Malinowski, Bronislaw

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Malinowski, Bronislaw



Bronislaw Kaspar Malinowski (1884–1942) was a Polish-born social anthropologist whose professional training and career, beginning in 1910, were based in England. Through his scientific activities, especially his methodological innovations, he was a major contributor to the transformation of nineteenth-century speculative anthropology into a modern science of man. As a fieldworker, a scholar, a theorist, and above all, a brilliant and controversial teacher and lecturer, he played a decisive part in the formation of the contemporary British school of social anthropology. An accomplished polemicist, he also attracted a wide audience to anthropology as a field of knowledge. Early in his own development he came to view anthropology as a field-oriented science, in which theory and the search for general laws must be based on intensive empirical research involving systematic observation and detailed analyses of actual behavior in living, ongoing societies. His principal field work was carried out among the Papuo-Melanesian people of the Trobriand Islands, located off the coast of New Guinea.

Malinowski’s primary scientific interest was in the study of culture as a universal phenomenon and in the development of a methodological frame-work that would permit the systematic study of specific cultures in all their particularities and open the way to systematic cross-cultural comparison. He reacted strongly against the speculative reconstructions of both evolutionists and diffusionists and against the atomistic treatment of traits and trait complexes torn from their cultural contexts (1926a; 1929a; 1931a). In The Dynamics of Culture Change (1945) he insisted that culture change must be subjected to observation and analysis of the total interactive situation. [seeCulture, article on Culture Change.]

Malinowski was the originator of a functionalist approach to the study of culture. Although the idea of “function” is a key concept throughout his work—from his early scholarly research on the Australian aboriginal family (1913) to his final theoretical statement in A Scientific Theory of Culture (1944a)—his use of the term was openended, exploratory, and subject to continual modification. He treated culture as the assemblage of artifacts and organized traditions through which the individual is molded and the organized social group maintains its integration and achieves continuity. But he also treated culture as an instrumental reality and emphasized its derivation from human needs, from the basic universal needs of the individual organism to the highly elaborated and often specialized needs of a complex society. In his view functionalism was a research tool, “the prerequisite for field-work and for the comparative analysis of phenomena in various cultures” (1944a, p. 175), that permitted the study of aspects of culture and the analysis of culture in depth. Through the intermediate analysis of institutions, a functionalist approach revealed the multilevel relationships between man as a psychobiological organism and man’s creation, culture.[seeFunctional Analysis.]

For purposes of research and exposition, Malinowski treated each culture as a closed system and all cultures as essentially comparable. However, he made little use of the comparative method, except illustratively. Rather, he treated the empirical study of a specific culture as a contribution to the understanding of the universal phenomenon of culture. In Argonauts of the Western Pacific he stated that the ethnographer’s final goal must be to grasp the native’s point of view, his relation to life, to realize his vision of his world. We have to study man, and we must study what concerns him most intimately, that is, the hold which life has on him.. .. In each culture we find different institutions.. .. To study the institutions, customs, and codes or to study the behaviour and mentality without the subjective desire of feeling by what these people live, of realising the substance of their happiness—is, in my opinion, to miss the greatest reward which we can hope to obtain from the study of man.. .. Perhaps as we read the account of these remote customs there may emerge a feeling of solidarity with the endeavours and ambitions of these natives. Perhaps man’s mentality will be revealed to us, and brought near, along some lines which we never have followed before. Perhaps through realising human nature in a shape very distant and foreign to us, we shall have some light shed on our own. (1922a, p. 25 in the 1961 edition)

Malinowski regarded residence among the people under study, competent use of the native language, observation of the small events of daily life as well as the large events affecting the community, sensitivity to conflict and shades of opinion, and a consideration of each aspect within the context of the whole culture as indispensable conditions to ethno-graphic work and, indirectly, to the sound development of theory. His demands on the fieldworker are very high; what is continually captivating is his expectation of the ethnographer’s involvement simultaneously with “these natives” and with “man.” [seeEthnography.]

Intellectual background . Malinowski was born in Cracow in the region of Poland that was then politically part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. His father, Lucyan Malinowski, 1839–1898, an eminent Slavic philologist, was instrumental in bringing modern linguistic studies to Poland and also did work in ethnography and folklore (SymmonsSymonolewicz 1959). Bronislaw Malinowski grew up at a time and in a setting in which central European intellectuals were deeply aware not only of their special cultural heritage (which led many to an intense political nationalism) but also of the multilingual, multicultural milieu in which they moved. Malinowski had a gift for language, and like many intellectuals of his background, he had a wide command of modern languages, including Polish, Russian, German, French, English, Italian, and Spanish. In terms of his background, it is illuminating that his scientific interest in language centered on language as a mode of behavior and on problems of culturally determined meaning. In the same period that Franz Boas returned to the field to study types of speech, using new recording devices, Malinowski predicted the use of sound film for the study of “fully contextualized utterances” (1935a, vol. 1, p. 26).

His early experience certainly contributed to his assumptions about cultural uniqueness and the comparability of all cultures, assumptions that are not fully spelled out or tested in his work. They are, of course, crucial to his use of a single primitive culture, that of the Trobriands, as his vehicle of methodological exploration and analysis. However, in seminar discussions he drew—and encouraged his students to draw—on a wide range of complex cultures for contrast and comparison. Both forms of exposition delighted him.

