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Margaret Mead's Coming of age in Samoa

Margaret Mead's Coming of age in Samoa: A Psychological Study of Primitive Youth for Western Civilisation is a study of child and adolescent development in Western Samoa during the 1920s. Mead studied the customs and habits of the villagers on Ta'u, one of three small islands in the Manu'a group, about a hundred miles east of Pago Pago.

The study of ethnography, or the scientific description of customs and habits among mankind, was the purpose for Mead's journey. Descriptive by definition, ethnography is limited by both the scientist-observer's objectivity and perspective within his or her frame of reference. Mead described the Samoans' birth through teen years from the perspective of an outsider looking in, with all the limitations imposed by such a design. Her idyllic portrayals of the islanders' stress-free lives were considered by many critics as unrealistic. It must be remembered, however, that her results are relative to life on Ta'u in the 1920s, from the perspective of an American ethnologist who tended to believe that culture plays as important a role as biology in determining how people behave.

Psychoanalysts who believe that physical and mental maturation require that a child pass through successive stages of physical and cognitive development, some of which may be stressful, had a difficult time accepting Mead's views on child development. Descriptions of inner psychological turmoil, particularly associated with adolescence, seemed to be missing from her depictions of young people. Researchers who believe that behavior is strongly determined by biological referents, whether directly observed or inferred, have criticized Mead for overlooking the influence of internal stress as a motivator of behavior. As proof of their claim, they cite the many current instances of teen suicide and crime on the islands that Mead found so peaceful. Theorists oriented toward biological determinist positions thought that Mea...

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Margaret Mead's Coming of age in Samoa. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 19:18, August 12, 2020, from