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Freeman's Refutation of Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa: The Implication for Anthropological Inquiry

Revised from original article in The Eastern Anthropologist 37:183-214, 1984.
G. N. Appell


Whether by accident or design, or a combination of both, Margaret Mead became an American culture heroine. Particularly to women. In her public career she resolved a set of major conflicting values in American society that afflict the female role. Thus, to the eyes of her audience she occupied successfully the accepted female role of mother and wife, albeit she had several divorces, to the extent that Time magazine referred to her in her later years as the Mother of the World. But at the same time she had a visibly successful career as an anthropologist, perhaps perceived as more successful by those outside of anthropology than inside. She thus entered the public world of achievement, outside the boundary of the home that prescribes anonymity to most women, and mingled with major figures in science and politics.

As a result, there developed a personality cult around Mead as a culture heroine. And when Derek Freeman’s book, Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth was published refuting Mead’s description of Samoan culture and calling it a monumental error, American anthropologists largely reacted to the perceived threat to their cultural icon and to what they viewed the public image of anthropology to be, rather than to the scientific issue of the truth or error of Freeman’s conclusions. Members of the American Anthropological Association who attended the 1983 annual meeting were so threatened by this book that in a strangely ideological and completely unscientific response they voted to publicly criticize the magazine Science 83 for suggesting that Freeman’s book would make an interesting Christmas gift because it raised important controversial issues.1

Then the American Anthropologist (Brady ed. 1983:908-947) carried an unprecedented series of four critical reviews of the book without permitting Freeman the courtesy of an accompanying reply.

Did Mead misrepresent Samoan culture? Are Freeman’s conclusions correct?  Why has there been such an emotional and unscientific reaction to Freeman’s book? And what are the implications for anthropological inquiry? These are the questions that I shall attempt to answer in this review.


Freeman’s refutation is divided into four sections. The first section plots the history of ‘The Emergence of Cultural Determinism’ as the major paradigm of anthropological inquiry. The second section discusses the background to Mead’s Samoan research, summarizes how she carried it out, and places her results within the intellectual currents of the times. The formal refutation of Mead’s assertions on Samoan culture forms the third section. The final section contains Freeman’s explanation for Mead’s errors and posits a new paradigm for anthropological inquiry.


The nature-nurture controversy represents a fundamental intellectual division that confronts social science to this day. In the mid 1920s it was a raging battle. In response to Francis Galton, his disciples in the eugenics movement, and their racist camp followers, the Boasian school of American anthropology replied with arguments for cultural determinism.  Man manufactured himself.

Freeman’s history of these disputes and how they provided the background for Mead’s Samoan researches is one of the most fascinating and enlightening accounts of our intellectual history that I have ever read. His arguments have been meticulously researched. But there have been criticisms of his description of Boas’s extreme position on cultural determinism. These have largely been from those who were associated with Columbia University or who want to claim a Boasian intellectual paternity (Weiner 1983; Harris 1983a, 1983b). And they mainly point out that Boas was also concerned with the biological nature of man as witnessed by his physical anthropological studies. But, this criticism of Freeman’s intellectual history of cultural determinism is largely vitiated by one of the critics and claimants to Boasian descent, Harris. He writes (Harris 1983b:27): ‘The Boasians’ insistence on the separation of cultural and biological determinism therefore remains to this day the bedrock of any discipline that is concerned with explaining both the differences and similarities in human social life.’ And thus he inadvertently supports Freeman’s conclusions on the intellectual history of the cultural determinism paradigm.



In the mid 1920s, Freeman recounts (1983a:75), Boas’s needed to confirm his position on cultural determinism by ‘a scientific and detailed investigation of hereditary and environmental conditions,’ and his specific reason for sending Mead to Samoa was that he needed ‘a study to see how much adolescent behavior is physiologically determined and how much culturally determined’.

Freeman details the conditions of Mead’s research and how she carried out her inquiry. He provides a brief summary of her findings and her development of the method of the ‘negative instance.’ Mead found that coming of age in Samoa was largely without trial and tribulation. And she argued that ‘If it is proved that adolescence is not necessarily a specifically difficult period in a girl’s life — and proved it is if we can find any society in which that is so — then what accounts for the presence of storm and stress in American adolescents? First, we may say quite simply that there must be something in the two civilizations to account for the difference’ (quoted in Freeman 1983a:77).

Freeman concludes this section with a discussion of the development of the myth of Samoan culture as presented by Mead and the impact that this had on American intellectual life at the time it was published.


In ethnography there is no way to test the results of field research, as there is in the physical sciences. In this regard, the science of ethnography is similar to the sciences of geology and astronomy. The closest one could come to testing the results is to have a second ethnographer in the field in the same village at the same time as the first, or shortly afterwards. But this does not mean that the validity of an ethnographic account cannot be tested. There are various ways to do this. And Freeman ingeniously uses them all. He bases his refutation on the historical accounts of explorers, missionaries, travelers, and residents; the accounts of ethnographers both before and after Mead; the internal evidence in Mead’s own writings on Samoa; government statistics; public statements of Samoans themselves; legislative records; and his own extensive field work in Samoa.

Freeman arrived in Western Samoa in April 1940. ‘After two years of study, during which I came to know all the islands of Western Samoa,’ he writes (1983a:xiii), ‘I could speak Samoan well enough to converse in the company of chiefs...’ Freeman then selected a field site in Western Samoa and conducted ethnographic research until November, 1943, when he left Samoa. The village he did field work in was founded in ancient times by migrants from the main site of Mead’s research (Freeman 1983a:xv). Freeman then returned and conducted further ethnographic research from 1965-1968 and again in 1981. His refutation is thus based on six years of investigation in Samoa and research in archives and libraries that extended on and off over some 40 years.

However, it is important to note that Freeman is not attempting to provide an alternative ethnography of Samoan society in his book. He has been criticized by some of his reviewers for providing a biased and overly negative view of Samoan personality as a result of their misunderstanding the nature of a formal refutation and confusing it with an ethnography. Freeman’s goals are to explicitly refute Mead’s assertions on Samoan culture and not to provide a full ethnographic account.

Freeman first reviews Mead’s assertions with regard to fono behavior and the rank system. And he demonstrates that, contrary to Mead, competition for titles is intense, engendering bitter rivalries, and that prerogatives of rank are jealously guarded to prevent any attempt to alter precedence. Therefore, her argument that there was no jealously guarded body of traditions (see Freeman 1983a:140) is false. It is not possible, as Mead claimed, to completely alter the social landscape with ease.

Freeman then examines Mead’s claim that Samoan culture had eliminated interest in competition (see Freeman 1983a:141) and demonstrates that there is indeed keen competition in various Samoan cultural domains. Mead also claimed that the Samoans were ‘unaggressive’ and ‘one of the most amiable, least contentious, and most peaceful peoples in the world’ (quoted in Freeman 1983a:157). Freeman, using police records, shows that there is a high incidence of fighting and affrays between families within villages and between villages and concludes that the incidence of assault involving bodily injury is considerably higher than the American rate. On the basis of historical records he also demonstrates that warfare, contrary to Mead’s depiction, was ferocious and resulted in heavy casualties.

In the next chapter Freeman shows that Mead’s assertion that religious feeling among the Samoans was superficial is at complete variance with the evidence, both for pagan and Christian Samoa. In a discussion on punishment, Freeman provides evidence to show that Mead was wrong in depicting Samoan society as neither severe or punitive. Freeman demonstrates that rather than a society that ‘is kind to all and does not make sufficient demands upon any’ (quoted in Freeman 1983a:198), Samoa has a culture, ‘in which it is traditional to have recourse to punishment, and frequently very severe punishment, in the interests of obedience and respect for authority ... [and] those who have erred are expected to accept their punishment without demur’ (1983a:198).

