Sunday, February 25, 2018

Was Margaret Mead a Dupe, or a Deceiver?

Re-posted by Nicholas Stix

The Fateful Hoaxing of Margaret Mead: A Historical Analysis of Her Samoan Research October 8, 1999
By Derek Freeman (Author)
Reviewed by Hiram Caton
4.0 out of 5 stars
Was Mead Duped? Or Did She Lie?
February 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover

When her hosts in Manu'a learned that `Makelita' had made them world famous as libertines, they were dismayed by what to them was an abominable slander. And they were dumbfounded that, after showing her the utmost hospitality and cooperation, she could have so grossly betrayed them. They hit on the explanation that someone among them fed her a line of bull (tala pepelo lava).

This was a generous if implausible explanation. Generous, because it avoided taxing her with outright fabrication. Implausible, because Mead's depiction of Samoan promiscuity drives whoredom into the core of the social psyche. She claimed that Samoans have no sense of sin despite their regular church attendance and the admonitions of pastors (`They are able to count [sex] at its true value. . . [they recognize] the essential impersonality of sex attraction which we may well envy them']. She reported masturbation, homosexuality, and lesbianism as common practices that were regarded as `simply play' between casual heterosexual liaisons. In other words, Mead's Samoans, like Mead herself, were bisexual. She attributed the relaxed attitude to pre-marital sex and to adultery to the fact that Samoans have no deep attachments or strong emotional feelings. There is no parent-child bonding for the same reason. These and like claims construct the cultural `pattern' of a society untroubled by the storm and stress of adolescence. Such thinking was the trendy utopianism of the sexual reformers of her era, but it had nothing to do with Samoa until Mead's arrival from New York.

Freeman's book is a mighty effort to convert the Samoan belief in duping into a well-founded conclusion. He touts two `smoking guns'. One is the sworn testimony of Mead's dear friend during her field trip, Fa'apu'a Fa'amu, to the effect that she did indeed tell Mead fibs in reply to her questions about her relations with men. The other is correspondence between Mead and the supervisor of her Samoan research, Franz Boas.

The first smoking gun is a dud. Fa'amu testified only that she told Mead that `We spend nights with boys, yes, with boys!' and similar non-specific allusions. There is no express admission that intercourse occurred. There is no hint whatever of lesbianism. The duping hypothesis predicts that Mead's field notes would record the information given her by Fa'amu. In fact, the notes never attribute any information to her. The natural conclusion is that despite the affection, Mead did not regard her friend as an informant. It is improbable, in any case, that Mead credited Fa'amu's tease, partly because her notes show that she was alert to tall tales and partly because Fa'amu's status as a taupou, or ceremonial virgin, meant that she was never unchaperoned and hence had no opportunity for `spending nights with boys'. Finally, Fa'amu's non-specific allusions added nothing to what Mead's notes show she already believed she knew about Samoan promiscuity. In sum, the duping episode is irrelevant to understanding how Mead managed get Samoan moeurs so desperately wrong. Since the second smoking gun depends on the first, it too is a dud.

Did she make it up then? Although he repeatedly defends Mead's research integrity, Freeman destroys his noble defense by cataloguing deceit after deceit in things small and great. Mead indeed seems to have been a gamester who got a buzz from pulling the wool over people's eyes. And this was her reputation among her colleagues, who called her `the lady novelist', a `mythmaker', given to exaggeration and hyperbole, to sloppy and impressionistic description of no great reliability. The eminent Edward Sapir bluntly called her a `pathological liar'.

Freeman shows that Mead's fieldwork was premised on two strategic deceits. She concealed from her hosts her married status. By passing herself off as a virgin, she was honored by three villages with title of taupou, which conferred a great advantage-she had, as she said, `rank to burn' and could `order people about'. She second strategic deceit was perpetrated on her supervisor, Franz Boas and indirectly on her funding sponsor, the National Research Council. Boas and the Council expected her to research the personality of adolescent girls, to determine the extent to which nature (puberty) or culture influenced adolescent conflict. But Mead wasn't interested in this project. She accepted it because it got her a ticket to the field. Her real interest was ethnography. Unbeknownst to Boas, Mead struck an agreement with the Bishop Museum (Honolulu) to prepare a monograph on Samoa. Freeman shows by a meticulous reconstruction of her activities that she spent no more than four or five weeks on the funded project, hardly time enough for a systematic investigation of this complex and demanding subject. This is confirmed by her sparse field notes on the adolescent project.

