THE FATEFUL HOAXING OF MARGARET MEAD: A Historical Analysis of Her Samoan Researches by Derek Freeman

THE FATEFUL HOAXING OF MARGARET MEAD: A Historical Analysis of Her Samoan Researches

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Australian anthropologist and weathered debunker of scientific myth Freeman takes a second crack at Margaret Mead, demonstrating that academic pressures and preconceptions made her a natural target for a simple hoax that would change the course of science. In this book, as in his 1983 work Margaret Mead and Samoa, Freeman disassembles a previously unassailable edifice: Mead's 1928 work, Coming of Age in Samoa. Mead's book has been central to the study and teaching of human development since its appearance and was thought to tip the nurture/nature debate once and for all in favor of the culturalist school. What Freeman discovered and documented is that the classic work's central premise, that sexual promiscuity among Samoan girls created an adolescence devoid of angst, was the result of a single conversation with a Samoan friend who was, amazingly, only joking. When questioned in the 1980s, one of Mead's former companions admitted that out of embarrassment in the face of the American's provocative questions, she and her friends had ""fibbed and fibbed."" Freeman's book is not just an attack on an icon--it's an odd apology for a woman who apparently made colossal mistakes. These mistakes were bound to happen, because the young graduate student was indoctrinated by the culturalist school's generalissimo, Franz Boas. Further, ambition and passion for another field got in the way: Mead took on too much when she secretly engaged in unrelated ethnological research. Finally, she came to Samoa with preconceptions based on studies she'd read of sexual behavior in other societies. Freeman's clear, methodical destruction of Mead's work will stun anyone remotely familiar with the subject. There is some repetition from his earlier book, and the bitter struggle he has waged for acceptance shows in the rancor and, at times, plodding insistence of his argumentation. But the lesson rings true: science is as imperfect as scientists are human, and myths are wrought equally by and upon the scientific world.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1998
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Westview