Malinowski’s initial training was in physics and mathematics, in which he took his PH.D. in 1908 at the Jagellonian University in Cracow. Ill health, which pursued him all his life, forced him to terminate work in these fields. Then, “as the only solace to his troubles,” he began to read, in English, the three-volume edition of Frazer’s The Golden Bough and discovered that “anthropology. .. is a great science, worthy of as much devotion as any of her elder and more exact sister studies” (1925a, pp. 93-94 in the 1954 edition).

For a brief period he studied at the University of Leipzig (where his father had earlier received his doctorate) and, working under Wilhelm Wundt and Karl Bucher, came in contact with current ideas of experimental psychology and historical economics. But in 1910, when he went to England as a postgraduate student at the London School of Economics, he already had his research on Australian aboriginal culture under way (Barnes 1963, p. xii) and probably his book on primitive religion and forms of social structure, later published in Poland (1915a).

Work on kinship . British anthropology was lively and contentious then, and Malinowski’s work was responsive to the crosscurrents of thought. The Family Among the Australian Aborigines(1913) is a magnificent tour de force in its use of a vast patchwork of source materials to make the point (doubtful to those who looked upon the peoples of Australia as the living exemplars of an earlier stage of man) that these peoples had “individual marriage,” Characteristically, Malinowski had another aim: “It is not the actual relationship, or the individual family, or ’family in the European sense’.. .. It is the aboriginal Australian individual family, with all its peculiarities and characteristic features, which must be constructed from the evidence” ([1913] 1963, p. 8). Westermarck’s influence on his thinking is clear [see the biography ofWestermarck]. But he also raised the question of how to “find in all this complexity the structural features, the really essential facts, the knowledge of which in any given society would enable us to give a scientifically valid description of kinship” (ibid., p. 198). Family and kinship, the unique culture and the universally applicable method, these are constant themes in his work.

This study is chiefly valuable today as a period piece and as a source book on Malinowski’s thinking at the outset of his career. However, his handling of the data and choice of subject matter are measures of his virtuosity and unerring ability to select as the carrier of his own ideas a problem attractive to fellow scientists and a wider audience as well. [seeKinship.]

Field research . His interest now shifted to field research in New Guinea, an area that was being opened up by A. C. Haddon, W. H. R. Rivers, C. G. Seligman, and others who influenced his thinking. His training in scientific method and the fine detail of his scholarly work peculiarly fitted him for a part in developing the new techniques of intensive field research. Mainly through Seligman’s efforts, he obtained a Robert Mond Travelling Studentship (University of London) and a Constance Hutchinson Scholarship (London School of Economics). Thus equipped, he went out to New Guinea via Australia, where he attended a meeting of the British Association as a guest of the Commonwealth government (which later made him a supplementary grant). In view of the cost of modern field research, it is enlightening to realize that over the six-year period 1914–1920, he had available for field work, data collection, and writing “little more than £250 a year” (1922a, p. xix in the 1961 edition).

His first expedition, September 1914 to February 1915, was to the Mailu of Toulon Island. Already familiar with the structure of Melanesian languages—in Coral Gardens and Their Magic (1935a, vol. 1, p. 453), Malinowski described his progress in learning these languages—he spent four weeks in Port Moresby working on pidgin English and Motu, the lingua franca used by the Mailu. His report on the Mailu (1915b), together with his Australian researches, earned him his D.SC. in 1916. But in later years he discounted this first field work. He found the Mailu “coarse and dull” (1922a, p. 34 in the 1961 edition). What excited his interest were their accounts of the Massim, to the east, from whom came handsome objects, lively songs and dances, and fearful tales of sorcery and cannibalism. Yet his report on the Mailu is of interest, since it documents not only his use of a conventional framework but also his attempt to use new kinds of ethnographic subject matter (for example, his observations of daily life), his difficulties in coming to grips with the problems of working in an ongoing society, and his leap ahead in recognizing essential conditions for field work. The necessity of working through an interpreter and an intermediate language was a particular source of frustration.

Returning to Australia, he paused briefly on Woodlark Island, where he hoped to work later. Instead, his second expedition, from June 1915 to May 1916, took him to the Trobriand Islands. He set up his tent in Omarakana, the village in which he began his work. By September he had dispensed with an interpreter and was using Kiriwinian, the Trobriand language. But he could follow fast conversation and take notes in the language only on his second Trobriand field trip, from October 1917 to October 1918, after he had organized his first year’s notes (1935a, vol. 1, p. 453).

Between field trips he wrote his first account of the culture, “Baloma: The Spirits of the Dead in the Trobriand Islands” (1916). In retrospect, it is clear that he had now found his subject, his style of work, and his characteristic mode of presentation. In this essay he described in vivid detail the afterlife of the spirits (baloma), their relations to the living, their return visits at feasts in their honor, and their reincarnation. In one digression he discussed magic spells, the use of ancestral names in magic, and the inheritance of magic in this matrilineal, patrilocal society. Another dealt with Trobriand ignorance of physiological paternity and his struggle in the field to clarify Trobriand belief. In the final section he discussed the fieldworker’s problem of bringing order into the “chaos of facts”—here referring to the diversity of views, the different levels of knowledge, and the various types of emotional response among different indi viduals. Fresh from the field, he was convinced that “no ’natives’ [in the plural] have ever any belief or any idea; each one has his own ideas and his own beliefs” (1925a, p. 240 in the 1954 edition). The ethnographer, studying the “social dimension” in all its complexity, must find ways of systematizing the diversity of formulations and of extricating ideas and beliefs from native behavior and the institutions in which they are embedded. He wrote that “field work consists only and exclusively in the interpretation of the chaotic social reality, in subordinating it to general rules” (ibid., p. 238). [seeField Work.] Finally, he defined the opposition between “individual ideas” and “the dogmas of native belief, or the social ideas of a community” that must be “treated as invariably fixed items” (ibid., p. 244), and so he laid the groundwork for his later discussions of myth, magic, and religion. But even as he acknowledged his indebtedness to Durkheim and his school, he rejected the concept of “collective ideas” as incompatible with the reality of the “aggregate of individual souls” in a community (ibid., pp. 273-274, n. 77). This highly selective way of handling the theories of his predecessors, in which he transformed what he accepted, was characteristic of Malinowski’s approach, especially in his polemical writings.

