Re: Margaret Mead Debunked?

Damien Broderick (
Sun, 21 Dec 1997 11:52:22 +0000

At 09:16 AM 12/20/97 -0500, Daniel wrote:

>The book is by D. Freeman and is titled _Margaret Mead and Somoa:
>The Making and Unmaking of an Antropological Myth_ (1983). The
>case if sometimes contrasted with that of Jane Goodall. [...]
>IMHO, Goodall was a scientist and Mead an ideologue. I'm surprised
>it would even arise as a point of controversy on this list.

Freeman's version is by no means universally accepted by scholars. In
Australian anthropological circles (his home base), he tends to be
dismissed as a somewhat unstable figure with a bee in his bonnet and a chip
on his shoulder. I have no special knowledge of my own to add to this.

As an example of on-going debate, here's an URL

for a relevant book:


An Evaluation of the Mead-Freeman Controversy

James E. Cote
University of Western Ontario
A Volume in the Research Monographs in Adolescence Series

The outline strikes me as somewhat mealy-mouthed but indicative, e.g.:

"While much has been written about this controversy during the past decade,
a gap exists in the sense
that most of the publicity about Mead's work has missed her main focus
concerning the processes
governing the "coming of age" of her informants. A valuable historical
document and a pioneering
study, Mead's book anticipated changes that are still unfolding today in
the field of human
development. The preoccupation with issues tangential to her main focus --
issues involving the
Samoan ethos and character -- have not only diverted a clear analysis of
Mead's work, they have
also led to the creation of a number of myths and misconceptions about Mead
and her book. The
author also has an interest in Mead's original focus on the relative impact
of biological and cultural
influences in shaping the behavior of those coming of age -- in all
societies. Despite what has been
said by her critics, not only was this a crucial issue during the time of
her study, but it is also an issue
that is now just beginning to be understood some 60 years later. In
addition, the issue of biology
versus culture -- the so-called nature-nurture debate -- carries with it
many political implications. In
the case of the Mead-Freeman controversy, this political agenda looms large
-- an agenda which is
clearly spelled out in this book."

As usual, dichtomomies are not as cut&dried as they might appear at first...

Damien Broderick