Mead also botched her research into Samoan childrearing, according to Freeman’s evidence. Mead claimed that the whole system of childrearing produced individuals who never learned the meaning of strong attachment to one person, and since there were no violent feelings learned during childhood there were no such feelings to be rediscovered during adolescence.  Samoans, she argued, do not form strong affectional ties with parents as their filial affection is diffused among a large group of relatives (see Freeman 1983a:201).  Freeman, on the basis of his own research, concludes on the contrary that the primary bond between mother and child is very much a part of Samoan society. He also demonstrates that ‘Samoan social organization, then, is markedly authoritarian and depends directly on a system of severe discipline that is visited on children from an early age’ (Freeman 1983a:209-210). As a result of the primary bonding and severe, physical punishment, Freeman writes (1983a:210), ‘The mother is thus experienced as alternately caring and punishing.  This means that she comes to be feared and hated as well as loved and longed for, a combination of emotions that, in addition to producing ambivalence, significantly intensifies the feelings of an infant for the individual to whom it is bonded.’

Freeman then reviews Mead’s assertions on Samoan character. Mead claimed (see Freeman 1983a:213-225) that the Samoans had no strong passions; that love, hate, jealousy and revenge, sorrow, and bereavement are short lived, all a matter of weeks; there are no deeply channeled emotions in the patterning of social relationships; that there was a lack of deep feeling; and there were no psychological maladjustments. Freeman, using some of Mead’s own evidence, as well as other evidence, including that from his own field work, shows that on the contrary the Samoans are characterized by strong passions, bouts of extreme stubbornness, which has institutionalized methods of expression, outbursts of uncontrollable anger, high rates of aggression, suicides, including suicides as a result of shame over illicit sexual liaisons, and hysterical illnesses that are endemic.

Freeman next considers Mead’s claims for Samoan sexual mores and behavior. Mead claimed to have found in Samoa a people with one of the smoothest sex adjustments in the world. Lovemaking before marriage was their pastime and girls deferred marriage to in as many years of casual lovemaking as possible. Thus Mead argued, Samoans were entirely free of the sexual problems found in Western civilization (see Freeman 1983a:227).2

Freeman points out that there is in Samoa the institution of ceremonial virgin, the taupou, who occupied a position of great social significance. Each titular chief in Samoa had the right to confer on one of the sexually mature, virginal girls of his polity, usually his own daughter, the rank of taupou. And this taupou was ritually deflowered on marriage to a man of rank (see Freeman 1983a:227-236). Mead asserted that the taupou was excepted from the free and easy experimentation of the other adolescents. Freeman produces evidence to refute this. He concludes (1983a:236) ‘Samoa, then, is a society predicated on rank, in which female virgins are both highly valued and eagerly sought after.’ And he points out that there is intense rivalry among Samoan males over deflowering virgins by various stratagems, while brothers of virgins are zealous in the protection of their sisters. Further, Freeman shows that Mead’s own evidence contradicts her assertions in that more than half of the adolescent girls she wrote about were in fact virgins (1983a:238). In a sample of girls between the ages of 14 to 19 collected by Freeman and his wife in 1967, 73% were virgins although the percentage dropped to 40% by age 19. Freeman (1983a:240-241) goes on to explain that most of the young women lost their status as virgins by eloping from their families with the man who had succeeded in deflowering them. If the girl has actively encouraged this, the elopement may then lead to marriage. Where it has been a forced defloration, the girl will return home after an absence of one or more nights.3

Freeman discusses various forms of rape in Samoa. He points out that on the basis of rapes reported to the police in 1968 in Western Samoa, the rate of forcible and attempted rapes was 60 per 100,000 while for the same time period in the U.S.A. it was 30 (1983a:248).

He also disputes the claims that adultery is not regarded as very serious and sexual jealousy is minimal.

Freeman then turns to one of Mead’s major conclusions. Mead alleged that adolescence in Samoa was the age of maximum ease and there were none of the stresses and storms, the conflicts and troubles that characterize coming of age in Western civilization. Mead relegated to a special chapter her evidence on girls whose adolescence involved conflict. Taking this evidence (4 out of the 25 girls in Mead’s sample were delinquent) Freeman finds that the Samoan rate for delinquency in the age group 14-19 is 40 per 1,000 per year and is roughly ten times higher than that which existed for females in the same age grouping in England and Wales in 1965, where the rate was 4 per 1,000. Freeman then introduces evidence from his own field work to show that adolescence in Samoa is far from being untroubled and unstressed.

In addition he presents the incidence of crimes of violence in Western Samoa from 1963-1965 and shows that there is a rapid rise in acts of violence from about age 14 onward, with this incidence reaching a peak at the age of 16. Freeman then provides figures on rape showing that whereas in the United States the 24.9% of rape victims are in the age group 15-19, in Western Samoa 62% of the victims are in this age group. And he argues that ‘as these incidences indicate, the traditional sex mores of their society subject Samoan girls, from puberty onward, to formidable stresses’ (1983a:262).

Freeman then provides a summary chapter on the Samoan ethos before he discusses the reasons for Mead’s misconstruing of Samoan culture.



I found Freeman’s argument to be completely convincing.  However, he has been criticized for using evidence not just from Manu’a, the site of Mead’s field work, but from all over Samoa, both Western Samoa and American Samoa. He shows, however, that Samoan culture is not significantly different from island to island.

Mead herself suggested, when confronted by an early version of Freeman’s experiment, that perhaps during her stay on Manu’a it was an unusually felicitous period without turmoil, ‘a temporary ... relaxation of the quarrels and rivalries, the sensitivity to slights and insults, and the use of girls as pawns in male rivalries’ (1969:228). Freeman was able to prove through his archival research that this was not so. But I find Mead’s phrasing of this major theme in Samoan culture interesting. First, it suggests that Mead herself has accepted Freeman’s understanding of Samoan culture. Second, her depiction of this theme comes too easily. Since it is a major contradiction of her original argument, one gets the unfortunate impression that at some level Mead must have understood this all along.4

Others have criticized Freeman on the basis that he began his own field researches some 14 years after Mead’s, and that a great deal of social change had intervened. However, Freeman adduces evidence for his refutation from various time periods, both before, during, and after Mead’s research, and they all support each other. The point is that Freeman has produced such a massive body of evidence that even if one might cavil here with this piece, there with that, it all fits one pattern to the degree that it is overpowering.5


In the final section of his book Freeman advances an explanation for the errors Mead made in her depiction of Samoan culture. He finds that many factors contributed to this. First, she went to Samoa with a vision of the South Seas as a romantic paradise. She also had little time to prepare for her Samoan research. And Boas did not prepare her for field work except to give her the instruction that she should concentrate on the problem of adolescence and not waste time doing a general ethnography. As a result, Freeman writes (1983a:285), she entered into her study of adolescence without a thorough understanding of the traditional values and customs. She also greatly underestimated the complexity of the culture of the Samoans, believing that a trained student could master the structure of a primitive society in a few months (see Freeman 1983a:285). And she conducted her researches with an inadequate command of the language. Freeman also argues that her election to live in the household of expatriate Americans rather than in a Samoan household deprived her of the close contacts with Samoans that are essential for gaining a thorough understanding of the Samoan language and independent verification of her informants’ statements by observation of actual behavior. 

Freeman then addresses the problem of accounting for Mead’s description of adolescent behavior. Freeman writes (1983a:289), “Mead’s depiction of Samoan culture, as I have shown, is marked by major errors, and her account of the sexual behavior of Samoans by a mind-boggling contradiction, for she asserts that the Samoans have a culture in which female virginity is very highly valued, with a virginity-testing ceremony being ‘theoretically observed at weddings of all ranks,’ while at the same time adolescence among females is regarded as a period ‘appropriate for love-making,’ with promiscuity before marriage being both permitted and ‘expected.’” 

Mead’s account of adolescence was mainly derived from young female informants who came to talk with her at her living quarters in the American dispensary (Freeman 1983a:288). Freeman reports that the Samoans themselves e plain Mead’s erroneous statements on their sexual morality on the grounds that her informants were telling her lies in order to tease her. He points out that ‘Because of their strict morality, Samoans show a decided reluctance to discuss sexual matters with outsiders or those in authority, a reticence that is especially marked among female adolescents’ (1983a:290). Furthermore, Samoans are very prone to engage in the pastime of deliberately teasing or duping someone. ‘And when she persisted in this unprecedented probing of a highly embarrassing topic, it is likely that these girls resorted, as Gerber’s Samoan informants have averred, ... [to] regaling their inquisitor with counterfeit tales of casual love under the palm trees’ (Freeman 1983a :290). 

