Theodore Schwartz

Photograph of of a person sitting with a video camera
Image description: A man wearing brown shorts sits on a surface of wood planks floating on a body of water. He is holding up a video camera and apparently filming something. Behind him there is another mostly obscured person and a cooler. The body of water extends out to the horizon where it meets a cloudy blue sky.
Caption: Theodore Schwartz

1928 – 2021

Theodore Schwartz, professor emeritus of anthropology, University of California, San Diego, died at his home in Del Mar, California, on May 5. He was a founder of the Society for Psychological Anthropology and its journal, Ethos. In 2003, the society gave him its Lifetime Achievement Award. He edited or co-edited two important volumes in the history of psychological anthropology: New Directions in Psychological Anthropology (1992, edited with Geoffrey M. White and Catherine Lutz), and Socialization as Cultural Communication: Development of a Theme in the Work of Margaret Mead (1980). His article “The Size and Shape of a Culture” is recognized as a classic exposition of a “distributional” model of culture (in Barth, F., ed., Scale and social Organization, 1978). His early ethnography, The Paliau Movement in the Admiralty Islands, 1946-1954, appeared in the Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History in 1962. His new, longitudinal ethnography of the Paliau Movement—Like Fire: The Paliau Movement and Millenarianism in Melanesia—will be available this year from ANU Press.

Schwartz was A.I. Hallowell’s graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania. But in 1953, Margaret Mead sought an assistant for research on Manus Island, in what was then the Australian-governed Territory of Papua and New Guinea. Hallowell encouraged Schwartz to apply for the post. Mead wanted to see what she’d heard was an indigenous push for sweeping social change, later known as the Paliau Movement. She returned to New York after six months, but Schwartz (and his wife at the time, Lenora Shargo) stayed on. They soon discovered that many Paliau Movement adherents were also preparing for the return of their dead ancestors bearing unlimited wealth (i.e., that there was a cargo cult going on). Schwartz reported this in a letter to Mead, but she was already composing her account of the Movement—New Lives for Old (1956)—and chose to ignore this discordant note. Schwartz, however, returned to Manus many times to observe the Movement’s transformations.

Schwartz inspired my own research in (as of 1975) independent Papua New Guinea (PNG) by taking me to Manus as his research assistant in 1973 (along with Geoffrey White and Edwin Hutchins). Schwartz himself spent more than seven years in PNG. He always intended to publish a summation of his wealth of data on the Paliau Movement and the fruit of his years of reflection. But as these riches accumulated, his eyesight, always bad, deteriorated. So, in 2013, when Schwartz was 85, he and I agreed to collaborate, and in 2020 ANU Press accepted Like Fire for publication.

Schwartz was an avid open-water ocean swimmer, despite his abysmal vision. During his years in Mexico, he dropped acid with Timothy Leary, but was unimpressed. During his years in Paris, he attended the lectures of Claude Lévi-Strauss. He found this more stimulating than LSD, but no more life-changing. He thought for himself, despised cant, created bonsai, sung with feeling, and enriched many lives.

(Michael French Smith)

Cite as: Smith, Michael French. 2021. “Theodore Schwartz.” Anthropology News website, June 4, 2021.

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