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Professor Derek Freeman

1916 – 2001

Derek Freeman (1916–2001) was an anthropologist. Born in New Zealand, he gained his doctorate from Cambridge before moving to Canberra in 1955 to work at the Australian National University. He was Professor of Anthropology from 1972 to 1981, during which period he also became an influential advocate for Aboriginal rights. Freeman had earlier been inspired by the work of Margaret Mead, but came to doubt her highly influential account of adolescent sexuality in Samoa, finding her theories too narrowly based on cultural determinism and on the ‘nature vs nurture’ debate. In 1983 the publication of Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth caused a furore in the academic world, which was fuelled by The Fateful Hoaxing of Margaret Mead (1988). The stoush was the subject of David Williamson’s play Heretic (1996), the title of which delighted the elderly scholar.

Updated 2018