew parallels between her own journey as a scholar and the misogynistic reality of the 1980s, questioning gender expectations and the challenges faced by women in a male-dominated world.

As an “activist for peace and justice,” Bateson’s work extended beyond anthropology, incorporating cross-cultural insights and observations into her writings. Her commitment to lifelong learning and belief in the importance of remaining engaged in the world, even in later years, made her a source of inspiration for many.

Bateson’s legacy is preserved through her numerous published works, including “Composing a Further Life: The Age of Active Wisdom,” “Willing to Learn: Passages of Personal Discovery,” and “Peripheral Visions – Learning Along the Way.” These books continue to influence readers, particularly feminists who question gendered expectations and seek to challenge the status quo.

In addition to her writing, Bateson taught at several prestigious institutions, including Harvard, Amherst, and George Mason University. She was a fellow of the International Leadership Forum and served as the president of the Institute for Intercultural Studies in New York until 2010.

Bateson was married to Barkev Kassarjian, a professor of management at Babson College, from 1960 until her death. They had one daughter, Sevanne Margaret, and two grandsons.

On January 2, 2021, Mary Catherine Bateson passed away at the age of 81 in a hospice near her home in Hancock, New Hampshire, due to complications from brain damage sustained in a fall a few months earlier. Her contributions to the fields of anthropology, literature, and gender studies, as well as her unique perspective and engaging writing style, continue to inspire and influence generations of scholars and readers alike.