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Confronting Margaret Mead

Confronting Margaret Mead: Scholarship, Empire, and the South Pacific

Lenora Foerstel
Angela Gilliam
Copyright Date: 1992
Published by: Temple University Press
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  • Book Info
    Confronting Margaret Mead
    Book Description:

    "...valuable information, ideas, and contrasts." --Choice The legendary Margaret Mead changed Americans' views of themselves by relating information collected from remote peoples to our society--a society that she did not consider necessarily to be the pinnacle of human development. However, Mead and her followers have been criticized for promulgating sensationalized and inaccurate images of Melanesian societies, including savagery, cannibalism, and wanton sexuality. This book deals with the consequences of such Western condescension. Destined to be highly controversial, this book for the first time brings a multicultural outlook to bear on Margaret Mead, scrutinizing her role and impact on Western anthropology, colonialism, and strategic and business interests in the South Pacific. The contributors, most of them avowedly activist supporters of the concept of a nuclear-free and independent Pacific, include Warilea Iamo, Papua New Guinea's first anthropologist; John D. Waiko, Director of the New Guinea Institute of Applied Social and Economic Research; Nahau Rooney, the daughter of one of Mead's informants, and; Susanna Ounei, a leader of a New Caledonian independence front. "This book is a remarkable portrait of a scholar and a field, both fierce and fair. The conjecture of perspectives--ethnography and empire, personal history and public practice, voices from the Pacific as well as the United States--makes a document important for assessing anthropology, both past and future." --Dell Hymes, University of Virginia, and editor of Reinventing Anthropology "Mead's attitude toward and activities in relation to her country's foreign and military policies are under scrutiny here, and so is her relationship with the subjects of her research. Such critical assessment of leading scholars is crucial to improvement of academic research and scholastic work and building trust, confidence, and good relations among poe0ples of the world." --Amelia Rokotuivuna, Young Women's Christian Association, Fiji, and former Chair of the Nuclear-Free Pacific Conference

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0095-6
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xviii)
    Peter Worsley

    Critical evaluation of Margaret Mead’s work is long overdue, particularly in the United States, where I have frequently found it difficult to engage in discussion about Mead, since the slightest breath of criticism commonly evokes a passionate-s-and to my mind quite uncritical-defense of the entire corpus of her very uneven writings and of her life-career. I am, therefore, glad that the contributors to this book have undertaken an examination of the Mead legacy in a Pacific-wide context.

    I myself cannot contribute on Melanesia, as I would have liked to have done, because my efforts to carry out fieldwork there were...

    (pp. xix-xxxii)
    Angela Gilliam and Lenora Foerstel
    (pp. xxxiii-xxxvi)
  6. PART I The Margaret Mead Legacy

    • 1 Anthropologists in Search of a Culture: Margaret Mead, Derek Freeman, and All the Rest of Us
      (pp. 3-30)

      The Mead-Freeman controversy, as it has come to be called, certainly has its bizarre aspects. Just how many papers call outsiders write about the culture of one small island nation?¹ One can indeed take a cynical view of the entire affair, and see the creation of an attention-attracting issue as simply serving the demands of the academic market place. Dealing with a recognized “issue” makes it easier to publish a paper and thereby add to one’s vita, to have a symposium accepted, to obtain a research grant, or to win support for a dissertation topic. In my own case, it...

    • 2 Leaving a Record for Others: An Interview with Nahau Rooney
      (pp. 31-54)

      This interview took place at Nahau Rooney’s residence in Boroko, Port Mores by on September 9, 1986. At the time, she was planning a trip to Lorengau in Manus, which has always represented home and the center of her work in provincial government. Present also during the interview was her now-deceased husband, Wes Rooney. For many years, Nahau Rooney was the most prominent woman in national politics, a role that centered around her position as Minister of Justice. When she acquired that ministerial portfolio following independence from Australia in 1975, there were virtually no Papua New Guinean judges, though Bernard...

    • 3 Margaret Mead from a Cultural-Historical Perspective
      (pp. 55-74)

      Margaret Mead was born into Judeo-Christian culture, a culture that produced the two very different philosophies of existentialism and humanism. Existentialism gives a person’s biological existence priority over his social conditioning and therefore views individualism as a core for studying behavior. The humanist, on the other hand, considers existence in the context of history and culture in order to understand individual perception.

