"Home is the heartland of strangeness," writes anthropologist and English professor Mary Catherine Bateson; there are always parts of others, even our closest intimates, that are utterly unknowable. Full Circles, Overlapping Lives
explores such "strangeness" between individual lives by turning not only to her family history (she is the daughter of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson) but to the stories of her own students.
Bateson teaches a class on "women's life histories" at Spelman College, an all-black women's college in Atlanta, and carefully assembles her students from traditional-age undergrads and older women from outside the school who can offer a different generational perspective. Together they investigate questions about their knowledge of the self and of others through reading multicultural histories of women and by writing their own stories. Bateson is at her best when she draws out her students, finding parallels in their stories with her own well-considered anthropological observations. She's less effective when she wanders off into generalizations about how to live that seem overly didactic and sometimes outdated--the suburbs, for instance, are no longer quite the all-white 1950s hideaway she imagines, where those who don't like the "smell of other people's cooking" escape. Readers who want new tools for thinking about learning, as well as those who loved Bateson's 1989 bestseller Composing a Life, will nevertheless find much to enjoy. --Maria Dolan
From Library Journal
Bateson, a prominent anthropologist and author (Composing a Life), continues to observe and ponder changes in the life cycle. In this book, which evolved from a life-history course she taught at George Mason University and at Spelman College, she draws primarily from a Spelman seminar in which women shared their life stories and read biographies on a diverse group of women. Bateson also shares memories of her mother, anthropologist Margaret Mead, and her father, anthropologist and linguist Gregory Bateson. The result is a richly layered work touching on many issues, including the impact of longer life spans on women's lives and the resulting increase in choices as well as the circles and cycles of ordinary lives. Bateson approaches her work as a "participant observer," and her writing is filled with poetic insight. Particularly engaging are the contributions from African American women at Spelman, whose unity and diversity are explored. A beautifully conceived and written work; recommended for anthropology and women's studies collections.-Joan W. Gartland, Detroit P.L.
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