Bronisław Malinowski

Bronisław Malinowski

:"For the Olympic champion athlete see Bronisław Malinowski (athlete)."

Infobox Person
name = Bronislaw Malinowski

birth_name =
birth_date = 7 April 1884
birth_place = Kraków, Poland, Austro-Hungarian Empire
death_date = 16 May 1942
death_place = New Haven, Connecticut, USA
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known_for = Father of Social Anthropology
education = PhD, Philosophy from Jagiellonian University, Physical Chemistry at Leipzig University, PhD, Science from London School of Economics
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Bronisław Kasper Malinowski (IPA2|ˌmæləˈnɔfski, ˌmæləˈnɒfski; April 7, 1884 – May 16, 1942) was a Polish [Malinowski, Bronislaw "A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term" Stanford University Press, 1989, p. 160, ISBN 0804717079] anthropologist born in Austria-Hungary in a region now part of Poland and is widely considered to be one of the most important anthropologists of the twentieth century because of his pioneering work on ethnographic fieldwork, with which he also gave a major contribution to the study of Melanesia, and the study of reciprocity.


Malinowski was born in Kraków, Austro-Hungarian Empire (now Poland), to an upper-middle class family. His father was a professor and his mother the daughter of a land-owning family. As a child, he was frail, often suffering from ill-health, yet he excelled academically. He received a doctorate in philosophy from Jagiellonian University in 1908, where he focused on mathematics and physical sciences. While attending the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Malinowski became ill and, while recuperating, decided to be an anthropologist when reading James Frazer's "The Golden Bough". He spent the next two years at Leipzig University, studying anthropology under C. G. Seligman. At the time, James Frazer and other British authors were amongst the best-known anthropologists, so Malinowski traveled to England to study at the London School of Economics in 1910.

In 1914, he traveled to Papua (in what would later become Papua New Guinea), where he conducted fieldwork at Mailu and then, more famously, in the Trobriand Islands. On his most famous trip to the area, he became stranded. The First World War had broken out, and, as a Pole from Austria-Hungary in a British controlled area, Australian authorities gave him two options, to be exiled to the Trobriand islands or face internment for the duration of the war. Malinowski chose the Trobriand islands. After a period in which he actively avoided contact with the Trobriand natives, who he considered to be "savages", Malinowski finally decided, out of loneliness, to participate in their society. After he did so, Malinowski learned the local language, formed close friendships with the people and is even rumoured to have fallen in love with one of the islanders. It was during this period that he conducted his fieldwork on Kula and produced his theories of Participant observation, which are now key to anthropological methodology.

By 1922, Malinowski had earned a doctorate of science in anthropology and was teaching at the London School of Economics. In that year his book "Argonauts of the Western Pacific" was published. The book was universally regarded as a masterpiece, and Malinowski became one of the best known anthropologists in the world. For the next three decades, Malinowski would establish the LSE as one of Britain's greatest centers of anthropology. He would train many students, including students from Britain's colonies who would go on to become important figures in their home countries.

Malinowski taught intermittently in the United States, and when World War II broke out during one of these trips he remained in the country, taking up a position at Yale University, where he remained until his death. He died of a heart attack while preparing to conduct summer fieldwork in Oaxaca, Mexico on 16 May 1942, just after his 58th birthday, and was buried in Green Cemetery in New Haven, Connecticut. [H. Wayne, The Story of a Marriage: The Letters of Bronislaw Malinowski and Elsie Masson. London: Routledge, 1995. p. 241.]

Ideas and achievements

Malinowski is renowned as one of anthropology's most skilled ethnographers. He is often referred to as the first researcher to bring anthropology "off the verandah" (also the name of a documentary about his work), that is, experiencing the everyday life of his subjects along with them. Most previous anthropologists had conducted fieldwork through structured interviews and did not mix with their research subjects in day-to-day life. Malinowski emphasised the importance of detailed participant observation and argued that anthropologists must have daily contact with their informants if they were to adequately record the "imponderabilia of everyday life" that were so important to understanding a different culture.

He stated that the goal of the cultural anthropologist, or ethnographer, is:

However, in reference to the Kula, Malinowski also stated, in the same edition, pp.83-84:

In these two passages, Malinowski anticipated the distinction between description and analysis and between the views of actors and analysts. This distinction continues to inform anthropological method and theory.

His study of Kula was also vital to the development of an anthropological theory of reciprocity, and his material from the Trobriands was extensively discussed in Marcel Mauss's seminal essay The Gift. Malinowski also originated the school of social anthropology known as functionalism. In contrast to Radcliffe-Brown's structural functionalism, Malinowski argued that culture functioned to meet the needs of individuals rather than society as a whole. He reasoned that when the needs of individuals are met, who comprise society, then the needs of society are met. To Malinowski, the feelings of people, their motives, were crucial knowledge to understand the way their society functioned:

Apart from fieldwork, Malinowski also challenged common western views such as Freud's Oedipus complex and their claim for universality. He initiated a cross-cultural approach in "Sex and Repression in Savage Society" (1927) where he demonstrated that the complex was not universal. Many non-western societies are living proof that psychological processes previously proposed to be human universals are actually products of a particular time and culture.

University positions

* London School of Economics
* University of London
* Cornell University
* Harvard University
* Yale University"'

ee also

* Maria Czaplicka


* "The Trobriand Islands" (1915)
* "Argonauts of the Western Pacific" (1922)
* "Myth in Primitive Society" (1926)
* "Crime and Custom in Savage Society" (1926)
* "Sex and Repression in Savage Society" (1927)
* "The Sexual Life of Savages in North-Western Melanesia" (1929)
* "Coral Gardens and Their Magic: A Study of the Methods of Tilling the Soil and of Agricultural Rites in the Trobriand Islands" (1935)
* "The Scientific Theory of Culture" (1944)
* "Magic, Science, and Religion" (1948)
* "The Dynamics of Culture Change" (1945)
* "A Diary In the Strict Sense of the Term" (1967)

Sources and further reading

*"Malinowski: Odyssey of an Anthropologist, 1884-1920". By Michael Young. Yale University Press, 2004.
*"Sociocultural Theory in Anthropology" By Merwyn Garbarino. Waveland Press. 183.


External links

* [ Malinowski] ; Archive (Real audio stream) of BBC Radio 4 edition of 'Thinking allowed' on Malinowski
* [ Baloma; the Spirits of the Dead in the Trobriand Islands] , at
* [ Papers of Bronislaw Malinowski at LSE Archives]
* ['malinowski/3') Malinowski's fieldwork photographs, Trobriand Islands, 1915-1918]
* [ About the functional theory (selected chapters)]

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