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Central Issues in Anthropology

Anthropologists in Search of a Culture: Margaret Mead, Derek Freeman and All the Rest of Us

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Abstract

This compelling analysis of the implications of the “Mead-Freeman” debate is the last work by Eleanor Leacock, who died in Samoa in 1987. According to Leacock, one of the principal effects of Freeman's attack on Mead's work was to focus attention upon his support for biological determinism. In addition, his findings about Samoa ignored the culture changes that had taken place in Samoa through time. Freeman can also be faulted for failing to note the contemporary problems of Samoa as a small, Third World island nation.

On the other hand, Leacock reflects on the possibility that even if Mead's research reinforced an infantile image of Samoans as “simple, happy natives,” Freeman's “balanced” emphasis on aggression and violence has potentially negative effects for Samoan communities throughout the world. Hence, both Mead and Freeman separated Samoan culture from Samoan history.

Leacock thus demonstrates vividly that the lack of a historically based, advocacy-oriented anthropology produces stereotyped images. This advocacy is the key to forging access to the “insider” perspective, for it assumes that it is undertaken in active collaboration with those whom the researcher is studying. Leacock's paper thus points the way to a more constructuve and collaborative ethnography.

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