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

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Basic Books, 1999 - Social Science - 279 pages
For most of the twentieth century, Margaret Mead's renowned book Coming of Age in Samoa has validated an antievolutionary anthropological paradigm that assumes that culture is the overwhelming determinant of human behavior. Her account of female adolescent sexuality in Samoa initiated a career that led to Margaret Mead becoming ”indisputably the most publicly celebrated scientist in America.” But what if her study wasn't all it appeared to be? What if, having neglected the problem she had been sent to investigate, she relied at the last moment on the tales of two traveling companions who jokingly misled her about the sexual behavior of Samoan girls? What if her famous study was based on a hoax?In The Fateful Hoaxing of Margaret Mead, Derek Freeman addresses these issues in a detailed historical analysis of Margaret Mead's Samoan researches and of her training in New York by Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict. By examining hitherto unpublished correspondence between Mead, her mentor Franz Boas and others—as well as the sworn testimony of Fa'apua'a Fa'am, one of Mead's traveling companions of 1926—Freeman provides compelling evidence that one of the most influential anthropological studies of the twentieth century was unwittingly based on the mischievous joking of the investigator's informants.But The Fateful Hoaxing of Margaret Mead goes beyond a historical account of how the hoax took place; it is an examination of how Mead's Boasian training set her up to be hoaxed—and set others up to accept her conclusions. The book is more than a correction of scientific error: It is a crucial step toward rethinking the foundations of social science and the overly relativistic worldview of much of the modern world.

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The Incorrigible Idealist
Studying with Franz Boas

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About the author (1999)

Derek Freeman is a fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia. For over forty years he has been either a professoral fellow or a professor in the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies in the Institute of Advanced Studies at the Australian National University. He has made a lifelong study of the people of Samoa and, during recent years, has done major historical research in Samoa, the Library of Congress, and elsewhere on Margaret Mead’s Samoan fieldwork of 1925-1926.

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