Finally, Freeman argues that it was Mead’s determination to prove the doctrine of cultural determinism that was the major factor causing Mead to misunderstand Samoan culture.  This ‘deeply held belief in the doctrine of cultural determinism ... led her to construct an account of Samoa that appeared to substantiate this very doctrine’ (Freeman 1983a:292). ‘We are thus confronted,’ Freeman writes (1983a:292), ‘... with an instructive example of how, as evidence is sought to substantiate a cherished doctrine, the deeply held beliefs of those involved may lead them unwittingly into error.’ 

Freeman’s concluding short chapter is an argument for a new anthropological paradigm in which both biological and cultural variables are merged in an interactionist paradigm for neither biology nor culture alone can provide an adequate understanding or explanation of behavior.


In 1946 Bennett published a critically important article on anthropological explanation. He detailed the contradictory interpretations of Pueblo culture that had appeared in the ethnographic literature and advanced an explanation for this. However, in the reviews of Freeman’s book there has been no mention of the possible relevance of this study for understanding the Samoan controversy.

Bennett (1946) distinguishes two approaches to sociocultural reality: the ‘organic’, or ‘configurationist’, and the ‘repressive’. He argues that the ‘configurationist’ approach has certain biases which has resulted in presenting Pueblo culture and society as being ‘integrated to an unusual degree, all sectors being bound by a consistent, harmonious set of values... Associated with this integrated configuration is an ideal personality type which features the virtues of gentleness, non-aggression, cooperation, modesty, tranquillity, and so on’ (1946:362-363). The other interpretation, which he terms ‘repressive,’ is that ‘Pueblo society and culture are marked by considerable covert tension, suspicion, anxiety, hostility, fear, and ambition’ (1946:363). 

The bias of the organic, or configurationist, approach, Bennett argues, is to be found in the assumptions with which they approach nonliterate societies. These assumptions lay stress on ‘the organic wholeness of preliterate life in contrast to the heterogeneity and diffusiveness of modern civilization’ (1946:364); ‘there is an implicit value orientation toward solidified, homogeneous group life’ (1946:366). Mead was part of the configurationist school through her association with Ruth Benedict and her interest in cultural patterns (see Freeman 1983a:72). One might speculate that this might be part of the explanation of why she dealt with deviants in a separate section of her Coming of Age in Samoa

But this argument misses the point. Freeman’s refutation of Mead’s depiction of Samoan culture cannot be simply viewed as the differences between an ‘organic’ and a ‘repressive approach,’ as some have implied in their criticism of Freeman’s work. For Bennett makes a very important point. He says of the Pueblo controversy, ‘there is no argument over or challenging of fact. In most cases the contrasting parties work with the same raw data’ (1946:362). Freeman’s refutation, on the other hand, is just that. It is over the facts; it is entirely concerned with showing that Mead got the facts of Samoan culture wrong. 

Thus, Freeman’s refutation is unique, being the first instance in anthropological inquiry, and must not be seen in the light of previous controversies in ethnographic interpretation.



Freeman argues that Mead’s monumental error was largely the result of her attempt to prove the doctrine of cultural determinism. I will argue shortly that this is a sufficient condition but not a necessary condition for faulty observation and reporting. But what is clear is that the ideology of cultural determinism has so addled the anthropological mind, has so consumed it, that no one has come to realize that Mead’s research design and her findings could be used to argue the exact opposite of what she claimed. And I have specifically used the term ‘ideology of cultural determinism’ to indicate an intellectual posture which does not permit the consideration of any contrary evidence that might modify or disprove the position. 

Let us try a thought experiment.  Let us assume that Mead’s conclusions on Samoan culture are correct and that coming of age in Samoa is without stress and strain. Her explanation for this difference in behavior between Western society and Samoa was that of cultural determinism. She wrote in the preface of the 1973 edition of Coming of Age in Samoa, ‘when this book was written, the very idea of culture was new to the literate world. The idea that our every thought and movement was a product not of race, not of instinct, but derived from the society within which an individual was reared, was new and unfamiliar... But the renaissance of racism among some scientists and the pleas for a harsh, manipulative behavioralism among some psychologists make me wonder whether the modern world understands much more about the significance of culture -- the interplay between individual endowment and cultural style, the limits set by biology and the way in which human imagination can transcend those limits-- than was known in 1928' (1973:x-xi). 

But Mead’s experiment’ (Mead 1973:108) was flawed. For Mead did not hold the racial variable constant. As behavior varied with race in her ‘experiment’, one explanation for her findings would be racial. That is, the Samoans behave differently because they have a different genetic constitution. In one sense Freeman, by proving that coming of age is fraught with stress and turmoil in Samoa, saves the cultural determinists from an embarrassment! To prove that the stress and strain of adolescence was culturally determined, Mead would have had to find the existence of an easy adolescence among a society of the same racial constitution as Western society.6   

This I think starkly illuminates the intellectual history of the times. Why has this explanation of Mead’s data never been advanced? The evidence suggests that cultural determinism had by Mead’s own times become an ideology and not a scientific explanation.



Freeman has not been the first to raise questions about Mead’s ethnographic research. However, his is the first full-scale inquiry, and as a result it puts Mead’s work in an entirely new light. But, there have been other critics. For example, Radin wrote that ‘Mead is essentially a journalist in the best sense of the term’ (1966:170); and ‘it is not really her program as such at which I cavil; it is the amazing assumption that any outsider can obtain the type of information she specifies except after an intensive study of a lifetime. Indeed I seriously doubt whether an outsider can ever obtain it’ (1966:178). 

Winston, in 1934, challenged the assumption that the conditions of modern life are conducive to the development of mental disorders while primitive groups are remarkably free form such pathological manifestations. She tested this with data from a variety of anthropological inquiries, including Mead’s data from Samoa. She concluded that Mead’s data showed that rates of mental disorder in Samoa were remarkably similar to those in the United States. 

Raum (1940:293-294) wrote with regard to Mead’s assertions on Samoa culture: ‘they are often contradicted by Mead’s own evidence. In general, it may be said that the conditions which she adduces as favourable for an adolescence without conflict may be looked upon, with just as much justification, as potent causes for dissensions between generations. Dr. Mead deals a destructive blow at her own constructions by including in her book a chapter on 'The Girl in Conflict', in which she describes cases of girls making a choice of unconventional behavior!'



Mead occupied many roles:  anthropologist, wife, mother, liberal utopian, columnist for a woman's magazine, public advocate for liberal causes, media figure, etc.  And most of these roles were highly public as a result of her popular writings. To properly evaluate Mead as an anthropologist, one has to sort out her performance of this role from the performances of her many other roles. And this is difficult, for Mead herself confused these roles. For example, when she was writing for Redbook and giving advice, one never knew whether it was on the basis of her scientific knowledge, her experience in her other roles, or her ideological preferences. And Mead tended to let others assume that her position was based on her insight as a scientist, as an anthropologist.7

Mead's failure to sort out these roles and draw clear boundaries in her own mind and in her performances has had certain consequences for anthropological inquiry. This may also explain the many internal contradictions and ambiguities in her own ethnographies (see Bernard 1963, and Winston 1934). In my view it has encouraged the development in American anthropology of interpretative ethnography 8 ,sloppy field work, and a lack of any real interest in the ethnographic truth other than how the 'facts' can cast light on our own society or be used for one's ideological purposes.9

One of Mead's many roles that may have interfered with her field work was that of liberal utopian, and she was an ardent propagandist for her views. For example, she described her Samoan research in terms rather curious for the role of a scientist: 'It [Coming of Age in Samoa] must remain, as all anthropological works must remain, exactly as it was written, true to what I saw in Samoa and what I was able to convey of what I saw; true to the state of knowledge of human behavior as it was in the mid-1920's; true to our hopes and fears for the future of the world' (1973:X; italics added).