Her strategic impostures led to the massive fraud that made her famous. Having little data, she just made it up and pretended, in the appendices of Coming of Age, to have found it. Mead seems to have delighted in slipping mickies as a kind of sport. She says, for example, that Samoa was untroubled by natural disasters. Yet it's common knowledge that no island is spared the ravages of storm, flood and occasional tsunamis. In fact, a hurricane devastated Manu'a in January of the year of her visit. She says that Samoan children alternately crawl or walk until the age of `three or four'. Every caregiver knows that once the child learns to walk, next it runs and never returns to crawling. She seems to have been supremely confident that no one would call her hand on such whoppers. Deception was so habitual that she lied gratuitously. Thus she told Boas that she was seasick for six weeks (!!) on her return voyage, while in fact she was romancing a new beau-love sick, not seasick. It's not surprising that her epistemological mottoes were: `The truth isn't out there, you know' and `If it isn't [true], it ought to be'.

Freeman's claim that the hoax `effectively solve[s] the enigma of Margaret Mead's research' unfortunately follows the fashion of substituting victimhood for active will. He would have us see her as the unwitting pawn of a mythopoetic fate. Fiddlesticks! Mead's behavior in Manu'a was a disgrace to herself and to her profession. Such conduct had no logical relation to Boasian anthropology. It was entirely her doing. Having deceived her hosts, she disgraced the sacrosanct taupou title by having affairs. That too was her personal choice. She went on to invent a salacious bisexual Samoa as a preamble to the part of Coming of Age that made her famous--her advocacy of educational, family, and sexual reform in America.

Mead's research presents no enigma. She always went to the field to find what she wanted to find-an uplifting story to boost a current social reform. As for those `primitives' who served as fodder, well, they were expendable in the great struggle to reform the world.


Anonymous said...

Mead's inventions about the Samoans' sexual libertinism were rationalizations of her own sexual misbehavior. Read E. Michael Jones' "Degenerate Moderns."

Anonymous said...

jerry pdx
Just goes to show how primal people are exploited by so called "scientists" for their own personal agendas. Who can forget the African Dogon tribe who supposedly had advanced mathematics and astronomical knowledge beyond anything poor old whitey could figure out? Turns out it was two white anthropologists feeding them information in order to stage a race hoax, something that continues with modern negroes to this day. Also, I remember reading about how researchers supposedly discovered how primal people used telepathy. There's something about that they never mentioned: Primitive people have super normal senses compared to us modern civilization dwellers, they rarely have near sightendess or modern vision problems and research has demonstrated they can have hearing so acute they can hear a whisper the length of a football field. Astounding, but something that is credible, unlike supposed paranormal senses. My guess is that scientists, who were near blind and deaf in comparison, thought heightened senses were evidence of "telepathy".

Anonymous said...

What's the anthropological interpretation of the new Humira ad (if you feel like checking Youtube,or stumbling upon it via regular TV).
White guy has a black family--and he's on Humira..THIS commercial,which appears to be part of a series of adventures,has the white guy taking his black "daughter"/step-daughter out for a walk to get ice cream.He has a black wife and another black kid,seen briefly.There's another commercial,from a different company,out with the same set-up,even though white guys hardly ever marry a black woman(less than 1 percent?)
Why would a drug company push this demographic combo in their ads?To prove their acceptance of it--and all things unusual?No wonder the guy needs Humira,I think I need it after seeing the commercial.
The reason for it,escapes me completely.
--GR Anonymous

Nicholas said...


I don't know about the "anthropological interpretation," but how about the most cynical possible interpretation, a la Countenance?

1. The home of the most drug ads is presently CNN (old viewer demographics), which loves this sort of visual politics; and

2. Most contemporary advertising firms feel the same way.