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MAIN PAGE: DEREK FREEMAN: MARGARET MEAD AND SAMOA

Preface

By far the most widely known of Margaret Mead's numerous books is Coming of Age in Samoa, based on fieldwork on which she embarked in 1925 at the instigation of Franz Boas, her professor at Columbia University. Boas had sent the 23-year-old Mead to Samoa to study adolescence, and she returned with a startling conclusion. Adolescence was known in America and Europe as a time of emotional stresses and conflicts. If, Mead argued, these problems were caused by the biological processes of maturation, then they would necessarily be found in all human societies. But in Samoa, she reported, life was easy and casual, and adolescence was the easiest and most pleasant time of life. Thus in anthropological terms, according to Mead, Samoa was a „negative instance“—and the existence of this one counterexample demonstrated that the disturbances associated with adolescence in the United States and elsewhere had cultural and not biological causes. In the controversy between the adherents of biological determinism and those of cultural determinism, a controversy that was at its height in the 1920s, Mead's negative instance appeared to be a triumphant outcome for believers in the sovereignty of culture.

When Coming of Age in Samoa was published in 1928 it attracted immense attention, and its apparently conclusive finding swiftly entered anthropological lore as a jewel of a case. Since that time Mead's finding has been recounted in scores of textbooks, and through the vast popularity of Coming of Age in Samoa, the best-selling of all anthropological books, it has influenced the thinking of millions of people throughout the world. It is with the critical examination of this very widely accepted conclusion that I am concerned in this book.

Scientific knowledge, as Karl Popper has shown, is principally advanced through the conscious adoption of „the critical method of error elimination.“ In other words, within science, propositions and theories are systematically tested by attempts to refute them, and they remain acceptable only as long as they withstand these attempts at refutation. In Popper's view, „in so far as a scientific statement speaks about reality it must be fal-sifiable,“ and rational criticism entails the testing of any particular statement in terms of its correspondence with the facts. Mead's classing of Samoa as a negative instance obviously depends on the adequacy of the account of Samoan culture on which it is based. It is thus very much a scientific proposition, for it is fully open to testing against the relevant empirical evidence.1

While the systematic testing of the conclusions of a science is always desirable, this testing is plainly imperative when serious doubts have been expressed about some particular finding. Students of Samoan culture have long voiced such doubts about Mead's findings of 1928. In this book I adduce detailed empirical evidence to demonstrate that Mead's account of Samoan culture and character is fundamentally in error. I would emphasize that I am not intent on constructing an alternative ethnography of Samoa. Rather, the evidence I shall present has the specific purpose of scientifically refuting the proposition that Samoa is a negative instance by demonstrating that the depictions on which Mead based this assertion are, in varying degree, mistaken.

In undertaking this refutation I shall limit my scrutiny to those sections of Mead's writings which have stemmed from, or refer to, her researches on Samoa. My concern, moreover, is with the scientific import of these actual researches and not with Margaret Mead personally, or with any aspect of her ideas or activities that lies beyond the ambit of her writings on Samoa. I would emphasize also that I hold in high regard many of the personal achievements of Margaret Mead, Franz Boas, and the other individuals certain of whose assertions and ideas I necessarily must question in the pages that follow.

According to Mead, the making of her study of adolescence in Samoa was an accident of history. It is also by an accident of history that I have come to write this book. In the late 1930s, at Victoria University College in Wellington, New Zealand, I chanced to become a student of Ernest Beaglehole, who had studied anthropology at Yale under Edward Sapir, a former student of Franz Boas. Beaglehole's anthropology was very similar to Mead's, and it was this approach, stemming from the teaching of Boas, that I had adopted when, with Beaglehole's encouragement, I decided to do ethnographic research in the Samoan islands. When I reached Western Samoa in April 1940, I was very much a cultural determinist. Coming of Age in Samoa had been unreservedly commended to me by Beaglehole, and my credence in Mead's findings was complete.

After two years of study, during which I came to know all the islands of Western Samoa, I could speak Samoan well enough to converse in the company of chiefs with the punctilio that Samoan etiquette demands, and the time had come to select a local polity for intensive investigation. My choice was Sa'anapu, a settlement of 400 inhabitants on the south coast of Upolu. On my first visit to Sa'anapu I had become friendly with Lauvi Vainu'u, a senior talking chief. When I arrived to begin my researches I learned of the death of Lauvi's youngest son, Fa'imoto. Lauvi had been deeply attached to Fa'imoto, and he experienced my return as reparation for his loss. He had decided, he told me, that I was to become his adopted son. From that time onward I lived as one of the Lauvi family whenever I was in Sa'anapu.

In my early work I had, in my unquestioning acceptance of Mead's writings, tended to dismiss all evidence that ran counter to her findings. By the end of 1942, however, it had become apparent to me that much of what she had written about the inhabitants of Manu'a in eastern Samoa did not apply to the people of western Samoa. After I had been assured by Samoans who had lived in Manu'a that life there was essentially the same as in the western islands, I realized that I would have to make one of the objectives of my research the systematic testing of Mead's depiction of Samoan culture.

Soon after I returned to Sa'anapu its chiefs forgathered one morning at Lauvi's house to confer on me one of the chiefly titles of their polity. I was thus able to attend all fono, or chiefly assemblies, as of right, and I soon came to be accepted by the community at large. From this time onward I was in an exceptionally favorable position to pursue my researches into the realities of Samoan life.

