- Margaret Mead: A Life by Jane Howard
Harvill, 527 pp, £12.95, October 1984, ISBN 0 00 272515 0
- With a Daughter’s Eye: A Memoir of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson by Mary Catherine Bateson
Morrow, 242 pp, $15.95, July 1984, ISBN 0 688 03962 6
Both these books are, in part, by-products of the furore that was generated in 1983 by the publication of Derek Freeman’s Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth and I had better declare where I stand. I have known Derek Freeman for nearly forty years. I consider that his criticism of the work of the youthful Margaret Mead was Justified but academically unnecessary. I met Margaret Mead on only four occasions and very briefly; I did not find her sympatica. Reo Fortune, Mead’s second husband, was my faculty colleague in Cambridge for many years. Her third husband, Gregory Bateson, for whose intellectual originality I have an enormous respect, was a personal friend.
Vol. 7 No. 10 · 6 June 1985
SIR: I am nonplussed by my friend Edmund Leach’s judgment (LRB, 7 March) that the refutation in my book Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth of the conclusions reached by Margaret Mead in her Coming of Age in Samoa was ‘justified but academically unnecessary’. This refutation was both justified and academically necessary for the very substantial reason that Mead’s demonstrably erroneous conclusions about Samoa have been, over many years, repeated in numerous anthropological textbooks, from Herskovits’s Man and His Works: The Science of Cultural Anthropology of the 1940s to Swartz and Jordan’s Culture: The Anthropological Approach of the 1980s.
Nor was this process confined to the USA. Professor E.E. Evans-Pritchard, of the University of Oxford, in his Social Anthropology, based on his influential BBC lectures of 1950, repeated Mead’s conclusions about Samoa without questioning them in any way. Professor Morris Carstairs, in his Reith Lectures of 1962, based part of his argument on quite erroneous statements about the sexual mores of the Samoans which he had derived from Mead. Further, Mead’s erroneous general conclusion about adolescence in Samoa has been enshrined as though it were a scientific fact in major works of reference such as Makers of Modern Culture (Justin Wintle, ed., 1981). Yet it is surely beyond question that if science and scholarship are, in Francis Bacon’s words, to ‘turn upon the poles of truth’, there can be no tolerance of error within them. As Charles Darwin once remarked: ‘to kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact.’
The Australian National University, Canberra