This essay exhibits the mosaic quality that is typical of Malinowski’s exposition. He stated a theme, he developed it in narrative form around an institution, a set of institutions, or the activities relevant to an aspect of the culture, and at different stages, he interpolated data on other aspects, other activities. Thus, step by step he progressed toward abstraction. On a larger scale the whole of the work on the Trobriands forms a very elaborate mosaic, no part of which stands wholly alone. The successive discussions are not serially linked; instead, his analysis grows by expansion and elaboration, over time, with the elaboration of his own thinking in the process of organizing the data. Yet each work, like this first long essay on the spirits of the dead, is characteristic of the whole.

A large part of Malinowski’s work consists in the attempt to develop principles and create models for just this intermediate stage of interpretation, using Trobriand culture as his laboratory. One of the persistent criticisms of his work is that it is “overloaded with reality” (Gluckman 1947, p. 15). But it is with the ordering of this reality that he was concerned.

Career in London . In October 1918 Malinowski returned from the field to Australia. There he married Elsie Masson. He did not immediately go back to London but for reasons of health spent a period on Tenerife in the Canary Islands, where he worked on Argonauts of the Western Pacific.

He had first begun to lecture at the London School of Economics in 1913; in the early 1920s he again began to give short courses. In 1924 he was appointed to a readership in anthropology and in 1927 to the first chair in anthropology at the University of London. With the publication of Argonauts (1922a) his position as a scientist was secure, and he began to acquire an international reputation. The next 15 years, 1923–1938, were his most productive ones as a writer and as a teacher who drew into his seminars an ever-increasing number of talented and mature students, research workers, and professionals from various fields.

Describing Malinowski’s relations to his students, Audrey I. Richards wrote: He tended to regard them rather as a team engaged on a joint battle than as a number of individuals with different interests and needs. They learnt a particular method of work and a particular theoretical interest, rather than a body of detailed facts.. .. It was in seminars that his teaching gifts were best displayed. These weekly discussions became famous, and attracted students of the most different types. Colonial officers on leave valued Malinowski’s live approach.. .. Senior research students came from many parts of the world, and Malinowski would often flash retorts in four or five different languages. University lecturers sat side by side with the veriest amateurs.. .. There was a curious kindling touch in all he did, and a rare power of evoking ideas in others. (1943, p. 3)

Malinowski’s teaching methods reflected his own quick responsiveness and his need for response in others. Intellectual pretense he treated with caustic contempt, but he had unexpected resources of patience and gentleness in his relations with able, still inexperienced and self-doubting students. As more mature students progressively measured themselves against his standards of intellectual complexity, skill, and originality, he could be in turn ruthlessly witty at their expense, provocative, and devastatingly critical of what he valued most in them, their capacity for independent judgment. His most able students in time responded with anger and self-assertion mixed with admiration and devotion, a complex of attitudes that is evident in their later, very careful assessments of his work (Firth 1957; Gluckman 1947).

Malinowski’s publications in his London years fall into several groups which, while overlapping, indicate his varied interests.

First, there are his major works on the Trobriand Islanders. Argonauts of the Western Pacificis an analysis of Trobriand economics through the study of overseas trading expeditions in the highly formalized kula ring, in which the circular exchange of “valuables” provided a setting for trade and communication [seeEconomic Anthropology]. The Sexual Life of Savages in Northwestern Melanesia (1929b) is an exposition of the individual’s induction into the adult life of marriage and the family. Here Malinowski worked out in the field what he had glimpsed through his study of the Australian aboriginal family, and even today it is one of the most detailed and acute analyses of how, in one primitive society, cultural tradition molds individual behavior in the most highly emotionally charged aspect of personal life. Coral Gardens (1935a), Malinowskfs most sophisticated and self-critical work, deals with the organization of Trobriand social life through activities related to horticulture, the place of magic in the belief system, and the integrative aspects of gardening. In this work Malinowski also presented the most sustained exposition of his linguistic approach through analyses of gardening spells.

In a second group of publications, including “Magic, Science and Religion” (1925a), Crime and Custom in Savage Society (1926b), Myth in Primitive Psychology (1926c), and The Foundations of Faith and Morals (1936a), he took up, and on several occasions returned to, topics that had long provided controversial issues. Each statement is, among other things, a demonstration of the transforming effect of detailed field work on the criteria of what is relevant to the delineation of a problem. Perhaps in no other context does Malinowski give such clear evidence of his position as a transition figure in social science. For in these essays he breaks new ground not in his choice of topic but in his dazzling use of field data. Yet, though he looks forward in this, he remains linked to the past in his use of very limited data to generalize about primitive culture and man.