Mead's perception of her role as propagandist for a liberal, optimistic world view is also revealed in the comments of one of her cofieldworkers. Schwartz (1983:927-928):

Further I found in New Lives for Old (1956), the same reliable and extraordinarily vivid descriptions of everyday life and events..., the same dramatic extrapolations inspired by her sense of what the world needs to learn about itself from the Manus. Before we left for the field Mead told me that if Manus turned out to be another cultural shambles -- a slum culture, undermined and demoralized as a result of the drastic culture contact and change they had experienced -- she would not write about it. What the world needed was a success story: people could undergo rapid culture change without disintegration... Her fieldwork had to serve many purposes, including providing the license for prescription and prophesy.

Schwartz (1983:927-928) also writes about the biases that crept into Mead's Manus research:

What makes Freeman's claim that Mead's preconceptions may have had a strong effect on her Samoan observations plausible is my experience in 1953 of her resistance to the idea that the Manus people of Pere village were full participants in cargo cults. They were supposed to be too pragmatic and rational for their participation to have been other than a temporary aberration. Much of what we eventually learned about the cults did not emerge fully until after her departure after six months of fieldwork... I felt uncomfortable with characterizations about the Manus leap from the stone age to the jet age. No one would have been more surprised than the Manus. It has required much longitudinal work since then to reveal the extent of culture conservatism, concurrent with further rapid change. 

Mead's superficial and out of focus account of the consequences of change in Manus has had unfortunate repercussions in my own work on social change. In pursuing my interest in measuring the costs of social change I have been confronted from time to time by scholars who pooh-pooh my work on the basis of Mead's 'conclusions' from her restudy of Manus. 

Mead's confusion of her role as a scientist with her roles of prophet and propagandist for her vision of utopia, and her search for examples to justify her vision of utopia on a scientific basis, led her to neglect the one critical aspect of the role performance of the scientist, the habit of the truth (see Bronowski 1965). This became clear in a controversy I witnessed between anthropologists that were working in the same ethnographic region. One anthropologist, a protege of hers, had written an ethnographic account that not only did not ring true to the experience of others, but which contained many internal contradictions as well as contradictions with other publications by the same anthropologist. And it was felt by the community of scholars that had worked in the region that not only was the ethnographic account in certain sections wrong, but that these errors could cause political difficulties in the region. When a review of the book was prepared by one of the scholars working in that area, Mead had it withdrawn from publication. Even though the anthropologists who had worked in the region agreed that the material was wrong, Mead assiduously worked to have criticism silenced and even threatened one scholar that if he did not keep silent she would withdraw her support for the activities of his department. At no time in this controversy did I witness any interest on her part in what the ethnographic facts were. Reputation seemed to be her concern rather than searching for the truth for the matter and insuring that the ethnographic record was correct.

Thus, to explain fully her approach to anthropological inquiry requires some consideration of needs in her own character and how Mead became a prisoner of her own media persona and so came to need its reflection. This view is somewhat substantiated by a rather unusual television obituary that appeared in a national newscast of the National Broadcasting Company. The film clip showed Mead in the late afternoon walking on a tree-lined path either near the American Museum of Natural History of in Central Park. She is walking away from the camera, but turns to wave goodbye, repeating 'goodbye' several times as she waved.



A certain amount of controversy has always surrounded Mead's work. This is because her summary statements frequently did not jibe with her descriptive statements (see Bernard 1968, for example). Mead behaved as if her labeling encapsulated the truth and was more real that her descriptive statements. 

I first became aware that Mead's use of words frequently did not contain the same semantic value that is usually associated with them in reading the new conclusion to Mead's Social Organization of Manu'a. She wrote: 

Then in 1965, I met Derek Freeman for the first time, and he challenged my material on the very mild Manu'an reactions I had reported on the subject of virginity. He cited intense feeling about virginity on the part of mothers of girls, and extreme preoccupation with the theft of girls of other villages on the part of young men in Western Samoa. There was, of course, also all the traditional material on preoccupation with destroying the virginity of the taupou of a neighbouring village. In thinking this over, I realized for the first time that the whole of the rivalry between the young men, or the chiefs of different villages, could be expressed in the hope of one group that they could do irreparable, asymmetrical damage to the other group — by carrying off, and deflowering the taupou, the symbol of the vulnerability and pride of the other group. Each lively and slightly rowdy group of young men simultaneously attempted to protect their own taupou, and to deflower the taupou of a rival group. Social relations could be expressed at one level as an attempt to do to others what you most ardently wished to prevent them from doing to you. This should not, I believe, be phrased as competitiveness. It is rather focused on another individual, or another group, as a rival, a rather different matter (1969:227).

Rivalry is the common synonym for competition.

Mead's semantic promiscuity makes coming of age in Samoa a rather confused affair. For example, she argues the transition from childhood to sexually active adolescence is without stress or strain (1973:83-84). And she writes: 'heterosexual relations are given significance not by love and a tremendous fixation upon one individual...' (1973:83); and in the sexual liaisons there is 'the definite avoidance of forming any affectional ties...' (1973:123). Yet in describing the nature of sexual relations among adolescents she used terms as, 'declared lovers,' 'love affairs,' 'sweetheart,' and 'lover,' and spoke of an ambassador for a lover who would ' whisper between mouthfuls the name of the boy, speaking ever of him, how good he is, how gentle and how true, how worthy of love' (1973:50). And so the reader tends to get confused as to what constitutes Samoan reality.

Mead (1973:124) writes 'Onanism, homosexuality, statistically unusual forms of heterosexual activity, are neither banned nor institutionalised. The wider range which these practices give prevents the development of obsessions of guilt which are so frequent a cause of maladjustment among us.' At the same time she referred to some women as promiscuous, another as 'the loosest woman in the village' 1973:77), without defining what this means in this supposedly guilt-free society. And she refers to 'sexual offenses' without definition (1973:97, 101) These phrases suggest that there is a standard of sexual conduct, as found in all societies, but Mead does not explicate this.

In this society of alleged easy sex and lack of conflict usually found in adolescence Mead also writes (1973:90) of parents who had daughters living with the pastor, 'it was likely to reduce the chances of his daughter's conduct becoming embarrassing.' And she says of developing girls (1973:38) 'but when she is fifteen... the picture changes. All of the adult and near-adult world is hostile, spying on her love affairs in its more circumspect sophistication, supremely not to be trusted. No one is to be trusted who is not immediately engaged in similarly hazardous adventures.'

Mead also writes of the relationship between the boys and girls in contradictory terms. She states that there is a 'strict segregation' of the pre-adolescent boys and girls and an 'institutionalised hostility between pre-adolescent children of opposite sexes' (1973:117). There is a 'strong institutionalised antagonism between younger boys and younger girls and ... [a] taboo against any amiable intercourse between them' (1973:77); and a tendency to lump all other males [than brother and cousin] together as the enemy who will some day be one's lovers' (1973:77). 'After a little girl is eight or nine years of age she has learned never to approach a group of older boys. This feeling of antagonism towards younger boys and shamed avoidance of older ones continues up to the age of thirteen or fourteen, to the group of girls who are just reaching puberty and the group of boys who have just been circumcised. These children are growing away from the age-group life and the age-group antagonisms. They are not yet actively sex-conscious. And it is at this time that relationships between the sexes are least emotionally charged. Not until she is an old married woman with several children will the Samoan girl again regard the opposite sex so quietly' (1973:48).

How can coming of age be easy when the adult world is regarded as hostile and the boys, prior to the alleged period of sexual adventures, are regarded as enemies? Thus, for those who acclaim the ethnography of Mead, it tells us more about their critical intelligence than about Mead's contribution to ethnographic knowledge.


In detective fiction the critical piece of evidence is referred to as the 'smoking gun.'  Is there a smoking gun in Mead's publications?  Did she 'cook up' her data like Cyril Burt? I think not; she left a trail of too many ambiguities.

