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Unformatted text preview: EARL IER CR IT IC ISMS SURFACE I N REACT IONS TO BOOK ON DR. M EAD By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD Published: February 1, 1983 AN undercurrent of professional criticism of Margaret Mead's research methods and intentions has come to the surface as anthropologists reacted yesterday to a new book assailing the late, revered anthropologist's pioneering work with adolescent girls in Samoa. She may have been the dominant figure in the profession for many decades, until her death in 1978, but for years she had been under some attack in academic circles for using what were considered unscientific, impressionistic approaches to the study of primitive cultures. Dr. Mead was aware of such criticism and sought to defend herself in a new preface to the 1973 edition of her classic book, ''Coming of Age in Samoa.'' The most recent and most public assault on her scientific work is by Derek Freeman, professor emeritus of anthropology at the Australian National University, in a soon-to-be-published book, ''Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth.'' Dr. Freeman's charges have already been circulating among leaders in the profession. Among other things, Dr. Freeman concluded that, contrary to Dr. Mead's portrait of Samoans in the 1920's as gentle, serene people who pass through adolescence without stress or anxiety, the Samoan people are intensely competitive, have high rates of homicide and rape, are not given to casual lovemaking and do suffer psychological disturbances stemming from cultural pressures. He spent time with Samoans in the 1940's and 1970's, but said that he interviewed many people who had ''vivid'' recollections of life there in the 1920's, when Dr. Mead spent nine months studying the islanders. Dr. Marvin Harris, professor of anthropology at the University of Florida, said, ''There's been a continuous critique of the methodology employed by Mead in Samoa and New Guinea. There's never been anything other than a good deal of disquiet about her methods.'' In a 1968 book, ''The Rise of Anthropological Theory,'' Dr. Harris criticized Dr. Mead for claiming to know the ''mental orientation'' of the Samoan adolescent girls based on conversations with them, but without any objective testing. Still, Dr. Harris said in an interview that Dr. Mead made a valuable contribution as a ''missionary'' for the profession. Along these same lines, Dr. Richard Basham, senior lecturer in anthropology at the University of Sydney in Australia, said: ''A lot of us had already discounted the scientific work of Dr. Mead. To the extent that we assign her books, it is to show how anthropology has developed.'' Dr. Basham said he doubted that Dr. Freeman's book would have a major impact on Dr. Mead's reputation or on the field of anthropology....
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This note was uploaded on 03/08/2010 for the course MATH 111 taught by Professor Wha during the Spring '10 term at École Normale Supérieure.
- Spring '10