Theorizing Self in Samoa

Emotions, Genders, and Sexualities
Jeannette Marie Mageo
Proposes a new method for discussing variations in the experience of self across cultures


Theorizing Self in Samoa develops a new theory of the self in culture through a psychological and historical ethnography of Samoa. As in many non-Western cultures, Samoan understandings of the self are more sociocentric—accentuating the social roles that people play—than egocentric—emphasizing individual, interior feelings and perceptions. Yet in Samoa, as in any culture, aspects of the self that are not emphasized in cultural explanations of personhood continually reappear, and must somehow be accounted for.

Jeannette Marie Mageo argues that all cultures attempt to encompass these stray experiences of the self within a discursive system. She introduces a way of charting human development through cultural discourses, which helps reveal how emotion, gender, and sexuality are constructed in Samoan society and other cultures, including our own.

The second half of the book explores the effects of cultural contact and colonialization on the innermost experience of cultural subjects. With its long ethnographic record, Samoa provides a unique opportunity to consider the dialectic between historical change and personal experience, opening a perspective on the ways in which cultural history is forever leaving its fingerprints upon human lives.

Theorizing Self in Samoa marks out important territory for psychological anthropology and students of Oceania, and will appeal also to students and scholars in cultural studies, women's studies, and history.

Jeannette Marie Mageo is Associate Professor of Anthropology, Washington State University.

Praise / Awards

  • "Mageo will richly reward those who have the diligence to work through the implications of her theory. . . . Mageo provides a stimulating and highly original contextualized analysis of Christian Samoa personhood by exploring informal discourse on virginity affected by mission, colonial, and postcolonial discourses. This book moves anthropology well beyond the Freeman-Mead syndrome of the 1980s. A must for graduate students, but helpful for dedicated upper-division undergraduates as well."
    —H. J. Rutz, Hamilton College, Choice, July/August 1999
  • ". . . a book which is important both for the history of anthropology and for our understanding of the Pacific. Mageo's double impact comes from having written an impressive psycho-ethnography of Samoa, as well as providing an answer to the Mead-Freeman debate on the sexuality of Samoan adolescents."
    Journal of The Royal Anthropological Institute
  • "Samoan culture has been much studied, generating a great deal of controversy in anthropology and beyond. Mageo has provided a provocative and, as she admits, ambitious addition to that literature. Such a complex work deserves much further review by specialists in Samoan self, socialization, and language."
    —Karen L. Ito, University of California, Los Angeles, The Contemporary Pacific, Spring 2000

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 312pp.
  • 10 photographs.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 1998
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-08518-7

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  • $36.95 U.S.