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Margaret Mead and Samoa Derek Freeman
The author proposes that Mead’s statement that Samoa is a “negative instance” in that it shows that the “emotional stress” of adolescence has cultural rather than biological roots is scientifically refutable by proving that the “depictions” of Samoa that Mead relied on when asserting her thesis are fallacious. (The author himself travelled to Samoa and conducted a fieldwork, which brought him to realization that much of Mead’s writing was inaccurate)
Already set on cultural determinism and having idealized conception of South Sea islands, Mead went to do the fieldwork in order to find evidence for “confuting biological explanations” of human behavior. Because of this approach, Mead focused solely on adolescence and found what she aimed at. Her only informants were Samoan adolescent girl and she had no one to verify the ways about Samoan culture with, skipping the complexity of Samoan culture and deeming it is enough to focus on one segment(adolescence). The communication with her informants was limited as she had little knowledge of not only their culture, but also the Samoan language. She did not immerse in the culture, but lived with “American expatriates”. Her depictions contain contradictions which she could not explain or give a more clear account. Mead missed an important cultural trait(tau fa’ase’e) which led to her giving false depictions of Samoan culture.
The author tactfully points out Meads ethnocentrism and preconceptions( set out to find the evidence for her thesis-cultural determinism) which led to fallacious depictions. The authors underlying idea is that the most plausible anthropological approach is to always question accounts and depictions, as well as conclusions and assumptions.
Samoan Character and the Academic World Holmes and Holmes
The authors propose that Mead’s account was very much influenced by her background(sex, age, education, experience, period in which the fieldwork was conducted), and that her accounts were not entirely false. He also tries to refute Freeman’s commentary on Mead’s work on Samoa as being to dismissive and not taking into account the circumstances of Mead’s fieldwork- not recognizing the value of her accounts and her viewpoint as a young woman.(though Holmes and Holmes also question if Mead’s work is more fiction rather than anything else)
The author points out that life of adolescents in America during the twenties plays a big role in how Mead interpreted accounts of Samoan girls. Mead, being a young woman herself, could more easily penetrate into the lives of Samoan girls than either Freeman or H&H.
H&H main assumption is that the author’s background, in both Mead and Freeman’s case, is crucial to untangling their accounts of Samoan culture. The role of ethnographer and his persona is significant part of ethnographic writings and cannot be ignored, but must be read together with the and between the lines of text they write.
Norms / practice Youth/ Elderly