Not Even Wrong: Margaret Mead, Derek Freeman, and the Samoans

Not Even Wrong: Margaret Mead, Derek Freeman, and the Samoans

Not Even Wrong: Margaret Mead, Derek Freeman, and the Samoans

Not Even Wrong: Margaret Mead, Derek Freeman, and the Samoans

Excerpt

Occasionally a message carried by the media finds an audience so eager to receive it that it is willing to suspend all critical judgment and adopt the message as its own. So it was with Margaret Mead's celebrated Coming of Age in Samoa. First published in 1928 by William Morrow & Company, it eventually had numerous printings in several editions. Other English language publishers have come out with their own editions; the international impact of the book may be indicated by the fact that it has been published in fifteen languages in addition to English.Generations of college students, including my own and several that I have taught, have read Coming of Age (hereafter CA) as an assigned reading in one course or another.

And what was it that the susceptible audience was so eager to find supported by the scientific establishment? The message that we awaited was confirmation of a vague ideological claim of the potency of culture as compared to biology in accounting for differences both within and between societies. Mead offered her study of a small island in the Samoan archipelago as a test case for the power of culture versus biology.She maintained that contrary to the views of such influential psychologists as G. Stanley Hall (1904), adolescence was not a biologically determined "period in which idealism flowered . . .

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