But much of the evidence Freeman uses to make his point was also available to Mead (see bibliography in Mead 1930). How did she reconcile these contradictions with her own data? Was she simply a poor scholar? Perhaps, but I also think it is clear that personal and ideological bias has crept in to distort her account. This has of course been disputed.  Social facts are frequently ambiguous in their meaning and interpretation.  But certainly not physical facts.  What did Mead say about the environment? 'Neither poverty nor great disasters threaten the people to make them hold their lives dearly and tremble for continued existence' (1973:110).

Freeman points out that this statement is "scarcely true, for the Samoan islands are regularly stricken by severe hurricanes. In the hurricane of 10 January 1915 [ten years prior to Mead's arrival]... the churches, schoolhouses, stores, and most of the houses of Manu'a were blown down and the greater part of the crops destroyed.  Indeed so severe were the food shortages following this hurricane that over half the population of Manu'a had to be transported to Tutila and maintained there for several months.  Again on 1 January 1926, during the course of Mead's stay in Manu'a, there was a severe hurricane which, so she states ... 'destroyed every house in the village and ruined the crops'" (Freeman 1983:320). 

Freeman also quotes Mead (1983:70-71) to the effect that for several weeks informants were 'not to be had for love or money'  because of the damage which everyone was busy repairing; and 'adult energies were devoted almost exclusively to house building' so that she had 'very little opportunity to witness social ceremonies of any kind.' 

In attempting to suggest the grounds for a more realistic appraisal of Mead's contribution to anthropological inquiry, I have hardly given a balanced account. Much has already been written about her many useful and positive contributions, too little about the problems she has bequeathed to us. There are many errors that will have to be corrected. What will be the cost of these to anthropology? She used science for her own personal ends, which is of course nothing new in science (see Appell 1973, 1978). But then one does not make a culture heroine of someone who has violated the ideals of science. In my estimation she has set a standard for field work of short-term, superficial studies which later scholars have tried to emulate unsuccessfully because they lacked Mead's powerful intellect, energy, and insight. 

And she did not understand the implications of her own theories. For example, if culture forms a holistic pattern, one cannot tear an item from one culture and attempt to graft it to another without distorting the receiving culture. Thus, her attempts to suggest how American culture could be redesigned are amateurish in the light of her own theories. She may not have fully seen the consequences of encouraging the American public to experiment with different values, for if values are not to be cherished as part of a total pattern, this contributes to the spread of nihilism. Thus, a full appreciation of Mead as an anthropologist must also consider the contribution she made to the erosion of American value standards in the name of science and to behavioral experimentation with childrearing on the basis of theories that were never fully proved. By this approach to the scientific adventure by the failure to hew to the canons of the truth in scientific inquiry, Mead’s use of science should not be lauded, and as a scientist I take umbrage at it.


Mead was a conspicuous figure in the American mind. She captured the imagination of anthropologists, laymen, but particularly women.  She became a significant culture icon.11 How can such a mythological figure be explained? 

The culture hero is an important symbol that communicates a common identity and purpose to the members of a society (see Wachhorst 1981:3).  And Mead did embody those critical values that constitute the American ideal. Successful, optimistic, with a fervent belief in the future, she reaffirmed the hope of all Americans that through education everyone could become what he or she wanted to be; and she turned this hope into what people believed to be scientific truth through her research. As the result of the proper education, she argued, not only would it be possible for each individual to reach his potential, but it would liberate us all from the past so that all America could believe its utopian vision. This included a society without racism or sexism. Successfully she fought against all imposed boundaries, and opened up the frontiers of the mind and of society itself. She showed that by an act of free will everyone could liberate himself from his restrictive past. A youthful redeemer on her return from Samoa, correcting the errors and failures of the older generation. She was the classic American heroine. She tried to show Americans what they could achieve. 

As Campbell has pointed out (1964:24), the ‘victory of the principle of free will, together with its moral corollary of individual responsibility, establishes the first distinguishing characteristic of specifically Occidental myth.’ This suggests there was more to the Mead image. There was a mythical quality. And this mythical quality can only be explained by understanding the function of mythical figures. To do this we shall have to build a composite theory. 

Mythic figures function to bridge the gap between what is and what is supposed to be, or should be, thus resolving this cognitive dissonance and relieving the anxiety and frustration associated with it (Appell’s contribution). Without such figures the contradictions between the real and the ideal could tear a society apart. And Mead’s life and works showed to many, particularly women, that the ideal could in fact be the real. 

Furthermore, a culture hero, as a mythological figure, serves to resolve contradictory values in a single, paradoxical person (see Levi-Strauss 1963; Wachhorst 1981). Campbell (1959:121) refers to these cultural icons as threshold images, ‘uniting pairs-of-opposites in such a way as to facilitate a passage of the mind beyond anxiety.’ Leach’s theory of taboo adds to Campbell’s explanation of why such cultural icons elicit such an emotive power. Leach (1972:46-51) argues that the physical and social environment of a young child is perceived as a continuum. But we are taught to distinguish the world in terms of discontinuous entities. ‘We achieve this ... kind of trained perception by means of a simultaneous use of language and taboo. Language gives us the names to distinguish the things; taboo inhibits the recognition of those parts of the continuum which separate the things’ (Leach 1972:47). And he argues that concepts, categories, and images that bridge the gap between two logically distinct categories are ‘ambiguous categories that attract the maximum interest and the most intense feelings of taboo’ (Leach 1972:50). 

Let us look at the paradoxical Mead. First, she occupied the roles of mother and wife, and at the same time the role of distinguished professional scientist. She bridged in her career the conflict between the domestic role, which is performed in the private domain of the home, with the role of career woman, who works in the public domain of competition and success. Active politically in the pursuit of liberal policies and anthropological interests, she bridged two gaps: the gap between the world of the scientist and the world of the politician; and the gap between the perceived woman’s world in our society and the political world. 

Further, she resolved the conflict that rises in the American mind from the ambivalence with which it views science. Scientific knowledge removes the individual from his roots, from the sources of his personal identity that were formed during the earliest years in the home. It represents a break with the past and demands a reorganization of community and self for the future. Mead spoke for change based upon the knowledge produced by her research. This was delivered not only by a scientist but also by a woman, who was both wife and mother: thus it spanned the conceptual discontinuity between the safe past and the future and defused the associated anxiety and conflict. 

Looking at this from another perspective, she resolved the division between the romantic and the progressive. Her advocacy of change was based on her research on the primitive. But this was not to advocate a regression to a romantic, pristine past, but to progress to a better future, away from the inhibiting constructs of Western society.



The constructions of the synthetic structuralists are enticing. But how can it be established that their constructions represent the cognitive reality of those studied? (See Appell 1980, 1981) Nevertheless, this approach can provide some startling insights. 

Wachhorst (1981) analyzes the public images of Thomas A. Edison and portrays him as the American Adam. The organizational myth of the American world view, he claims, (1981:14) is of the new world as a pristine Paradise, a new Garden of Eden in which the American Adam is ordained to a millennial mission. However, in the 1870s and 1880s technological progress was compromising the image of the new Eden. And the myth of the Machine grew in opposition. However, in Edison the pastoral myth of a Paradise lost was joined with the myth of the reentering of Paradise with the machine (Wachhorst 1981:4). It could be regained through technology. 