Magic, science, and religion . In his handling of science, magic, and religion, Malinowski essentially accepted the traditional Western conception of a dual reality—the reality of the natural world, grounded in observation and rational procedures that lead to mastery, and supernatural reality, grounded in emotional needs that give rise to faith. Unlike Frazer, for example, Malinowski derived science not from magic but from man’s capacity to organize knowledge, as demonstrated by Trobriand technical skills in gardening, shipbuilding, etc. In contrast, he treated magic, which coexisted with these skills, as an organized response to a sense of limitation and impotence in the face of danger, difficulty, and frustration. Again, he differentiated between magic and religion in defining magical systems as essentially pragmatic in their aims and religious systems as self-fulfilling rituals organized, for example, around life crises. Significantly, he differentiated between the individual character of religious experience and the social character of religious ritual. In his analysis he linked myth to magic and religion, not as an explanation but as evidence of the authenticity of the magical act and the religious dogma. Particularly illuminating is his discussion of the use of public magic in the Trobriands as an initiating act in the organization of stages of work. The Foundations of Faith and Morals represents an attempt to apply hypotheses based on primitive cultures to the problems of European societies [seeMagic; see also Nadel 1957].

Anthropology and psychology . Throughout his career Malinowski sought for a systematic psychology on which he could draw in establishing a dynamic relationship between man and culture. In the 1920s Freudian theory had a profound, if some-what diffuse, influence on his thinking. As Meyer Fortes has pointed out (Firth 1957, pp. 157–188 passim), Freud’s hypothesis about the Oedipal situation provided Malinowski with a psychological framework for developing his own analysis of the relationship of father, son, and maternal uncle in Trobriand culture. Although he later turned against psychoanalysis, such publications as “The Psychology of Sex” (1923a), “Psycho-analysis and Anthropology” (1924), The Father in Primitive Psychology (1927a), and The Sexual Life of Savages (1929b), in which he incorporated much of the earlier material, indicate the creative use he made of psychoanalytic concepts and some of the difficulties he faced in trying to transform psychological into cultural process. Even though Malinowski derived culture ultimately from man’s needs, he eventually gave precedence to cultural tradition as the primary influence in the molding of the individual. In his last years at Yale he was attracted by Hullian learning theory (1944a); in fact, however, it had little effect on the core of his thinking. [seeCulture AND Personality.]

Culture change . In the late 1920s Malinowski began to turn his attention to problems of culture change and the development of a “practical anthropology” as a field tool. Although he himself was called on for expert advice and his students, working in Africa, were brought face to face with the difficulties of research in rapidly changing societies, his approach was essentially schematic and exploratory (1945). Aside from a four-month trip in 1934 to visit his students’ field sites in Africa, he lacked the crucial experience of relevant field work.

Career in the United States In 1938 Malinowski came to the United States on sabbatical leave. The death of his wife in 1935 after a long illness had broken the thread of his personal life in London. This was not his first visit to America. In 1926 he spent some months there at the invitation of Lawrence K. Frank of the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial. At that time he traveled, taught briefly at the University of California, and visited the Hopi Indians in the Southwest. In 1933 he delivered the Messenger lectures at Cornell University. In 1936 he came as a delegate of the University of London to the Harvard Tercentenary celebration, at which he delivered an address on culture as a determinant of behavior (1936b; 1937) and was awarded an honorary

After October 1939 he was at Yale University, first as visiting professor, from 1939 to 1940, and then as Bishop Museum visiting professor, from 1940 to 1942. His marriage to Valetta Swann, the painter, in 1940 opened the way to new companionship and happiness.

Nevertheless, the years at Yale were very difficult ones. In the United States he was a stranger, celebrated and sometimes lionized, but a man in exile. For the most part, his Yale students were far less mature than his students in London. They were unfamiliar with his work, and his European point of view seemed no less exotic to most of them than American manners seemed to him. The necessity of beginning his teaching from the beginning again did not stimulate him. The simplified form in which he presented his theoretical system in A Scientific Theory of Culture (1944a) reflects his detachment. His strictly theoretical presentations (1926a; 1929a; 1929c; 1929d; 1931a), though elegant, are somewhat bare in comparison with those in which he was arguing or working toward abstraction, but his last and most extended statement is also curiously tentative.

In the 1930s he had become progressively alarmed at the dangers presented by totalitarianism. Like many intellectuals, he worked unsparingly to alert people to the possibility of “a period of dark ages, indeed the darkest ages of human history” (1944a, p. 15). Advised not to return to wartime England, he worked passionately on behalf of the democratic cause and a postwar international world order.

In 1940, in spite of ill health, he began a new field project, a study of marketing among the Zapotec of Oaxaca. He planned a series of studies, each from a special stance, and made two field trips in the summers of 1940 and 1941. In between, he worked closely with a young Mexican colleague, Julio de la Fuente, an experienced and accomplished field worker. The work promised methodological innovations. In 1942 he received a permanent appointment at Yale, effective in October. He died on May 16 of that year, in the midst of on-going work.

Assessment Malinowski’s place in anthropology is as yet exceedingly difficult to assess. In the years since his death, much of his theoretical work has been bypassed. Certain of his ideas that made him a storm center in the 1920s have been so fully incorporated into anthropological thinking that his exposition now appears unnecessarily didactic. He was an innovator, but the very necessity of breaking through older conceptions kept his attention focused on issues and problems that were absorbed or transformed by the new methods of observation and analysis and the new theoretical formulations that developed out of his own work and that of his students. Nadel pointed out that “at some stage, someone must ask, and attempt to answer, those ‘big’ questions if empirical work is to proceed systematically and fruitfully” (1957, p. 190). The necessity of doing so in ways that were relevant to a field-oriented science kept Malinowski a generalist even as he trained his students to become specialists. Nadel spoke for others among Malinowski’s students when he said, “Today, we have grown much more modest, but also more conscious of the need for precision and solid empirical evidence” (ibid., p. 189). It was Malinowski’s breadth of vision that made this advance possible.

