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

By Derek Freeman | Go to book overview

Afterword

IN 1939, WHEN MARGARET MEAD was writing in New York of how the ideological "battle" she had fought since beginning her fieldwork in Samoa in 1925 had been "won," I was a twenty-two- year-old university student in Wellington, New Zealand, already a keen admirer of her accomplishments and determined, if at all possible, to travel to the islands of Samoa to extend there, through inquiries of my own, her research of some fourteen years earlier. 1

At Victoria University College, I became a student of Dr. Ernest Beaglehole, who had come to the college in 1937 after studying anthropology with Sapir at Yale, and had done fieldwork as a Bishop Museum Fellow on Pukapuka, an isolated atoll in the Cook Islands of Central Polynesia. Beaglehole's approach to anthropology, as Thomas Gladwin has noted, was "in many ways similar to that of Margaret Mead," with his attention being focused, as was Mead's, on "the shaping of personality by the totality of expectations and pressures exerted on and communicated to a person by other persons sharing the same culture." In the late 1930s, Ernest Beaglehole imparted this approach to me at Victoria University College while extolling the virtues of Dr. Margaret Mead Coming of Age in Samoa. I soon became an enthusiastic proponent of cultural determinism, and in my "Anatomy of Mind" of September 1938, I echoed Franz Boas and Margaret Mead, declaring that "the aims and desires that determine behavior" are all derived from "the social environment." 2

In his "Polynesian Anthropology Today," published in the American Anthropologist in 1937, Ernest Beaglehole noted that although Margaret Mead's studies had "adequately covered" Manu'a in Eastern Samoa, there remained "other islands of the Samoan group" and that "in order to study pattern and pattern variation in one of the largest and most interesting groups in Western Polynesia," there was a "vital need for studies at least from Upolu and Savai'i." From 1920 onward,

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