The Fateful Hoaxing of Margaret Mead: A Historical Analysis of Her Samoan Research

By Derek Freeman | Go to book overview

11
The Ides of March

MEAD'S MAIN REASON FOR GOING to the remote islands of Ofu and Olosega, as she stated it to Boas, was to "round out" the ethnology of Manu'a that she was writing "for the Bishop Museum." This was the first direct indication she gave Boas of the depth of her involvement with ethnological inquiry at the expense of the research she had been appointed to undertake in Manu'a as a national research fellow in the biological sciences. Boas was, moreover, being informed of a fait accompli. Before Mead's letter reached him, her research in Manu'a was at an end and she had set out for the south of France.

In 1931, in a letter to Ralph Linton, Mead wrote of her Bishop Museum monograph on Manu'a, published in 1930 as Social Organization of Manu'a, that "from the standpoint of my fellowship grant and my instructors some of it represents an ethnological fling." Again, in her introduction of 1968 to the second edition of Social Organization of Manu'a, she confessed that because she had been "explicitly instructed by Professor Boas to resist the temptation to do standard ethnography," the "specific ethnographic materials" in this monograph had been "almost boot-legged." This is a considerable understatement. In 1968, Mead stated that Fitiuta, as well as Ofu and Olosega, were places "where I abandoned my interest in children and socially unimportant adolescents and concentrated on adults of high rank and superior knowledge." This abandonment of research on adolescent girls to "do ethnology" had begun with Mead's visit to Fitiuta, which had commenced on February 20, 1926. This was just five days after she had written the letter to Boas in which she listed the information she was due to collect on sixty-six girls by the end of March 1926, after which their "sexual life" would still remain "for special in

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