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The Trashing of Margaret Mead: Anatomy of an Anthropological Controversy (Studies in American Thought and Culture) Paperback – December 3, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

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“A superbly crafted and highly readable book that essentially lays the Mead-Freeman controversy to rest.”—James Côté, author of Adolescent Storm and Stress: An Evaluation of the Mead-Freeman Controversy


“There is simply no other book like it. What Shankman does, very successfully, is analyze the nature of the controversy in meticulous detail, examine the main participants in the debate, and evaluate the quality of the arguments on both sides. Valuable to anthropologists and other academics, the book is also eminently accessible to any interested layperson.”—Nancy McDowell, author of The Mundugumor: From the Field Notes of Margaret Mead and Reo Fortune


“A compelling read about the controversy. Shankman, whose anthropological engagement with Samoa covers forty years and who met both Freeman and Mead, presents measured accounts of their careers, reasons for studying Samoa, and personal lives.”—Roger Sanjek, author of The Future of Us All: Race and Neighborhood Politics in New York City


"[A] balanced portrait of this complex and often vitriolic anthropological controversy.Well researched and thoroughly documented, this should be of interest both to anthropologists and to educated lay readers with interests in Mead and her legacy."—Library Journal



“[Shankman] convincingly rebuts Freeman’s certitude that Mead suffered a ‘fateful hoaxing’ in Samoa that changed the course of anthropology and, by implication, society itself.”—Colorado Arts and Sciences



"A fine, funny, discriminating, and at times quite disturbing book. . . . Shankman shows with great gusto and clarity that U.S. media and many academics were predisposed to accept Freeman's claims, however fraudulent. . . . Should be used in college courses ranging from media studies to cultural anthropology to women's studies to Peoples and Cultures of the Pacific. Graduate-level seminars could be wrapped around the many significant issues raised here. Shankman's bulldog-like dedication for many years is as laudable as his prose style is engaging."—James Hamar, The Feminist Review



“Highly recommended.”—Choice



“Shankman’s insights and conclusions are real contributions that will no doubt energise future research. . . . It is the best coverage of the ‘Mead thing’ that we have.”—Peter Hempenstall, The Journal of Pacific History

About the Author

Paul Shankman, professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has conducted fieldwork in Samoa periodically since 1966. He has written a number of articles on the Mead-Freeman controversy.

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Product Details

  • Series: Studies in American Thought and Culture
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press; 1 edition (December 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0299234541
  • ISBN-13: 978-0299234546
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #769,351 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

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Several times, Derek Freeman (and his lapdog Hiram Caton) declared the “Freeman/Mead controversy” over with Freeman victorious on every count and Margaret Mead “hoaxed” back in the 1920s by two Samoan girls joking that she took seriously. The title of Freeman’s last book labeled this the “fateful hoaxing.”

It would only have been fateful if Freeman’s long-running misrepresentation of the centrality of a popular book, Coming of Age in Samoa (1928), which, according to him was central to establishing the importance of culture for American anthropologists (Freeman refused to recognize lots of evidence either that culturalism was dominant in American anthropologist before Margaret Mead went to Samoa, that her popular book was criticized by American cultural anthropologists, and not used, let alone central, in the training of American anthropologist graduate students). Paul Shankman goes over some of the evidence for the peripheralness within anthropology (quite different from her prominence in periodicals like Redbook) of Mead and of her first book.

He also demonstrates that Mead’s book did not rely on those two women, but on informants younger than they were, that she had gathered data and was not in the panic to come up with something that Freeman claims, that (as usual) Freeman cherry-picked snippets from interviews with one of the two supposed hoaxers (Fa’apua’a Fa’amû), made insupportable claims for the perfectness of her memory, and ignored statements in the interview that undercut his claims even though the interview he commissioned was filled with very leading questions he supplied. She said that Mead did not ask her questions about her own sexual conduct or about Samoan girls’ sexual conduct. (Shankman elaborated on the evidence afainst “hoaxing” in a Feb.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Frank A. Salamone Sr. on March 12, 2014
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Paul has written a great book : scholarly, fair, complete. He puts the debate in proper perspective and provides a context to assess Mead's greatness.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Margo King Lenson on March 24, 2015
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As a suburban, middle-class Samoan born in Hawai'i, educated in CA, I'm always curious how others see us just to help me figure out my own island identity. Being Samoan is confusing to me too, but I like the idea of being a "free-loving orgiast" as UN Samoa rep, Lelei Lelaulu, prefers (p. 145) than "sex-starved & suicidal..." Samoans do have a biting humor, I know that much!
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