Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Coming of Age in Somoa: A Psychological Study of Primitive Youth for Western Civilization

Coming of Age in Samoa: A Psychological Study of Primitive Youth for Western Civilization
By Margaret Mead
Morrow, 1961. 304 pages. Nonfiction

After reading Euphoria, the novel based somewhat on the famous Anthropologist Margaret Mead, I was curious to read some of Mead's work. Coming of Age in Samoa was her first published work and summarizes nine months of ethnographic study she conducted while living among the Samoan people when she was 23 years old. Mead's particular interest was studying the experience of adolescents in a more primitive, tribal society. She wondered how much of the difficulty experienced by Western youth is owed to culture, and how much is biological. She felt by studying adolescent behavior in a culture so different from American culture she would be able to more fully understand the roles culture and biology play. The result was a ground breaking, seminal work that made her name in the burgeoning field of Anthropology.

The book reads much like a college text (and in fact is a staple of all Anthropology 101 courses) and is divided into chapters where each examines a different part of the adolescent experience. Being female herself, she focused her study on the girls of the tribe since taboos prevented her from having full access to the experiences of adolescent males. Mead has a meticulous and approachable style, and in many ways created a voice that is still used today in ethnography. Throughout the years Coming of Age in Samoa has endured fierce criticism and has been denounced by some other scholars; but by in large these criticisms are largely unfounded and the predominant view is of the value of Mead's contributions to the field of Anthropology. This is an interesting read for those who enjoy scholoarly nonfiction. ZB

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