The contribution which his students, even the most critical of them, value is his comprehension of the total field situation and his ability to communicate to others the complex interplay of problem and reality. The actual period of time Malinowski spent in the field was astonishingly brief —only two and one-half years in New Guinea. But in one sense his lifework was a continual renewal and recreation of this experience.

His method of institutional analysis made it possible for him to express, through a model, certain core ideas of his theory: the integrity of each culture; the complex interrelationship of the society, the culture, and the individual; the grounding of culture in the human organism (in man’s needs and capacities and in the individual as the carrier of culture); and the systematic nature of culture as a phenomenon. He treated the institution as the unit of analysis; whatever its difficulties in application, it indicates how complex any “unit” of analysis must be.

Malinowski’s theoretical framework is a major contribution. However, no anthropologist today is prepared to make the dizzying leap from the particular to the universal that characterized his attempt to create an effective methodology. There are essential intermediate steps. These involve, for example, intensive studies of process within and across cultures and over time. We require also fine-grained systematic comparison of intensively studied cultures and cultural process. Today we are acquiring the tools (for example, the sound-film recording devices Malinowski himself foresaw as necessary in studies of communication) that are making more delicate and systematic research feasible. Malinowski’s search for an adequate psychology was a step toward broadening the base of empirical research. But collaboration among all the relevant sciences will be necessary. The study of culture is crucial to, but not in itself sufficient for, the development of a science of man.

Malinowski’s attempt to formulate theory on the basis of limited data places him in extreme contrast with his older contemporary Franz Boas, as does his almost exclusive preoccupation with a theory of culture. Boas had a very broad experience, beginning early in his career, in planning for and administrating research, in much of which he was personally involved, in the whole field of anthropology. Necessarily, he worked within a comparative framework in space and time, and with full awareness of the importance of carefully recorded detail. Like Malinowski, he had the natural scientist’s commitment to the formulation of general laws, but in his case, concern for longterm gains made him extremely dubious of the value of theoretical formulations based on partial evidence.

In the history of a science it is necessary to take into account the temperamental as well as the experiential differences among innovators. It is possible that the tensions necessary for the development of new thinking arise from just such differences. Malinowski’s impact on a whole generation of anthropologists—like that of Boas—was a measure of his capacity as a thinker and a teacher to evoke in others a clear perception of the state of the science and confidence in the value of their own work. It remains to be seen whether their successors can resolve these tensions through research that will shape new aims.

Rhoda Metraux


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1925c The Forces of Law and Order in a Primitive Community. Royal Institution of Great Britain, London, Proceedings 24:529–547.

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1927d Prenuptial Intercourse Between the Sexes in the Trobriand Islands, N.W. Melanesia. Psychoanalytic Review 14:20-35.

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(1929k) 1962 The Sexual Life of Savages in Northwestern Melanesia: An Ethnographic Account of Courtship, Marriage, and Family Life Among the Natives of the Trobriand Islands, British New Guinea. New York: Harcourt.

(1929c) 1962 Kinship. Pages 132–150 in Bronislaw Malinowski, Sex, Culture and Myth. New York: Harcourt.

(1929d) 1962 Marriage. Pages 1-35 in Bronislaw Mali-nowski, Sex, Culture and Myth. New York: Harcourt.

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1930a Kinship. Man 30:19-29.

1930b Parenthood: The Basis of Social Structure. Pages 113–168 in Victor F. Calverton and Samuel D. Schmalhausen (editors), The New Generation: The Intimate Problems of Modern Parents and Children. New York: Macaulay.

1930c Race and Labour. Listener 4, Supplement no. 8. 1930d The Rationalization of Anthropology and Administration. Africa 3:405–430. → Includes a résumé in French.

1931a Culture. Volume 4, pages 621–645 in Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences. New York: Macmillan.

1931b The Relations Between the Sexes in Tribal Life. Pages 565–585 in Victor F. Calverton (editor), The Making of Man: An Outline of Anthropology. New York: Modern Library.

1931c Science and Religion. Pages 65-81 in Science & Religion: A Symposium. London: Howe.

1932 Pigs, Papuans, and Police Court Perspective. Man 32:33-38.

1933 The Work and Magic of Prosperity in the Trobriand Islands. Mensch en maatschappij 9:154–174.

1934 Stone Implements in Eastern New Guinea. Pages 189–196 in Essays Presented to C. G. Seligman. London: Routledge.

(1935a) 1965 Coral Gardens and Their Magic. 2 vols. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press. 1935b Preface. In Friedrich Lorentz et al., The Cassubian Civilization. London: Faber.

1936a The Foundations of Faith and Morals: An Anthropological Analysis of Primitive Beliefs and Conduct With Special Reference to the Fundamental Problems of Religion and Ethics. Oxford Univ. Press.

1936fo Culture as a Determinant of Behavior. Scientific Monthly 43:440–449.

1936c The Deadly Issue. Atlantic Monthly 158:659–669.

1936d Native Education and Culture Contact. International Review of Missions 25:480–515.

1937 Culture as a Determinant of Behavior. Pages 133–168 in Harvard Tercentenary Conference of Arts and Sciences, Cambridge, Mass., 1936, Factors Determining Human Behavior. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

1938a The Anthropology of Changing African Cultures. Pages vii-xxxviii in Methods of Study of Culture Contact in Africa. International Institute of African Languages and Cultures, Memorandum 15. Oxford Univ. Press.