      Margaret Mead was 16 years old when the Russian revolution took place. She recalled with great pride that her mother hung a red flag in the window of their home to celebrate the fall of the tsar and...

    • 4 The Stigma of New Guinea: Reflections on Anthropology and Anthropologists
      (pp. 75-100)

      Margaret Mead made vital contributions to the understanding of humanity across the face of the earth. Together with her contemporaries such as Kroeber, Lowie, Sapir, and Benedict, Mead’s works were guided principally by the leadership of Franz Boas. In addition to social, cultural, and physical anthropology, Mead is also known in social psychology, education, and perhaps sociobiology. Mead’s fame and popularity, through studying the so-called exotic cultures of other times and places, has made hers a household name in American society.¹ In Papua New Guinea she lingers in the minds of people. Perhaps she is best remembered by the Manus...

    • 5 Margaret Mead’s Contradictory Legacy
      (pp. 101-156)

      To understand the impact of Margaret Mead’s particular brand of social science on Pacific ethnography and Pacific peoples, it is essential to appreciate the nature of that social science and the influences on her at the historical moment when she was doing anthropology. Margaret Mead was the foremost scholar in the United States who integrated Freudian analysis with studies of culture. In part, that is because she believed in the use of interdisciplinary methods. In an autobiographical essay written near the end of her life, Mead noted that “anyone of the human sciences, which now pursue their separate ways in...

  7. PART II Empire and Independence

    • 6 For an Independent Kanaky
      (pp. 159-172)

      This chapter is an edited speech by Susanna Ounei, which was delivered in Nairobi, Kenya, in July 1985 at the nongovemmental forum segment of the World Conference to Review and Appraise the Achievements of the United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development, and Peace. It was presented to an audience of women with varying levels of education from allover the world, most of whom knew relatively little about New Caledonia and its history.

      Susanna Ounei is a founder and former president of the women’s organization within the FLNKS (Front de Libération National Kanak et Socialist), the GFKEL (Groupe des Femmes...

    • 7 The United States Anthropologist in Micronesia: Toward a Counter-Hegemonic Study of Sapiens
      (pp. 173-204)

      Having emerged from the intellectual wellsprings of the Enlightenment, anthropology’s evolution paralleled the exigencies of European expansionism. Referring to anthropology as “a child of Western imperialism,” Kathleen Gough has devised the classic statement for our discipline (Gough, 1968:12). So-called “applied anthropology” provided imperial powers the ethnographic wherewithal to penetrateand better colonize-the nations of the Third World.

      Curiously, the historic liaison between anthropology and empire has received only cursory attention by the practitioners of the trade. As Talal Asad observed in his important 1973 neoclassicAnthropology and the Colonial Encounterin reference to the cozy relationship between British social anthropology and...

    • 8 Anthropology and Authoritarianism in the Pacific Islands
      (pp. 205-232)

      While people in the West dream of a Pacific Island vacation, the idea foremost in the minds of many islanders, especially the young and ethnically persecuted groups such as the Indo-Fijians, is how to get away from these same islands. They simple see no future in their countries. Most island nations cannot support their own populations and are kept afloat “on a sea of foreign aid.” Today, the major export of Polynesia is people. As a result, between 10 and 50 percent of Pacific Island populations live in Australia and New Zealand, and thousands more have migrated to the United...

    • 4 Tugata: Culture, Identity, and Commitment
      (pp. 233-266)

      In Binandere atugatais the introduction of a speech while the person stands in hisarapa,¹ In histugataa speaker establishes himself, his identity, and his social position in the clan, and gives a brief outline of his subject. He would be embarrassed if someone introduced him: in the village a man speaks for himself, staying put on hisarapaand, having attracted attention by rattling his spatula against his lime gourd and clearing his throat, he says: “I am a grandson of so and so, my father is x of the y clan and I live at...

    • 10 Papua New Guinea and the Geopolitics of Knowledge Production
      (pp. 267-298)

      On December 2, 1986, the United Nations voted on whether to rein-scribe the South Pacific island country of New Caledonia on the United Nations list of non-self-governing territories. The vote was 89 for reinscription, 24 against, with 34 nations (including the United States) abstaining. Tile occasion signified acknowledgement by the international community that New Caledonia was indeed a dependent territory, and not part and parcel of the Republic of France. The preparation for this vote also signalled the heightened international visibility of South Pacific nations-and for the purposes of this chapter, Papua New Guinea-in their thrust to gain recognition for...