Adolescent Storm and Stress: An Evaluation of the Mead-Freeman Controversy

Adolescent Storm and Stress: An Evaluation of the Mead-Freeman Controversy

Adolescent Storm and Stress: An Evaluation of the Mead-Freeman Controversy

Adolescent Storm and Stress: An Evaluation of the Mead-Freeman Controversy


In 1928, Margaret Mead published her first book, entitled Coming of Age in Samoa, in which she described to the Western world an exotic culture where people "came of age" with a minimum of "storm and stress." In 1983, Derek Freeman, an Australian anthropologist, published a book in which he systematically attacked Mead's conclusions about that culture and the way people came of age. Since then, a great deal of attention has been directed toward the Mead-Freeman controversy. This book contributes to that controversy and to the general understanding of adolescent storm and stress by undertaking an interdisciplinary analysis of Freeman's criticisms and an assessment of the plausibility of Mead's work. Addressing the issue of what has become of Mead's Samoa of the 1920s, this book historically tracks the nature of the "coming of age in Samoa" to the present, in order to give the reader an understanding of the circumstances confronting young people in contemporary Samoa. It shows that Mead's Samoa has been lost; what was once a place in which most young people came of age with relative ease has become a place where young people experience great difficulty in terms of finding a place in their society, to the point where they currently have one of the highest suicide rates in the world.

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 A valuable historical document and a pioneering study, Mead's book anticipated changes that are still unfolding today in the field of human development.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.


Research Monographs in Adolescence is a series of theoretically grounded empirical works in the form of authored monographs. Drawing from the knowledge and expertise of scholars in multiple disciplines, such as psychology, sociology, and anthropology, the books in this series are written by leaders in the field for their peers in the academic community. These original and state-of-the-art works will be useful as archival material and will serve as valuable resources for upper level undergraduate and graduate courses. the monographs will not only advance our understanding of adolescence through the finest research possible, but will provide information necessary to design useful intervention strategies and to direct social policy.

The premier book in this series, Adolescent Storm and Stress: An Evaluation of the Mead-Freeman Controversy, by sociologist James Côté, is an excellent example of the scholarship to which this series aspires. By providing a compelling and careful examination of critical arguments in the Mead-Freeman controversy, this volume makes a significant contribution to our understanding of adolescent development and the transition to adulthood, while shedding light on the politics of the debate.

Nancy L. Galambos Nancy A. Busch-Rossnagel . . .

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