It can be argued that Mead, depicted in the media as the Mother of the World, is perceived in the American mind as the new Eve in the American Garden of Eden. She introduced to repressed, Main Street America the pleasures of uninhibited sexual liaisons. By the knowledge produced in her research she brought to the consciousness of Americans the fact that their cultural behavior was not necessarily ‘natural’ but was learned. Being learned, it was under man’s control and could be changed. And she led the mind of Main Street America out into the real world, populated by a variety of cultures, never to return to the innocence of its original assumptions. From now on, with no values absolute, the American mind would be tormented as to what was right, what was proper. 12

Perhaps we claim too much for Mead. However, sometimes the subconscious does break through and reveals what have been unspoken assumptions all along. Harris (1983b:27) refers to Mead as a ‘mother goddess’! Whatever, it is clear that by studying Coming of Age in Samoa we can learn much about Mead; and by looking at the reaction to Freeman’s book in the media and the anthropological profession, we can learn a lot about ourselves.13



One anthropologist led off his review of Freeman’s book with the statement, ‘This is a work of great mischief’ (Marcus 1983). Science 83 (December, p.114) recommended Freeman’s book for Christmas gift giving asserting, ‘Easily the most controversial social science book of the year.’ In response, the members of the American Anthropological Association at their 1983 annual meeting passed a motion to criticize Science 83 for recommending the book, with many voting who had not even read the book! One anthropologist characterized the mood of the meeting as that of a lynch mob. How do we explain this unprecedented hostile reaction? 

First, cultural determinism has become an ideology, a world view. It organizes thought and action in many cultural domains of most anthropologists, in the political domain, in the family domain, and in the economic domain. It provides a coherent response to many of the issues confronting American society. And if Freeman should invalidate the doctrine of cultural determinism, this would produce a black hole of meaninglessness where before there was meaning, and this is very threatening. The interactionist paradigm has not yet developed to the degree where it provides a coherent world view, as does cultural determinism, although all the critical parts of such a paradigm are already in place in the scientific world under various names but not yet drawn together. For example, each item of cultural behavior has its own energetics. Its biological impact is in terms of the physical energy needed to make it manifest. Its energetics may produce a net increase in energy for the population involved or a net decrease; it may produce or consume energy. Concepts and the results of empirical research that would contribute to a theory of cultural energetics can be found under labels such as ‘stress research,’ ‘adaptation,’ ‘medical anthropology,’ and the like. But more about this later. 

Second, if cultural determinism is in error, it threatens the status of the doctrine of cultural relativism, and it is perceived that this could result in a fortified cultural imperialism. 

Third, Mead was and still is a culture icon, a culture heroine. If she was in error, then the resolution of cultural paradoxes that she achieved by her own life, the resolution of discontinuities in cultural values that her life produced, all become false. The paradoxes and discontinuities return. The mind splits, and this releases great anxieties that promote a hostile response to the bearer of these bad tidings. Unfortunately, many American anthropologists are insufficiently trained. They lack the objectivity to look upon their own culture, as they do other cultures, and fail to identify their culture icons and analyze what they achieve. They cannot sort out the many public roles of Mead from her scientific one. And they respond to this challenge as if it were to the iconic roles rather than to the scientific role, failing to react in an objective way to see where anthropological research might be improved. It appears as if the American mind needs heroes, culture icons. It might be asked if this is the result of the many contradictions in values and behavior that occur in American society as a result of rapid social change. 

Fourth, there is the fear that with the invalidation of the cultural determinism there will be a return to the racism and eugenics of the past. Many anthropologists have falsely read Freeman’s book as being a sociobiology tract, which it isn’t. Freeman’s position is that cultures are cumulative systems of past choices. Unfortunately, he does not make this position adequately clear, only referring to it in a footnote to page 299. 

Fifth, Mead was a highly charismatic figure. She was an insightful, inspiring, original, probing thinker. She was confident in herself and her conclusions to the point of being arrogant. And she helped many to become anthropologists and forwarded their professional careers. She thus became an inspiration for many, an idealized individual, and those whom she stimulated, helped, and responded to, cannot now stand to have her criticized, especially by an outsider to American anthropology. 

Sixth, some have reasoned that if Mead’s ethnography is in error as a result of an invalid doctrine of cultural determinism, the ethnography of others who believe in it is also in error. Therefore, they have responded with an attack to defend their own ethnographies. This reasoning is false, as I shall shortly explain. It confuses observation with explanation. 

Seventh, there is a strain of illiteracy in the American anthropological profession. Anyone who can read with a discerning mind would have seen that Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa was just plain rubbish. 

Eighth, while there have been some incredible high points in American anthropology, there are also some incredible sloughs. The education of American anthropologists is, with notable exceptions, not outstanding for the development of trained, rigorous minds. It is my observation that the profession has tended to split, with those who espouse ethnography as interpretation defending Mead, while those who view anthropology as a science are sympathetic to Freeman’s critique. All too frequently the label ‘interpretative’ or ‘cultural’ anthropology is used to hide simply poor scholarship (see Robinson 1983, Lieberson 1984). Culture has not been constructed as an analytical concept. There are no basic units (Appell 1980, 1981). Yet many American anthropologists use it as if it were. And, in the minds of many it has become endowed with divinity: when used as an explanation, it is both cause and effect; producer and produced. Instead, culture is an orienting concept. It is a term similar to terms such as ‘molecular biology’ and ‘particle physics.’ It orients inquiry toward a particular set of phenomena. It does not isolate chains of cause and effect; it does not provide explanations. 

Finally, deep in the minds of many American anthropologists is the fear that the discipline has no intellectual clothes. There have been budgetary cuts for most departments; enrollment has fallen off. High school students are now taught the concept of cultural relativity, and anthropology has not seemingly progressed towards any new, great insights. There are few exciting discoveries. And so anthropology no longer captures the imagination as it once did in the heady days of Mead’s public performances or during the days when anthropology was close to the sources of power, providing advice for the development of government policy, as it did during World War II. In many ways, American cultural anthropology appears moribund, with the exception of a very few whose office lights still remain on late into the night. It has not responded to new challenges, practical or intellectual. For example, it has failed to respond to the development of social impact analysis; it has failed to take the intellectual high ground in the study of social change during an age of unprecedented social change (see Appell, 1982). And it has not responded to loss of indigenous cultures around the world as it once did to a similar challenge when North American Indian cultures were threatened. To the more moribund Freeman’s book is a threat rather than a challenge.



It is not Freeman’s contention that the interactionist paradigm would have prevented Mead from making the errors she did in her Samoan ethnography. Some have accused him of taking this position. It is true that an understanding of the rooting of culture in human biology and an apprehension of ethological insights would have given Mead obvious clues that Samoan culture was not as easy as she thought and would have perhaps served as a corrective. But much of the research that has led to the interactionist paradigm had not been completed by the time of Mead’s Samoan inquiries. 

Instead, Freeman writes, ‘We are thus confronted in the case of Margaret Mead’s Samoan researches with an instructive example of how, as evidence is sought to substantiate a cherished doctrine, the deeply held beliefs of those involved may lead them unwittingly into error’ (Freeman 1983a:292).     

Thus, it can be concluded from Freeman’s findings that where there is an intermixing of the levels of observation and explanation in anthropological inquiry error will result. It is not uncommon in the history of science that essentially the same set of observations are subject to two different explanations, and earlier observations are used a for the development of explanatory theories at a later date. For example, the observations found in the famous reports of the Bureau of American Ethnology, many completed before Mead’s time and some afterwards, have been and still are an important anthropological data bank. While explanatory theories may pose certain questions, and may even cause the selection of certain data (see Nagel 1961), the crucial point is that the well-trained scientist attempts to keep his observational data separate from his interpretations and explanatory theories. 

This means that meticulous ethnographic reporting on the nature of sociocultural systems, regardless of whether or not it is based on the interactionist explanation, is still valid. And many who do not yet accept the interactionist paradigm can continue to make excellent descriptions of these systems of cumulative past choices, as long as they are aware of their biases and keep their observations separate from their explanations.14 

Thus, Freeman argues (1980) that the information transmitted in cultural evolution is specifically exogenetic, having been generated by human agency.  He writes (1980:215), “In these two instances we have decisive evidence of the way in which human groups, through the exercise of choices that are not genetically prescribed, create highly specific conventional behaviors. It is the existence of such conventional behaviors, in great profusion, in all human populations, that establishes, indubitably, the autonomy of culture.  Moreover, it is these same conventional behaviors that make up the ‘ethnographic detail’ which is the very subject matter of anthropology.”



