How Margaret Mead misinterpreted the cultures she studied biased by her own prejudices

How Margaret Mead misinterpreted the cultures she studied biased by her own prejudices

There are common traits in all the cultures of the world, because they have a biological rather than an environmental substrate, or perhaps it is an inextricable mixture of both.

Thus, despite the fact that anthropologists usually tell us stories of tribes that are very different from ours, in reality these differences are not usually such , or at least they are not as marked as has been argued.

The Mead case

This is what happened to the anthropologist Margaret Mead , as shown in her book Human Universals Donald Brown , emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of California, who overthrew many of the ideas that Mead had forged in his studies of countryside.

Samoan Taupou Girl 1896

Ideas, if that were not enough, already discredited after Mead’s death by the anthropologist Derek Freeman , who published a book, Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth , in which he questioned the ethnographic basis and interpretations of the work. of this anthropologist in Samoa.

Mead misinterpreted what she saw, skewed at best by her prejudices. It is the emic / etic distinction , which is used in the social sciences and the behavioral sciences to refer to two different types of description related to the behavior and interpretation of the agents involved. Emic is generally understood as the native’s point of view and etic as the analyst’s point of view, through a series of methodological and category tools.

Now we know, contrary to what she postulated, that in all known human societies individuals struggle to achieve prestige and status , there are social hierarchies, marriage, jealousy, the division of labor by gender and sexual prohibitions; men are more aggressive than women, and more prone to being violent and delinquent. Similar moral sentiments, envy, shame and pride are observed. There is a belief in the supernatural, in luck and in destiny, and the fear of death prevails. Metonymy, metaphor, proverbs, music and art are known, as well as abstraction and fundamental logical and mathematical concepts. Greed is despised and murder and rape are severely condemned.

In other words, the idea that all culture that is a social construction is very weak in light of the uniformity and universality of many cultural patterns : it is inevitable that there is a part of it being born of biology, which we do not know which part (We do not even know if asking ourselves which part makes any sense considering that we could be facing a Uroboros snake).