Peter Hempenstall. Truth’s Fool: Derek Freeman and the War over Cultural Anthropology. xiv +321pp., 17 illus., 2 maps, bibl., index. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 2017.
Peter Hempenstall’s Truth’s Fool: Derek Freeman and the War over Cultural Anthropology offers a fresh and thoroughly researched biography of the controversial anthropologist Derek Freeman. The book is built around Freeman’s infamous criticism of Margaret Mead’s first book, Coming of Age in Samoa, and the ensuing acrimony within the discipline. An admirer of Mead’s work, Freeman travelled to Samoa to do his own research, attempting in the process to find Mead’s original informants and reproduce her research on adolescent sexuality. In the early 1980s, he began to argue that her conclusions on adolescence were mistaken, and that she had been hoaxed by mischievous young informants. Attacking Freeman, Mead, and one another, anthropologists around the world took sides that reproduced a kind of nature-nurture debate on human development and teenaged identity crises with supporters of Mead on the side of nurture and those backing Freeman on the side of nature. The furor did not subside until after Freeman’s death in 2001. This dispute, still a sensitive subject for many anthropologists, acts as Hempenstall’s focal point, but Truth’s Fool goes well beyond it. In fact, in the beginning, Hempenstall advises his readers to remember that “the Mead thing” (7) is only one particular way of understanding Freeman’s life and work. I recommend this book as a compelling story for anyone interested in the history of anthropology as a discipline, as well as those trying to grasp the fallout of Freeman’s work and the heated response to it. As an outsider to anthropology but an insider to Australian academia, Hempenstall gives us a new perspective into this period of anthropological debate.Continue reading