By the time I left Samoa in November 1943 I knew that I would one day face the responsibility of writing a refutation of Mead's Samoan findings. This would involve much research into the history of early Samoa. This task I began in 1945 in the manuscript holdings of the Mitchell Library in Sydney and later continued in England, where I thoroughly studied the Samoan archives of the London Missionary Society.

During 1946-1948, while studying anthropology at the University of London, I wrote a dissertation on Samoan social organization, and my intention was to return to Polynesia. There then came, however, the opportunity to spend some years among the Iban of Borneo. With this diversion, which later took me to Cambridge University to complete my doctoral studies and then in new anthropological directions, the continuation of my Samoan researches was long delayed.

I finally returned to Western Samoa, accompanied by my wife and daughters, at the end of 1965. Sa'anapu, now linked to

Apia by road, was once again my center of research. The chiefs of Sa'anapu immediately recognized the title they had conferred on me in 1943, and I became once again an active member of the Sa'anapu fono. My family and I remained in Samoa for just over two years, making frequent visits elsewhere in the district to which Sa'anapu belongs, as also to numerous other parts of the archipelago, from Saua in the east to Falealupo in the west.

Many educated Samoans, especially those who had attended college in New Zealand, had become familiar with Mead's writings about their culture. A number of them entreated me, as an anthropologist, to correct her mistaken depiction of the Samoan ethos. Accordingly, early in 1966 I set about the systematic examination of the entire range of Mead's writings on Samoa, seeking to test her assertions by detailed investigation of the particulars of the behavior or custom to which they referred. I also investigated, with the permission of the prime minister of Western Samoa, confidential court and police records, an invaluable source of data on crucial aspects of the aggressive and sexual behavior of Samoans, including that of adolescents.

Sa'anapu, it so happens, was founded in ancient times by migrants from the island of Ta'u, the main site of Mead's researches in 1925-1926. Taking advantage of this fact, in 1967 I organized a formal traveling party to Ta'u. We visitors were received as long-lost kinsmen, and in the company of chiefs from both Ta'u and Sa'anapu I was able to review all those facets of Mead's depiction of Samoa which were then still at issue. In Ta'u I also recorded the testimony of men and women who remembered the period to which Mead's writings refer. In many instances these recollections were vivid and specific; as one of my informants remarked, the happenings of the mid 1920s were still fresh in their memories.

As my inquiries progressed it became evident that my critical scrutiny of Mead's conclusions would have to extend to the anthropological paradigm of which Coming of Age in Samoa was a part. In order to comprehend the circumstances that had prompted Boas to send Mead to Samoa I would have to investigate not only the history of anthropology but that of biology as well, and in particular the interaction of biological and anthropological ideas from the time of Darwin's Origin of Species onward. Because it was imperative to consult the relevant primary sources, this investigation occupied me intermittently for more than a decade.

The account of the interrelated histories of biological and anthropological ideas that I give in Chapters 1-4 of this book provides a background essential for understanding the way the ideology and projects of Francis Galton and his followers in the eugenics movement produced a reaction by anthropologists and others that culminated in the frenetic nature-nurture controversy of the mid 1920s. A knowledge of these ideological developments of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is also necessary for understanding the pivotal significance of Mead's Samoan researches for the school of American anthropologists led by Franz Boas and Alfred Kroeber, which from 1917 onward was committed to a doctrine of extreme cultural determinism. This book, then, while primarily given to the refutation of the general conclusion that Mead drew from her Samoan researches, is also concerned with examining related aspects of the wider myth of absolute cultural determinism, and with arguing that this now antiquated doctrine should be abandoned in favor of a more scientific anthropological paradigm.

My researches were not completed until 1981, when I finally gained access to the archives of the High Court of American Samoa for the 1920s. Thus my refutation of Mead's depiction of Samoa appears some years after her death. In November 1964, however, when Dr. Mead visited the Australian National University, I informed her very fully, during a long private conversation, of the empirical basis of my disagreement with her depiction of Samoa. From that time onward we were in correspondence, and in August 1978, upon its first completion, I offered to send her an early draft of my refutation of the conclusions she had reached in Coming of Age in Samoa. I received no reply to this offer before Dr. Mead's death in November of that year.

In September 1981 I returned to Western Samoa with the specific purpose of submitting a draft of this book to the critical

scrutiny of Samoan scholars. Chapters 5 to 19 were meticulously checked by Le Tagaloa Leota Pita of the University of Samoa. From Western Samoa I traveled to Tutuila and Manu'a for discussions with other knowledgeable Samoans, whose comments I have also taken fully into account. In the course of the refutation of Mead's misleading account of their culture, which many Samoans encouraged me to undertake, I have had to deal realistically with the darker side of Samoan life. During my visit of 1981 I found among contemporary Samoans both a mature appreciation of the need to face these realities and a clearheaded pride in the virtues and strengths of the Samoan way of life.

The chapters that follow, then, are based on investigations that have extended, off and on, over some forty years, including six years spent in Samoa and even longer in the research libraries of Australia, New Zealand, England, and the United States. My work in Samoa during the years 1965-1968 and again in 1981 was carried out from the Research School of Pacific Studies of the Institute of Advanced Studies of the Australian National University, it is the exceptional opportunity for research provided by this institute that has enabled me to explore the history of both anthropology and biology, and to bring to fruition this study of a major twentieth-century myth. It is a study that bears on problems of the greatest anthropological importance and that will, I hope, contribute constructively to their solution. 


Počet shlédnutí: 40

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