1938b A Nation-wide Intelligence Service. Pages 81-121 in Charles Madge and Tom Harrisson (editors), First Year’s Work, 1937–1938, by Mass-observation. London: Drummond.

1939a The Group and the Individual in Functional Analysis. American Journal of Sociology 44:938–964.

1939b The Present State of Studies in Culture Contact: Some Comments on an American Approach. Africa 12:27-47.

(1941a) 1948 An Anthropological Analysis of War. Pages 277–309 in Bronislaw Malinowski, Magic, Science and Religion, and Other Essays. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press. → First published in Volume 46 of the American Journal of Sociology.

1941b War—Past, Present and Future. Pages 21-31 in American Historical Association, War as a Social Institution: The Historian’s Perspective. Edited by Jesse D. Clarkson and Thomas C. Cochran. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

1941–1942 Man’s Culture and Man’s Behavior. Sigma Xi Quarterly 29:182–196; 30:66-78.

1942 The Scientific Approach to the Study of Man. Pages 207–242 in Ruth N. Anshen (editor), Science and Man: Twenty-four Original Essays. New York: Harcourt.

1944 a A Scientific Theory of Culture, and Other Essays. Chapel Hill: Univ.’ of North Carolina Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1960 by Oxford Univ. Press.

1944b Freedom and Civilization. With a preface by Valetta Malinowska. New York: Roy.

(1945) 1949 The Dynamics of Culture Change: An Inquiry Into Race Relations in Africa. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1961.

1957 Malinowski, Bronislaw; and Fuente, Julio Dela“La economia de un sistema de mercados en Mexico” Un ensayo de ethnografia contempordnea y cambio social en un valle Mexicano. Acta anthropologica, Epoca 2, Vol. 1, no. 2. Mexico City: Escuela Nacional de Anthropologia e Historia, Sociedad de Alumnos.

Magic, Science and Religion, and Other Essays. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press, 1948. → Contains essays published between 1916 and 1941. An abridged paperback edition was published in 1954 by Doubleday.

Sex, Culture and Myth. New York: Harcourt, 1962. → Contains essays first published between 1913 and 1941.


Barnes, J. A. 1963 Introduction. In Bronislaw Mali-nowski, The Family Among the Australian Aborigines: A Sociological Study. New York: Schocken.

Firth, Raymond (editor) (1957) 1964 Man and Culture: An Evaluation of the Work of Bronislaw Malinowski. New York: Harper.

Gluckman, Max (1947) 1949 An Analysis of the Sociological Theories of Bronislaw Malinowski. RhodesLivingstone Papers, No. 16. Oxford Univ. Press.

Kaberry, Phyllis M. (1945) 1958 Introduction. In Bronislaw Malinowski, The Dynamics of Culture Change: An Inquiry Into Race Relations in Africa. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.

Leach, Edmund R. 1965 Frazer and Malinowski. Encounter 25, no. 5:24-36.

Lee, Dorothy D. 1940 A Primitive System of Values. Philosophy of Science 7:355–378.

Lee, Dorothy D. (1949) 1959 Being and Value in a Primitive Culture. Pages 89-104 in Dorothy D. Lee, Freedom and Culture: Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. → First published in the Journal of Philosophy.

Lee, Dorothy D. (1950) 1959 Codifications of Reality: Lineal and Nonlineal. Pages 105–120 in Dorothy D. Lee, Freedom and Culture: Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. → First published in Psychosomatic Medicine.

Lowie, Robert H. 1937 The History of Ethnological Theory. New York: Farrar & Rinehart.

Lowie, Robert H. 1947 Biographical Memoir of Franz Boas: 1858–1942. National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C., Biographical Memoirs 24:303–322.

Murdock, George P. 1943 Bronislaw Malinowski. American Anthropologist New Series 45:441–451.

Nadel, S. F. 1957 Malinowski on Magic and Religion. Pages 189–208 in Raymond Firth (editor), Man and Culture: An Evaluation of the Work of Bronislaw Malinowski. London: Routledge.

Radcliffe-Brown, A. R. 1946 A Note on Functional Anthropology. Man 46:38-41.

Richards, Audrey I. 1943 Bronislaw Kaspar Malinowski: Born 1884-Died 1942. Man 43:1-4.

Symmons-Symonolewicz, Konstantin 1958 Bronislaw Malinowski: An Intellectual Profile. Polish Review 3, no. 4:55-76.

Symmons-Symonolewicz, Konstantin 1959 Bronislaw Malinowski: Formative Influences and Theoretical Evolution. Polish Review 4, no. 4:17-45.

Symmons-Symonolewicz, Konstantin 1960 Bronislaw Malinowski: Individuality as a Theorist. Polish Review 5, no. 1:53-65.

Malinowski, Bronislaw

views updated May 08 2018


MALINOWSKI, BRONISLAW (18841942), Polish-English social anthropologist. Born into an educated and aristocratic family, Bronislaw Kasper Malinowski received his Ph.D. in physics and mathematics from the Jagiellonian University of his native Cracow in 1908. Switching from the natural sciences to the human sciences, he entered the London School of Economics in 1910 and received a D.Sc. in 1916. He later traced his decision to study anthropology to his reading of James G. Frazer's The Golden Bough. The tribute was apt, for Malinowski became the leading British anthropologist of the generation following Frazer's, but also ironic, for no one did more to repudiate Frazer's method.

