The Trashing of Margaret Mead: Anatomy of an Anthropological Controversy (Studies in American Thought and Culture)
In The Trashing of Margaret Mead, Paul Shankman explores the many dimensions of the Mead-Freeman controversy as it developed publicly and as it played out privately, including the personal relationships, professional rivalries, and larger-than-life personalities that drove it. Providing a critical perspective on Freeman’s arguments, Shankman reviews key questions about Samoan sexuality, the alleged hoaxing of Mead, and the meaning of the controversy. Why were Freeman’s arguments so readily accepted by pundits outside the field of anthropology? What did Samoans themselves think? Can Mead’s reputation be salvaged from the quicksand of controversy? Written in an engaging, clear style and based on a careful review of the evidence, The Trashing of Margaret Mead illuminates questions of enduring significance to the academy and beyond.
interacting with Samoans over a period of several months. In fact, her field experience in Samoa seems to have been more positive than Malinowski’s in Mailu. But if Mead did not meet Freeman’s standard of ethnographic experience set by Malinowski in the Trobriands, how good an ethnographer could she have been? Malinowski himself provided an answer to this question. After reading Coming of Age in Samoa, he lavishly praised Mead’s work in comments that appeared on the book’s cover, endorsing it as
originally conceived and written. It began as a professional report. From Academic Report to Best Seller One of Mead’s first obligations on returning from the islands in 1926 was to write up her data as a scientific report for the National Research Council, one of the two institutions that sponsored her research. So she set about writing an ethnography of Samoan adolescence under the supervision of Boas. At the time there were very few studies of adolescence in other cultures and no models for
room. . . . You needed a precise relationship between the sexes, so that no one questioned the duty of boys to cross the seas and fight while girls wrote them cheerful letters from home, girls you knew were still pure because they let you touch them here but not there, explaining that they were saving themselves for marriage. . . . Later the rules would change. But we didn’t know that then. We didn’t know.30 Thus, in the early twentieth century there was still a socially approved norm in which
floor. In these circumstances, a young man would attempt to quietly crawl to the girl’s mat at night. She was surrounded by relatives determined to protect her from a potential “sleep crawler” (moetotolo or moetolo). So the young man would wait until everyone in the house seemed to be asleep and then, with great stealth, crawl to the girl’s side and quietly awaken her. This encounter might be prearranged or not. If not, the boy hoped that the girl would be flattered by his attention or at least
fingers over the bride’s upper lip, before holding his hand for all present to witness the proof of her virginity. At this the female supporters of the bride rushed forward to obtain a portion of the smear upon themselves before dancing naked and hitting their heads with stones until their own blood ran down in streams, in sympathy with, and in honor of, the virgin bride. The husband, meanwhile, wiped his hands on a piece of white barkcloth which he wore around his waist for the rest of the day