The Coming of Age in Ethnography

The Free essays given on our site were donated by anonymous users and should not be viewed as samples of our custom writing service. You are welcome to use them to inspire yourself for writing your own term paper. If you need a custom term paper related to the subject of Anthropology or The Coming of Age in Ethnography, you can hire a professional writer here in just a few clicks.
The Coming of Age in Ethnography In 1928, American anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote her groundbreaking doctoral dissertation, Coming of Age in Samoa. Mead, then a student of Frank Boas the 'Father of American Anthropology' and Ruth Benedict, was schooled in the concept of 'cultural determination'. This, theoretical background inspired and gave direction to her study of the Samoan societal structure. In Coming of Age in Samoa, Mead focused on female youth development in the Manu'an Islands. She attempted to demonstrate that adolescence is not universally stressful and "that much of what we ascribe to human nature is no more than a reaction to the restraints put upon us by our civilization." The mode of academic inquiry Mead used was that of a subjective semi-attached scholar, utilizing a social constructionalist perspective. Her study took place over a period of nine months. In this limited time frame she tried to minimize the differences between herself and the Samoan girls. Her goal was to facilitate free flow of information giving her raw material to underpin her study. Founded on her extemporaneous interviews in a rather loose framework of deductive research methodology, Mead then argued that 'culture' was the most influential factor of adolescent development, not the innate influences of biology. Her etic point of view thus validated her mentor's hypothesis. In organizational analysis of Mead's work, it is worthy to note (as the title alludes), the material therein is structured in a 'rights of passage' contextual format. This can most readily be exemplified in her chapter organization; as the Samoan ethnography in earnest commences with chapter II,"A Day in Samoa" and closes with chapter XII "Maturity and Old Age". The chapters between these are then organized into key cultural themes and how they relate to female adolescence development: such as education, household, community, sex relations, dance, individuality and conflict. Thereafter in chapter XIII, Mead compares and contrasts Samoan cultural education with that of western civilization. As "knowledge of one other culture should sharpen our ability to scrutinize more steadily, to appreciate more lovingly, our own." Unfortunately, the book does not end there. A final chapter is given that in context and structure seems out of place of the larger content in "Coming of Age in Samoa". Chapter XIV "Education for Choice", is philosophical preaching on values and standards with a new futuristic worldview being proposed. Herein Mead comes to a rather grandiose idealistic conclusion that individual choice and universal tolerance is the high point that a civilization can achieve. This is clearly a marked point of departure from Mead's analysis of the stresses of adolescent development, since she did not premise such a worldview until the final chapter. Overall, Mead's work is generally coherent and her structure and organization is complementary to the content. The prose is clear, lively and engaging for academics, students of anthropology as well as anyone with an interest in ethnography and culture. One must merely overlook her misplaced final chapter to enjoy the relative ease with which this book flows. In assessing the content therein, from Mead's standpoint she ultimately proved her goal that socialization caused most behavior and that this behavior was determined within individual cultures. However, it is important to understand that Mead entered the field with a predetermined hypothesis, which greatly influenced her point of view. She found the predisposed conclusion that she sought. Her research methodology has been strong critiqued as being raw, ad hoc and based on simple interactions. This alone does not mean her proposed hypothesis of 'cultural determinism' was wrong. However, her methodology does not validate her claims either from a critical reader's perspective. Nevertheless, Mead's line of reasoning flows logically to her conclusion of cultural determination. Although, it is important to note she relies heavily on hidden assumptions. She assumes (as Freedman points out) that her material acquired from informal interviews of Samoan girls was honest and truthful. The potential for such false data collection to be apart of her already imprecise research methods leads one to question the merit of her work. For example, Mead writes of clandestine sex under palm trees in a virtual erotic paradise , as there is, "no frigidity, no impotence and the capacity for intercourse only once in a night is counted as senility." However, by going outside of the text, one can find Samoans who lived in the same cultural epoch Mead studied who contradict such assertions. Moreover, one also uncovers an actual Mead informant who stated openly that she and others lied to Mead about their sexual activities. Certainly, such confessions may now have credibility questions. Nevertheless, surely native Samoans must possess greater ethos with regard to their culture than any 'green' fieldwork anthropologist. In addition, Mead's inexperience in the field and young age is further hindered by a brief timeframe for her study. Mead's work is further criticized in her reference to the church. She states that the role of missionaries was to simply offer a 'diluted Christianity'. As Samoan adolescents, merely participated in church activities without reverence, need or want of it. The church's influence was marginal at best and "the concept of celibacy [was] absolutely meaningless to [the Samoan people]." Yet, Freeman holds that Mead completely misinterprets the Samoan attitude and values with regard to sex and the Christian church. His view was that Samoans were rigorous adamant Christian believers that strongly believed in the churches teachings of morals and ethics. Mead even contradicts herself when she refers to her data on female virginity. As she discusses defloration ceremonies that were ultimately banned by the government and of girls having their heads shaved and/or being beaten for breaking the prescribed sexual conduct rules. This is clearly contradictory to her claims of open casual sexual relations, be they homo or hetro in nature. Nonetheless, Mead's book was very well received. She offered the world a place that could only exist in fantasy. A Samoan society that is almost completely clear of stress and full of leisure. Adolescence without pressures often found in a modern industrialized teenager's life. Large families where privacy, taboos and restrictions are few. Where sex is open and never hard to procure. And where violence and conflict are virtually eliminated through mere negotiation o

Our inspirational collection of essays and research papers is available for free to our registered users

Related Essays on Anthropology

Body Language: Cultural or Universal?

Body Language: Cultural or Universal? Body language and various other nonverbal cues have long been recognized as being of great importance to the facilitation of communication. There has been a l...

read more
Aztec Religion

At the time of the Spanish conquest, the religion of the Aztecs was polytheistic, based on the worship of a multitude of personal gods, most of them with well-defined attributes. Nevertheless, magic ...

read more
Skull Comparison Lab Report

Skull Comparison Lab Report We were recently assigned the task of examining, note taking, comparing, and contrasting three different types of skulls. All three had the same basic makeup, but each h...

read more
Altruism as Related to Evol. Biology

"Altruism and It's Relationship to Evolutionary Biology" There are two separate ways of thinking concerning altruism and it's relationship to evolutionary biology. One is the belief that altruism...

read more
History Of Anthropology

In the history of anthropology I have learned many new theories I have never known before, there are a great many objectives and thoughts that I had never even knew existed before. Learning...

read more
Anthropology Science

Q2- I. What is Anthropology? Anthropology is the scientific and humanistic study of the human species; it attempts to answer questions to try and solve them; questions of where humans cam...

read more