Malinowski's first contact with primitive society came during five months among the Mailu of Toulon Island off the southern coast of New Guinea in 19141915. In June 1915 he began the first of two extended periods of observation on the Trobriand Islands, to the east of New Guinea. Although colored by personal stress and ambivalence toward the natives, his twenty-one months in the Trobriands shaped his entire career. He became the apostle and exemplar of a new standard of anthropological fieldwork: ethnography must rely, he believed, on the participation of the ethnographer in the society under observation, rather than on the reports of travelers, missionaries, and hasty surveys. His fieldwork completed, Malinowski married Elsie Masson, daughter of a Melbourne chemistry professor. He began teaching at the London School of Economics after completing the manuscript of Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922), the first of his many books on the Trobriands. In 1927 he became the first professor of anthropology at the University of London.

Malinowski's approach to anthropology was psychological, but not psychoanalytic. His most celebrated work among nonspecialists was probably Sex and Repression in Savage Society (1927), in which he denies Sigmund Freud's claim that the Oedipus complex is universal. In this book Malinowski argues that among the Trobriand Islanders matrilineal descent (reinforced by ignorance of physiological paternity) diverted a boy's hostility from his father to the distant authority figure of his maternal uncle. Trobriand men repressed sexual desire for their sisters, not their mothers. Malinowski rejects Freud's claim in Totem and Taboo (1913) that an original Oedipal "crime" had established human culture: Freud's Lamarckian group psychology is simply wrong, Malinowski argues, and any other means of perpetuating the memory of the act requires the preexistence of culture.

Malinowski's attack on Freud reflected no personal reluctance to generalize; he had none of the methodological caution of his American contemporary Franz Boas. Malinowski's generalizations were rarely the product of systematic cross-cultural comparison: having rejected the Victorians' reliance on written sources, he went to the other extreme and generalized from his own intensive but necessarily limited fieldwork. His theory"functionalism"stressed the role of human culture in satisfying a hierarchy of human needs, consisting of those that are basic (i.e., biological), derived (i.e., cultural or social), and integrative (i.e., normative). He attacked the evolutionists' concept of "survivals" and the diffusionists' concept of "culture complexes," with their implications that cultures are heterogeneous accumulations of sometimes useless objects and institutions. While his American contemporaries, notably Ruth Benedict, saw cultural unity in terms of a culture's dominant style or personality, he saw it in the fulfillment of individual and group needs. In part because of Malinowski's own work, evolutionism and diffusionism were both in retreat by the 1930s. As they receded from view, functionalism lost much of its original force, and after his death Malinowski the ethnographer was praised above Malinowski the theorist.

Malinowski never wrote an account of Trobriand culture as a whole; he studied individual institutions in their social settings. The attention he paid to Trobriand economics and sex was in line with the premises of functional theory. His book Argonauts of the Western Pacific describes the complex and highly ritualized interisland trade known as kula; The Sexual Life of Savages (1929) deals with sex and the family; and Coral Gardens and Their Magic (1935) discusses Trobriand agriculture. In all these works Malinowski de-emphasizes the "primitive" nature of Trobriand life by stressing the rational organization of economic life and focusing on the nuclear family rather than on the segmentary kinship system.

Malinowski also applied functional analysis to less obviously useful activities. In Myth in Primitive Psychology (1926), he argues that myths are neither explanations of natural phenomena nor poetry; instead, they are validations of the social order. The mythic "charter" strengthens tradition by appealing to the design and experience of a supernatural past. Myths of origin, for example, explain the relative superiority and inferiority of different Trobriand clans. Malinowski's explanation of magic denies both Lucien Lévy-Bruhl's claim that primitive thought is "prelogical" and Frazer's theory of an evolutionary progression from magic to religion to science. In "Magic, Science and Religion," an essay in Science, Religion and Reality, edited by Joseph Needham (London, 1925), Malinowski argues that magic provides psychological encouragement and a rationale for group cooperation in those activities where primitives lack the knowledge or technical ability to ensure success. Magic is a supplement to, not a substitute for, practical activity.

Malinowski's analysis of religion was not only less original but also less successful than his treatments of myth and magic. He denied Émile Durkheim's claim that the object of worship is society itself, although conceding that religion is socially organized. Religion is man's consolation in the face of tragedy and uncertainty, not a means of social cohesion. It can be distinguished from magic by the absence of an external goal, in that worship is an end in itself. Malinowski never resolved the tension between his individualistic analysis of religious motivation and his sociological analysis of religious practice. The absence of worship on the Trobriand Islands may have denied him the stimulus necessary for a more sustained inquiry.

Elsie Malinowski died in 1935, after a long illness. At the end of 1938, Malinowski left London for an American sabbatical; rather than return to Europe during World War II, he was for three years a visiting professor at Yale University. In 1940 he married Valetta Swann, an artist. During the summers of 1940 and 1941 he went into the field again to study Mexican peasant markets in conjunction with a young Mexican ethnologist, Julio de la Fuente. In early 1942 he accepted Yale's offer of a permanent professorship effective that October. He never took up the appointment; his death of a heart attack on May 16, 1942, caught him in the midst of new beginnings. Doubly an émigré, he lost the chance to play in America the commanding role he had held in British social science between the wars.


A full list of Malinowski's works appears in the essential secondary work, Man and Culture; An Evaluation of the Work of Bronislaw Malinowski, edited by Raymond Firth (London, 1957). Malinowski's A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term (New York, 1967) covers his Mailu research and his second stay in the Trobriands. Malinowski's and Julio de la Fuente's Malinowski in Mexico: The Economics of a Mexican Market System, edited by Susan Drucker-Brown (London, 1982), is the result of his last fieldwork. The Ethnography of Malinowski: The Trobriand Islands, 191518, edited by Michael W. Young (London, 1979) is a convenient reader, and its editorial notes cite recent work on both Malinowski and the Trobriands. The first comprehensive challenge to Sex and Repression is Melford E. Spiro's Oedipus in the Trobriands (Chicago, 1982).