Freeman’s position is that a full explanation of human behavior cannot proceed without a consideration of the interaction of the biological and cultural variables. He writes (1983a:294), ‘the exclusion of either biological or cultural variables from the etiology of adolescent or any other basic form of human behavior is unwarranted.’ 

Let us explore some possibilities for the paradigm. We need to know, for example, what part of the genetic system is induced to full expression by the environment and to what degree.  Harris’s statement (1983a:27) that ‘the separation of cultural and biological determinism therefore remains to this day the bedrock of any discipline that is concerned with explaining both the differences and similarities in human social life’ seems strangely archaic and suggests that American anthropology may yet become a backwater as other disciplines develop. Let me give an example. 

Kagan and his associates (Kagan 1984) have distinguished shy, timid children from outgoing, bold, or fearless children, calling the former ‘inhibited’ and the latter ‘uninhibited.’ Kagan writes (1984:9) that inhibition to the unfamiliar can be seen clearly by the second year of the child’s life and seems to have some biological roots. He reports that a small proportion of two-year olds exhibit this inhibition and an equally small proportion exhibit a lack of inhibition, rushing forward to deal with the unfamiliar. Some of the inhibited children show a profile of physiological reactions that implies that they were born with a biological predisposition that favors this reaction to the novel and unexpected. ‘However,’ Kagan writes (1984:9), ‘the biological vulnerability to inhibition will not produce an excessive cautious or shy three-year old, if the environment is benevolent and if the child is protected from undue stress during the opening years of life. In other words, biological predisposition requires a complementary set of experiences if it is to be actualized.’ 

If Kagan’s conclusions are valid, how does this relate to anthropological inquiry? It has been a frequent observation that hunting and gathering groups that occupy relict areas are shy and timid. Is this characteristic to be explained solely on a learning experience that came from dealing with more powerful, hostile neighbors? Or has there been an interaction between the biological variables and the social environment? That is, has the experience with hostile neighbors caused the genetic predisposition for shyness and timidity to become fully expressed and has this characteristic facilitated the survival of those possessing it so that this genetic trait became more widespread in the population as a whole? This type of explanation certainly warrants further study.



But adaptation is not an end state. It is an ongoing process (see Appell 1982). A human population is in a constant process of adapting to its social and physical environments through the choices that the members make or do not make in response to their challenges. Thus, a sociocultural system is an evolving system--a system of cumulative choices, as Freeman would put it (see Freeman 1981, 1983a), which is learned and then modified by each successive generation. This leads us to view a sociocultural system as an emergent phenomenon (see Appell 1974, 1988). But it is not isolated from its biological system, i.e., the population that uses it for adaptation. To fully understand the process of adaptation in a population requires that cultural and biological variables be seen in interactionist perspective, as Freeman makes clear. 

Thus, the organization of a sociocultural system and changes in it have consequences for the biological system; demands for adaptation produce biological as well as a cultural responses. One of the important aspects of this approach is that it provides us with a method of evaluating the efficiency of a sociocultural system in relieving adaptation loads for its population. The greater the reduction achieved by the sociocultural system in the adaptation load presented by the environment, the more successful the system. However, no system provides a perfect method of adaptation. While responding to adaptation demands, each sociocultural system has its own built-in adaptation load that it adds to the population. Examples of this internal loading might be subincision or fasting to achieve a guardian spirit. 

Thus, the net adaptation load of a population is the sum of that part of the environmental load that is not met by the sociocultural system plus the internal load produced by the operation of the sociocultural system itself. The higher the sum, the greater the load on the biological system of the population. And this can be measured in terms of disease, disability, and impairment, as well as length of life span. A shift in levels of impairment gives a measure of the direction that the processes of adaptation are taking for a specific population. This approach also gives us a method to measure the degree to which the introduction of social change is either adding to the adaptation load or relieving it. 

We might call the particular approach to the interaction of biology and culture that I have sketched out here ‘biosocial energetics.’ Whatever, there is an e citing future for anthropology in exploring this interaction that Freeman has delineated, if anthropologists accept the challenge.



1.  For an ironic account of this meeting and its implications see Appell 1984.

2.  No one has yet dealt with Mead’s unexpected claim that 68% of her sample (17 girls of 30) reported having homosexual experience. Mead does not report the content of the question that elicited these responses, and so we are not sure what ‘homosexual experience’ consists of.

3.  Internal evidence in Mead’s own works (1969:95) suggests that the defloration ceremony was more widespread than she indicated in Coming of Age in Samoa. ‘The marriage ceremony consisted of two parts: the defloration ceremony...; and the interchange of property. Both of these ceremonies were of course much more elaborate for people of rank, and the defloration ceremony was usually dispensed with by poor families.’ And even if it was a sham for those who were already non-virgins, as she says in her new conclusion to the second edition of Social Organization of Manu’a, it still must have been rather unpleasant for the woman and indicative of a female role that is completely at variance with the depiction in Mead (1973).

4.  Mead at this point still had not dealt with the internal contradictions in her materials that Winston (1934) had raised.

5.  The major critical reviews of Freeman’s book have been brought together in Canberra Anthropology (Acciaioli, ed., 1983), and Freeman’s response is in Canberra Anthropology (1983b), both of which have just appeared. I found none of the criticisms damaging in the least to Freeman’s argument, and his response makes further useful points.

6.  Mead never established that coming of age in Western society was full of stress and strain by evidence from a comparable community in the U.S.A. Instead her evidence is anecdotal, and I sense tells us more about Mead’s own life than American culture.

7.  This confusion of identities has been seen by others as one of Mead’s strengths. In a report on a talk given by her daughter, Mary C. Bateson, at a Radcliffe colloquium an undergraduate reporter wrote: ‘Margaret Mead thought in terms of complex wholes. She linked the multiple ‘microcosms’ of her professional and personal life with the ‘macrocosms’ of knowledge and society (Betz 1984:6).

8.  Interpretative ethnography I find to be intellectually slovenly. It seems to stem from the same cultural forces in America which have produced a confusion of fact with fiction for purposes of entertainment and commercial profit as in fictionalized biographies and other historical accounts where the author presents his own interpretative ethnography see Lieberson (1984) and Robinson (1983).

9.  Whether Mead is the product of the times or the producer is hard to disentangle. Ronald M. Berndt (1983) gives another example of Mead forcing her data. Mead (1935) characterized the Arapesh as gentle against the contention of Reo Fortune (1940), her husband, in an article on Arapesh warfare.

10.  I use the term ‘promiscuity’ in its fundamental sense to indicate a mixture of diverse and unrelated parts, confused, casual, random, lacking standards of selection. See The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Houghton Mifflin Company (1976), Boston.

11. The iconolatry of Mead can be nicely illustrated in a recent letter to the Anthropology Newsletter:

Since I’ve taken over the Ethical Dilemmas column ... I’ve received far too few cases from readers. Without cases, no column.

Perhaps some of you think of a case as something solemn, lengthy, and imposing, preferably arriving with flashing neon lights signaling “ethical dilemma.”

As Margaret Mead used to say: Fiddlesticks!

An ethical dilemma is when you can’t figure out the right thing to do... [Cassell 1984:2].

12. Freeman (1983b:167, footnote 85) makes the point that Mead’s depiction of Samoa created another vision of the Edenic myth which has never lost its romantic appeal.

13. Barnouw (1979:92) writes, ‘one wonders whether the picture of a tension-free Samoa may not, to some extent, be a projection or wish-image.’

14. I do not subscribe to the radical relativist position in which it is argued that all observational reports are driven by the theoretical concepts used and/or the ideological stance of the investigator and contaminated as a result of these. While it is true that the direction of an inquiry may be driven by personal, ideological, and/or theoretical concerns (see Appell 1976), observational reports are the mapping of a reality independent of the contaminations of the inquirer. This independent reality eventually breaks through, if not with the first inquirer at least with his successors. Otherwise, there would be no growing control of the natural world, as, for example, in the medical sciences; there would be no corrective to belief. The issues of scientific relativism are related to those of the doctrine of extreme cultural relativism, which if we took seriously would prevent all intercommunication between people of disparate cultures. See Appell 1973b, 1980, 1981) for a discussion of these issues.



