Friday, February 10, 2012

Derek Freeman and his critique of Margaret Mead

Margaret Mead did her fieldwork on Samoa and Manus in the Pacific with latmul and Mundugamor( Papua New Guinea),on Bali( Indonesia) amd with both native and Euro Americans.Mead was interested  in childhood and adolescence,sexuality and the relation between personality and culture.Mead advocated the use of ethnography in educating the American public about the significance of culture in creating adolescent truma.Her most famous contribution was her study of adolescent sexuality in Samoa.Her Samoan informants did not have adolescent traumas whereas Americans did.She saw  what had formerly been regarded as a universal adolescent truma simply as an aspect of American culture.According to Mead's account Samoan girls had sex with their boyfriends and had no guilt feelings or other hang-ups about it.They did not have any disputes with their parents who simply turned a blind eye.

In 1983 Derek Freeman published Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth in which he presented critique .Mead's investigation of Samoa was theory driven.She set out to prove the theory of her teacher Boas on the primacy of nurture (culture) over nature(biology).Her research in Samoa violated the enthnographic practice of her teacher.It consisted of sitting on a missionary veranda and being visited by four adolescent Samoan girls.In these interviews they shared their sexual fantacies with Mead which she made the basis of her analysis of Samoan society.Defenders of Mead agree that Freeman established her representation of Samoa as false but she gained insights into American culture through her studies.Moreover as a leading member of the Culture and Personality school helped establish psychological anthropology as it is known today.

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