New Sources

Ellen, R. F. Malinowski between Two Worlds: The Polish Roots of an Anthropological Tradition. Cambridge U.K.; New York, 1988.

Gonzalez, Roberto J. "Between Two Poles: Bronislaw Malinowski, Ludwik Fleck, and the Anthropology of Science." Current Anthropology 36, no. 5 (1995): 177204.

Stocking, George W. Malinowski, Rivers, Benedict, and Others: Essays on Culture and Personality. Madison, Wis., 1986.

Strenski, Ivan. Malinowski and the Work of Myth. Princeton, N.J., 1992.

Young, Michael W. "Malinowski and the Function of Culture." In Creating Culture: Profiles in the Study of Culture, edited by Diane J. Austin-Broos, pp. 124140. Sydney, 1987.

Michael A. Baenen (1987)

Revised Bibliography

Malinowski, Bronislaw

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Malinowski, Bronislaw 1884-1942


Bronislaw Kaspar Malinowski is one of the most charismatic personalities in the history of anthropology. Malinowski defined long-term ethnographic fieldwork as the hallmark of social anthropology. His functionalist approach dominated British social anthropology well into the 1950s. He was a powerful promoter of social anthropology as an academic discipline, both by teaching a whole generation of students and by securing research grants through appeal to the usefulness of ethnographic knowledge to projects of development. A European intellectual with wide-ranging interests, Malinowski was gifted at learning languages and was a brilliant writer. Much of todays fascination with Malinowski revolves around the circumstances of his pioneering fieldwork in Melanesia from 1914 to 1918: how he happened to choose his field sites; how he positioned himself toward the natives, colonial administrators, and academic colleagues; how important the method of participant observation was in relation to other data collection techniques; and how different ethnographic experiences were expressed in different forms of writing.

Born in Krakow, Malinowski first studied physics and philosophy, receiving a doctorate from Jagiellonian University in 1908. His readings during this time were broad, with Friedrich Nietzsche (18441900) and the physicist-philosopher Ernst Mach (18381916) among his intellectual influences (Early Writings [1993]). He spent a further year at Leipzig University studying Völkerpsychologie (cultural psychology) with Wilhelm Wundt (18321920). In 1910 Malinowski traveled to Britain and started to study ethnology with Edward Westermarck (18621939) and Charles Gabriel Seligman (18731940) at the London School of Economics. He was to remain attached to the London School of Economics for most of his academic career, becoming a reader in 1923 and a professor in 1927. Just before the outbreak of World War II (19391945), Malinowski was on sabbatical in the United States and decided not to return to Europe. He became a professor of anthropology at Yale University in 1942, but died the same year.

Malinowskis writings cover a range of different regions (Australia, Melanesia, Mexico), but his most famous works are ethnographic studies of the Trobriand Islands in the southwest Pacific. In Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922), Malinowski describes the kula, a system of ceremonial exchanges between a group of islands. In Malinowskis view, the kula is primarily about establishing reciprocal ties, whereas economic gain is only of secondary importance. Magic, religion, and myth are central themes in many of his works. For example, in Coral Gardens (1935), Malinowski analyzes the function of magic spells in Trobriand horticulture. This work also presents most clearly the powers of Malinowskis linguistic approach. Crime and Custom (1926) is a pioneering work in legal anthropology. Showing that a societys ideals about proper conduct must be clearly distinguished from everyday reality, Malinowski carves out a distinctly anthropological perspective on law and society. A number of his works are concerned with Trobriand sexuality and family relations (e.g., Sex and Repression [1927]) and reflect Malinowskis enduring interest in Sigmund Freuds (18561939) psychoanalytic theories. His more theoretical works, such as A Scientific Theory of Culture (1944), have not preserved the same appeal as his ethnographies. Some of his wartime writings are devoted to a passionate defense of liberalism (Freedom and Civilization [1944]). His posthumously published fieldwork diary (1967) remains controversial because of racist remarks, but has also significantly deepened the understanding of his ethnographic oeuvre.

SEE ALSO Anthropology, British


Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1922. Argonauts of the Western Pacific: An Account of Native Enterprise and Adventure in the Archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea. London: Routledge.

Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1926. Crime and Custom in Savage Society. New York: Harcourt.

Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1927. Sex and Repression in Savage Society. New York: Harcourt.

Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1935. Coral Gardens and Their Magic: A Study of the Methods of Tilling the Soil and of Agricultural Rites in the Trobriand Islands. 2 vols. London: Allen and Unwin.

Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1944. A Scientific Theory of Culture and Other Essays. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1944. Freedom and Civilization. Ed. A. V. Malinowska. New York: Roy.

Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1967. A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term. Trans. Norbert Guterman. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1993. The Early Writings of Bronislaw Malinowski. Eds. Robert J. Thornton and Peter Skalnik. Trans. Ludwik Krzyzanowski. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Young, Michael. 2004. Malinowski: Odyssey of an Anthropologist, 18841920. London and New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Stefan Ecks

Malinowski, Bronislaw

views updated May 11 2018

Malinowski, Bronislaw (1884–1942) British anthro- pologist, b. Poland. Considered a pioneer of social anthropology, his work with ‘primitive’ societies led to the belief that every aspect of a society is a function vital to its existence.

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