Acciaioli, Gregory , ed.

1983  Fact and Context in Ethnography: The Samoa Controversy. Special Volume. Canberra Anthropology Vol. 6, No. 1 & 2.


Appell, G. N.

1973a  Basic Issues in the Dilemmas and Ethical Conflicts in Anthropological Inquiry. Module 19. New York: MSS Modular Publications.

1973b ‘The Distinction Between Ethnography and Ethnology and Other Issues in Cognitive Structuralism.’ Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 129:1-56.

1974  ‘The Analysis of Property Systems: The Creation and Devolution of Property Interests Among the Rungus of Borneo,’ paper presented at the Conference of the Association of Social Anthropologists, University of Keel, 1974.

1976  ‘The Rungus: Social Structure in a Cognatic Society and Its Symbolization.’ In The Societies of Borneo: Explorations in the Theory of Cognatic Social Structure. G. N. Appell, ed. Special Publication 6. Washington: American Anthropological Association.

1978  Dilemmas and Ethical Conflicts in Anthropological Inquiry: A Case Book. Waltham: Crossroads Press.

1980  ‘Epistemological Issues in Anthropological Inquiry: Social Structuralism, Cognitive Structuralism, Synthetic Structuralism and Opportunism, Part 1.’ Canberra Anthropology 3, 2:1-27.

1981  ‘Epistemological Issues in Anthropological Inquiry:Social Structuralism, Cognitive Structuralism, Synthetic Structuralism and Opportunism, Part 2,’ Canberra Anthropology 4, 1:1-22.

1982  The Health Consequences of Social Change:A Set of Postulates for Developing General Adaptation Theory. Paper presented at A National Conference on Social Stress Research, University of New Hampshire, Durham, October 11-12, 1982.

1984  ‘Correspondence: On the Coming of Age of American Cultural Anthropology.’ Anthropology Newsletter 25, 2:4.

1988  ‘Emergent Structuralism: The Design of an Inquiry System to Delineate Production and Reduction of Social Forms.’ in G. N. Appell and T. N. Madan, eds. Choice and Morality. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Barnouw, Victor

1979  ‘Margaret Mead’s From the South Seas.’ In Culture and Personality. Victor Barnouw, ed. Third Edition. Homewood, Illinois: The Dorsey Press.


Bennett, John W.

1946 ‘The Interpretation of Pueblo Culture:A Question of Values.’  Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 2:361-374.


Bernard, Jessie

1968  ‘Observation and Generalization in Cultural Anthropology.’  In Theory in Anthropology: A Sourcebook. Robert A. Manners and David Kaplan, eds. Chicago: Aldine.


Berndt, Ronald M.

1983  ‘The Unmaking of a Myth.’ The Weekend Australian Magazine April 16-17, 1983, p. 11.


Betz, Annabel

1984  ‘Margaret Mead’s Research.’ Second Century Radcliffe News April, p. 6.


Brady, Ivan

1983  ‘Introduction.’ In Speaking in the Name of the Real: Freeman and Mead on Samoa. Ivan Brady, ed. American Anthropologist 85:908-909.


Brady, Ivan, ed.

1983  ‘Speaking in the Name of the Real:Freeman and Mead on Samoa.’ American Anthropologist 85:908-947.


Bronowski, J.

1965  Science and Human Values. Revised edition. New York: Harper & Row.

Campbell, Joseph

1959  The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology. New York: Viking Press.

1964  The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology. New York: Viking Press.


Cassell, Joan

1984  ‘Correspondence: A Lack of Dilemmas?’ Anthropology Newsletter 25, 3:2.


Fortune, Reo F.

1940  ‘Arapesh Warfare.’ American Anthropologist 41:22-41.


Freeman, Derek

1980   “Sociobiology: The ‘Antidiscipline’ of Anthropology.” In  Sociobiology Examined. Ashley Montagu, ed.  New York: Oxford University Press.

1981   ‘The Anthropology of Choice.’  Canberra Anthropology 4:82.

1983a  Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

1983b  ‘Inductivism and the Test of Truth: A Rejoinder to Lowell D. Holmes and Others.’ In Facts and Text in Ethnography: The Samoa Controversy. Gregory Acciaioli, ed. Special Volume. Canberra Anthropology 6:101-192.


Harris, Marvin

1983a  ‘The Sleep-Crawling Question.’ Psychology Today 17, 5:24-27.


1983b  ‘Margaret and the Giant-Killer: It Doesn’t Matter a Whit Who’s Right.’ The Sciences 23, 4:18-21.


Holmes, Lowell D.

1983a  ‘South Seas Squall.’ The Sciences 23, 4:14-18.


1983b  ‘A Tale of Two Studies,’ In Speaking in the Name of the Real:Freeman and Mead on Samoa. Ivan Brady, ed.  American Anthropologist 85:929-935.


Kagan, Jerome

1984  ‘Inhibition in the Young Child.’ Harvard Graduate Society Newsletter Winter p.  9.


Leach, Edmund

1972  ‘Anthropological Aspects of Language: Animal Categories and Verbal Abuse.’ In Mythology. Pierre Maranda, ed. Hardonsworth: Penguin Books.


Levi-Strauss, Claude

1963  Structural Anthropology. New York: Basic Books.


Lieberson, Jonathan

1984  ‘Interpreting the Interpreter: Review of Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology by Clifford Geertz. The New York Review of Books March 15, 1984, pp. 39:46.


Lurie, Nancy Oestreich

1984  ‘Advice and Dissent: Formal Protes,’.  Science 84 March, page 20.

Marcus, George E.

1983  ‘One Man’s Mead. Review of Margaret Mead and Samoa:The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth by Derek Freeman.’  New York Times Book Review March 27, 1983, pp. 3 & 22.


Mead, Margaret

1928  Coming of Age in Samoa: A Psychological Study of Primitive Youth for Western Civilization. New York: William Morrow.

1930  Social Organization of Manu’a. Honolulu: Bernice P. Bishop Museum.

1935  Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies. New York: The New American Library.

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Nagel, Ernest

1961  The Structure of Science: Problems in the Logic of Scientific Explanation. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.

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1966  The Method and Theory of Ethnology: An Essay in Criticism (With a new Introduction by Arthur J. Vidich). New York: Basic Books. (Originally published in 1933.)

Raum, O. F.

1940  Chaga Childhood: A Description of Indigenous Education in an East African Tribe. London: Oxford University Press.


Robinson, Paul

1983 ‘From Suttee to Baseball to Cockfighting:Review of Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology by Clifford Geertz.’ The New York Times Book Review September 25, 1983, pages 11 & 35.


Schwartz, Theodore

1983  ‘Anthropology: A Quaint Science.’ In Speaking in the Name of the Real:Freeman and Mead on Samoa. Ivan Brady, ed. American Anthropologist 85:919-929.


Science 83

1983  ‘High on the Gift List: Margaret Mead in Samoa by Derek Freeman,’ Harvard University Press, December, p. 114.


Shore, Bradd

1983  ‘Parado Regained: Freeman’s Margaret Mead and Samoa,’In Speaking in the Name of the Real:Freeman and Mead on Samoa. Ivan Brady, ed. American Anthropologist 85:935-944.


Silverman, Martin G.

1983 ‘Our Great Deception, Or, Anthropology Defiled!’  In Speaking in the Name of the Real:Freeman and Mead on Samoa. Ivan Brady, ed. American Anthropologist 85:944-947.


Wachhorts, Wyn

1981  Thomas Alva Edison:An American Myth. Cambridge: MIT Press.


Weiner, Annette B.

1983  ‘Ethnographic Determinism: Samoa and the Margaret Mead Controversy.’ In Speaking in the Name of the Real:Freeman and Mead on Samoa. Ivan Brady, ed.. American Anthropologist 85:909-919.

Winston, Ellen

1934  ‘The Alleged Lack of Mental Diseases Among Primitive Groups,’ American Anthropologist 36:234-238.